Duke (1983)

Duke, like Snake Eyes is one of those Joe characters who seems to be on an equal number of Joe fans’ love and hate lists. How do I feel about him? I suppose it changes depending on which facet of Joe I’m talking about. The Real American Hero toys, comics and cartoons weren’t tied too closely together, so one could have a different perception of some characters depending on which version they followed.

I just want to focus on the toy this time. Being the first of Joe available after the original thirteen (via mail-in), there was excitement for me as a kid about a newly designed Joe, and a leader at that. Mail-ins were an exciting yet frustrating experience for a 10 year old. Getting a free figure in the mail–awesome. Having to wait the eternity of 6-8 weeks–not so awesome. I remember also that we would rarely order from the big stores of the day (Wards, Sears, etc.) and have items shipped to our home. We simply went to the store and picked them up at the catalog order department. Ah, memories… Anyway, my point is that getting a toy via mail was a special event for me.

The different look of this figure vs. the original thirteen was a big selling point for me. Here was a new character who broke the mold of the previous series, and set the stage for the Joe line’s move to individuality in character design. The accessory count was up and was a veritable arsenal for the day–rifle, backpack, helmet and binoculars–cool! Don’t forget the teeny tiny  flag sticker!

Finally, there was the leader aspect. Kids want to have a leader in their play patterns, and since I wasn’t reading the comic early on, there really wasn’t an obvious one to me. Sure, Hawk came with the MMS and his file card mentions his leadership qualities and rank, but he wasn’t out and out referred to as the team’s leader.

There’s no denying the leader aspect of Duke in the first two cartoon mini-series, even though he was captured early on in each one. Still, he found his way out to lead the Joes again, usually with some crucial but of info that would help the team win the day. But that’s a story for another time.

13 comments

  • I never liked his stupid smile…
    I have Tiger Force Duke, leading my Joes since 1988!

  • This could possibly be my favorite Joe ever.

  • Duke was the first RAH figure I ordered by mail. I was living in Anaheim at my grandparents’ apartment when I sent out for him and by the time he arrived my parents had moved me to Miami. I distinctly remember the day I received him: I was getting used to my new room and had all my Joes there. I had also gotten issue #22 of the Marvel comic which I love to this day. Later on, I found the carded version of Duke which lacked the flag sticker. That always puzzled me because Gung-Ho’s ’87 version would include a similar item years later, so why skimp out on the carded Duke? And of course, the file card picture was also different. I didn’t mind his smile at all, but I later had a friend who hated it. He said that Duke could be scorched, blown up, or drawn and quartered, smiling happily throughout said proceedings. Couldn’t argue with his logic, but I still hold a fondness for this initial version of Hawk’s infamous doppelganger/usurper.

  • I don’t really hate or love Duke. My only real problem with him, aside from massive overexposure through the years, is the strange blend he has of overt bravado and outright blandness. Duke was the first, and thus most shining example, of being a big ol’ Billy Badass primarily because we are told he is (by pretty much everyone). Yet his actions rarely backed up this claim to my personal satisfaction.

    • Very true. The comic version especially. The first two cartoon mini series cracked me up because the guy got captured in the first episode. What a leader!

    • The problem with a Billy Badass character is that if he really is that good, the focus will eventually always be on him, to the point that the rest of the team are background characters. And if he’s not around everyone is so used to his presences, they will wonder “where’s _____ in all this?”

      In the case of the comics, that’s what happened to Snake-Eyes. If he can effortlessly get past 1,000 guards and kill Cobra Commander (but doesn’t)…that’s it, the story loses all suspense.

  • I think he is a stupid smiling guy also because in his first appareance in the Marvel Comics he shoots at a Cobra Rattler with a Colt 45 pistol!

  • A smiling fool, but Duke was cool. His appearance was distinct, but not so much that he didn’t mesh with 1982 and 1983 characters. The fact that he had a khaki shirt on ties in visually with the old WW2 movies I remember seeing where the officers wore khaki jackets while the grunts wore green (or that’s how I remember it), so it felt natural for Duke to be a leader, even if he was just a first sergeant. I didn’t own Hawk V1 (or Torpedo or Ace), so the only guys who outranked Duke at the time was Steele and Doc, both of whom had other duties to perform.

    Also, I wrongly thought his pack was supposed to be a parachure, since Airborne had it, too, and he was…well…airborne.

  • This figure was never my favorite. I never had this figure until later in life, and I have even gotten rid of it again. The goofy grin did not capture the character I saw in Duke. Duke to me was the tough as nails First Shirt as depicted during the opening of the Battle in Benzheen when he, Falcon and Cross Country lost a number of friends and stood their ground against a crazed SAW Viper.
    The 91 and 93 figures are my go to Duke figures.

  • I did’t get into the comics until around 1985, so I didnt know about the whole Duke vs. Hawk thing….
    But I got the figure in like spring or summer 1985 at a local store, and I loved it! I still love it. I do think Duke is really bland in the comics… and his first appearance does nothing to make him look cool, or even smart.
    BUT I was a huge fan of DUKE in the Cartoon!
    I kinda forgot about the smile on the figure… I think it did bother me a little but I got over it. And sisnce we are talking about the FIGURE, I think its a great one. Great accessories, and lots of them for the time when he came out.
    As for the cartoon he did get captured frequently but made it back to the team well before the end of the MASS Device serries. As for the next two mini serries I think they were giving Flint a chance to shine…

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