Retaliation Ultimate Duke
When he was first revealed, Ultimate Duke was a bit of a bubble figure for me. I’ve always hated Channing Tatum in the G.I. Joe movies. He just looked far too doofus-y for my tastes and looked barely competent enough to make pudding let alone lead America’s highlytrained special missions team. However, when images of this figures first started floating around, I was pissed. I didn’t want to buy another Channing Tatum Duke, but here was a figure so cool that it was really hard to resist. Then, it was shown that he was going to have an alternate head and I thought that was great. I didn’t have to look at Channing Tatum’s dumb face. That took this figure from a reluctant buy to something I’m very happy to have. While his alternate look is more suited for a generic Joe trooper, it’s still a great look and I honestly like it a little more as a G.I. Joe Trooper than the Wave 1 Retaliation G.I. Joe Trooper because the more realistic look fits the Retaliation aesthetic a little better than the official G.I. Joe Trooper.
Ultimate Duke pulls the bulk of his parts from the Pursuit of Cobra era, but the reuse is well done and rather inventive in quite a few places. His torso and upper arms come from Shock Trooper. Ultimate Duke’s lower arms are new pieces and they’re just a little bulkier than the Shock Trooper’s original lower arms and I’m okay with that. They still mesh well together. To cover the Shock Trooper torso, he’s wearing the Retaliation Agent Mouse vest. It’s a good vest, but it does create a bit of a problem. Duke really can’t get his arms all the way down to his sides. It’s not a deal breaker, but I have seen some Joe collectors complain about that because it means he can’t hold his weapons in a realistic two-handed position because of it. Considering how far Hasbro has come in terms of making removable vests work, it’s a bit chagrining to see this issue crop up again here. Surprisingly, Ultimate Duke’s legs are brand new. I’d not realized it until looking up his parts on YoJoe for this review, but they look similar enough to the Retaliation G.I. Joe Trooper/Agent Mouse legs that I’d just assumed that’s where they came from. However, taking a bit closer look at them, I do see they’re quite different. They share a lot of similar looks, like the rolled up cuffs and kneepads, but these are a bit less bulky, which is a plus. There’s a functional holster on his right leg and the kneepads look good while not getting in the way of the knee joint’s function—something that can’t always be said with Joe kneepads.
His two heads are both reused, but they actually do their job better than they did in their first releases. The Channing Tatum head comes from the Wave 1 Retaliation Duke that we all saw warming the pegs for a long time. I’m honestly a little surprised to learn that it was a straightup reuse. I always thought the details on Mr. Tatum’s face looked a bit soft on that version of Duke. This time, though, things seem a bit crisper and a little more realistic. Who knows how that happened, but at least to my eyes, this sculpt does look a lot better than the one they gave us earlier in the Retaliation line. His other head comes from one of the much-lamented, articulation-restricted Retaliation drivers. The generic trooper head comes from Night Fox, the driver of the Ninja Combat Cruiser. That move is fine with me. I really liked Night Fox’s head. It’s a good design and from a customizing standpoint it’s a great way to expand the ranks of average Joe troopers and to me it’s also a dead ringer for Snake Eater from the America’s Elite comics. I’ve always liked the Phoenix Guard characters, so a nod to a relatively unloved part of Joe comic history is good in my books. I like the goggles with a facemask look. It’s distinct enough that you don’t mistake him for Snake Eyes, but it still makes sense for a guy that’s spending most of his time working in the desert and it’s generic enough you can have it be just about anyone you want under there.
Unfortunately, Ultimate Duke does suffer a bit in the paint department. Much like the Retaliation Cobra Combat Ninja, he just comes across as way too bland. I’ve always been a little hard on desert figures because I feel they have a tendency to wind up a little bland. However, Pursuit of Cobra Dusty really changed my opinion on that. Unfortunately, Ultimate Duke does remind me that it’s pretty easy to make a boring-looking desert figure. The entire figure is molded in a very light tan plastic with some darker tan for the camouflage pattern and an even darker tan for the straps and gloves with a little black for the armpits like Retaliation Battle Kata Roadblock had and a little bit of black detailing on his vest. It’s not a poorly executed look, I just don’t find it that interesting. I understand that camouflage is supposed to be uninteresting, but much like Cobra Combat Ninja, the figure almost feels half-done just because of the way he’s painted. I would have loved to have seen the darkest tan used on his chest armor plates. It wouldn’t have been an out of place color choice and broken up the all light tan look he’s rocking right now a bit better. Really, the only place we get any color is on the alternate head sculpt. Even the Tatum Duke head really doesn’t add much to the color scheme (or lack thereof). The black mask and red goggles really pop out, especially when you see just how bland the rest of the figure is. Ultimate Duke’s vest has a lot of great details molded into it, but just like Cobra Combat Ninja’s vest, it all gets lost in a sea of blandness. I’m not saying every Joe figure needs Joe Con-level paint apps, but Ultimate Duke’s paint job seems kind of phoned in to me.
