In 1986 Hasbro revised the generic Cobra Soldier, the anonymous man in a dark blue cloth uniform, as the Cobra Viper. The basic Viper is far from basic. He has knee-high books, a beefy backpack, body armor, a bigger machine gun, and a silvery face mask that resembles Cobra Commander’s. In every way the Viper is more aggressive and cooler than the 1982 Cobra Soldier. A brilliant idea that followed a year later was to use the name “Viper” as a base, and connect it to a variety of prefixes that denote specific types of Cobra troopers — Strato-Vipers are pilots, Frag-Vipers are grenade-lobbing specialists, Astro-Vipers are, um, astronauts. And on.
1988 saw a strange debut: Toxo-Viper. (Click that link for a photo in a new window.) The garish color scheme and alien-looking helmet were seemingly not a good fit for G.I. Joe, but the concept, a soldier suited for hostile environments (fuel spills, chemical weapons) was sound. And the Toxo-Viper had a counterpart on G.I. Joe, the 1985 figure Airtight. In 1991, with environmental awareness on the rise, Hasbro introduced an entire sub-line of toxic waste spreaders and fighters, the extra garish Eco-Warriors. Toxo-Viper got a redesign:
The above pencil art and marker art are by figure designer Kurt Groen. Here’s a detail, color added in marker to a photocopy of the pencil art:
The next step would have been a larger, slightly more polished marker drawing.
I’ve always found the Toxo-Viper version 2 to be oddly restrained compared to version 1. Waist-down it’s underdetailed and undersculpted, and the helmet is much less interesting, (although at least it doesn’t look like an alien). I suppose time and money were diverted to version 2’s water-shooting canon and color-change feature. I’ve never owned this figure, so I don’t have one to photograph, but here’s a picture at yojoe.
For every figure that made it into the line, dozens were proposed as concepts and sketches. Here’s a color marker comp (ink on a photocopy of pencil art) by Kurt Groen of an unproduced Cobra soldier — likely some kind of Viper — from spring of 1990. I’m not sure if this character made it into three dimensions, but I doubt it. Click for a slightly larger image:
Subtly refining the art and adding a touch of detail, Groen redrew this as a finished color presentation “painting,” but by the time he was involved with the brand the toy development process dictated the internal presentation paintings no longer be painted. The final art, not pictured, looks just about the same as the rough, above.
Presumably this character was initially pitched for the 1992 product line.
It’s Monday or Tuesday, which means another preview of rare, lost, and never-seen art from the making of G.I. Joe 1980-2000 to whet your appetites for my book. Today’s image is a 1994 Kurt Groen pencil and marker drawing of a proposed X-Soldier.
Very little is publicly known about X-Soldiers. It’s telling that they are neither mentioned nor pictured at the encyclopedic yojoe.com. I don’t say that as a swipe against the site as I love it and have referred to it weekly for the past six years of writing my book. Just that the line, unlike many other unproduced Joes, hasn’t been widely seen or discussed. Google searches yield almost nothing.
But print offers a succinct explanation: According to G. Wayne Miller’s Toy Wars, “[Kirk] Bozigian’s biggest setback had been X-Soldiers. Shown prototypes, boys in focus groups had been disinterested. The concept needed work, and the line was unlikely to reach market before the summer of 1996, if then.” (pg 185)
A line of traditional super-heroes that would battle for and with G.I. Joe, and each figure would have had an action feature. Seven X-Soldier characters are known to exist as color marker illustrations.