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.