Like many Retaliation figures, Ultimate Duke comes with a veritable arsenal of weapons to choose from. Full disclosure, I missed getting photographs of one of his rifles. I missed picking it up when I was taking photos and by the time I found it still sitting on my desk by Ultimate Duke’s spot, I’d moved him to a different display spot and I didn’t want to have to dig him out and set my “photo studio” up for one single shot. Duke’s laundry list of weapons includes: a small pistol, G.I. Joe Trooper’s knife and assault rifle (not pictured), an Agent Mouse knife, 30th Lifeline’s rifle, 30th Law’s rifle and shotgun, Rise of Cobra Jungle Assault Ripcord’s silenced pistol with extended stock, 30th Zanya’s AK-47, Rise of Cobra Paris Pursuit Snake Eyes’s rifle, 30th Falcon’s automatic shotgun, and 30th Viper’s bazooka. Ultimate Duke definitely comes loaded for just about any sort of fight he could possibly get into. For the most part, these are all weapons I like. The only weapon I’m not a big fan of is the silenced pistol. I’ve just never liked its look and I have yet to find a figure who can hold it well. Beyond that, though, Ultimate Duke has a great kit. It’s perfect for army building since just with a simple change of gear you can get a wide variety of specializations for generic Joes. Of course, you can’t talk about Ultimate Duke without mentioning his best accessory, his Predator drone. Had you told me that after Data-Viper got cancelled the first time (only to be resurrected in the Retaliation super wave) we’d be seeing this great accessory at all, I would have laughed. It’s hard to work a drone like that into a toy line, but now we’ve got both Joe and Cobra versions of it. To help differentiate it from the Data-Viper’s version, Ultimate Duke’s version has the wings assembled so that they swing back for storage rather than swing forward. It’s surprising that such a little detail can change the drone’s profile so much that it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting the same accessory twice in the same wave, but for me, at least, it doesn’t. Ultimate Duke can hold it relatively well and you can have him carrying it on his back as well. Finally, if you choose to use the Tatum head, Duke also gets the Retaliation helmet. It’s a nice addition just from the standpoint that Duke doesn’t have to run around helmetless, but I do wish it looked a little more like the mold for the masked head. The one thing I thought was really cool about Pursuit of Cobra Dusty’s masked and unmasked heads was that the goggles and helmet from the unmasked look were referenced in the masked looked. Ultimate Duke is clearly wearing two different helmets here. I realize it’s a nitpick, but when they’ve shown that level of attention to detail before, it’s a little jarring to see it not done. Even if they didn’t make a brand new helmet, painting them the same color would have helped to bring the looks together. Instead, the alternate head feels exactly like that…an alternate head rather than a different look for Duke.
From a certain standpoint, I do feel I need to agree with Rob on the misuse of “Ultimate” for Duke like I do for Flint. This is in no way what I would consider Duke’s ultimate look to be. However, when applying it to just the movie styling, this is probably the best Duke we’ve ever seen. While Duke wasn’t wearing a uniform exactly like this in the movie, it’s still a great rendition of Duke from the North Korea raid and subsequent ambush in the desert. Even if you’re like me and don’t like seeing Channing Tatum staring out at you from your Joe shelf, the inclusion of the alternate head should save it for you. It’s not only a great sculpt, but it also allows you to create a more desert-accurate G.I. Joe Trooper. The Wave 1 trooper looked good, but it strikes me as a little odd that we only ever saw it released in green when the sequence we see the troopers is was a desert ambush. Thanks to Ultimate Duke, you also have a great desert stand in for the Retaliation G.I. Joe Troopers. It’s not the look I think of first when I think of Duke, but considering how many versions of “Classic Duke” we got during the 25th Anniversary line, I’m okay with that look not showing up for a good long while. It had its problems, but it was still more than good enough for my display needs. This Ultimate Duke looks really great standing with his compatriots from Retaliation even if (spoiler alert) he didn’t really live that long to do much with them.