Reactive Impact Armor Duke
Ah, Rise of Cobra…it’s hard for me to remember something as contentious when it came to Joe fandom as the movie costumes. There were a lot of people that were really upset that the Joes got the X-Men treatment in their first movie. Gone were the unique looks for each character and in their place, all the Joes were wearing a high-tech set of black armor. Personally, I’m of two minds about the shift. I thought the reactive armor looked pretty cool, but at the same time, it left everyone on the screen (and pegs) looking pretty similar. I don’t think the solution should have been Paramount going for the classic Joe looks for everyone since some of them just don’t work, but it would have been nice had the Joe actors been allowed to personalize their armor in some way much akin to how the Colonial Marines from Aliens shared the same basic suit of futuristic armor but the actors were encouraged to personalize it in character before filming started to make them look more unique. It would have helped differentiate the Joes from each other still created a cohesive look for the unit. Honestly, my bigger gripe with the movie after seeing it was that I thought Channing Tatum was horribly miscast as Duke. However, my love of the reactive armor design did eventually push me pass my antipathy for Tatum-Duke to add his figure to my collection (admittedly at a pretty deep clearance price).
The reactive armor mold is all new, though Hasbro did get a lot of mileage out of it during the Rise of Cobra line. The upper body is completely armor-plated. The chest armor is designed to be vaguely anatomical, with plates over the pectoral and abdominal muscles. The upper arms are covered at both the shoulder and bicep by armor while the lower arms are relatively unarmored, save an elbow pad and a plate at the bottom of his forearm. The back armor is also shaped anatomically with plates over the major muscle groups and down the spine. The mold is extremely well-detailed. Around his waist, Duke is wearing a floating belt piece with a non-functional pistol holster, a grenade and a radio molded on. I do wish the holster were functional since that would mean he’d be able to carry all his weapons except his spring-loaded missile launcher. Duke’s lower body is covered with a pair of pants with armor plates over his thighs, and a functional knife sheath on his right leg. I’d not really noticed how comparatively unarmored his legs were in relation to his torso until I started reviewing this figure. It makes sense that a soldier wouldn’t want his legs an encumbered so he can be more mobile in the field. Duke’s pants are tucked into his boots, but his boot tops are rather short compared to standard military wear but considering the Joes aren’t pure military, I’m fine with it. Finally, though, we have to talk about the elephant in the room, the Tatum-Duke head. During Rise of Cobra, Hasbro had a few hiccups with actor likeness head sculpts. Duke wasn’t one to fall victim to that, but Duke’s look of steely determination comes across as more of a vacant stare…which I suppose does fit Channing Tatum’s portrayal of Duke very well. He just looks a little too doofus-y to be on a highly-trained special missions force, let alone a field commander.
Unfortunately, the movie’s aesthetic does create some problems for the overall look of the figure. All those great details I mentioned when I talked about his sculpt are kind of lost in the sea of black that this figure and all the other reactive armor figures were. The reactive armor look is basically black on black on black. That’s a bit unfortunate for an action figure. However, Hasbro’s paint team did do some weathering effects on the armor plates which does help them stand out a bit. Personally, with as much in common as the reactive armor had with Sigma Suits, I wish they would have thought to throw some color on the costumes like they did with the Sigma Suits. Give each Joe their own color and have the colored plates be in the same place for each Joe. It would have made the characters identifiable at a glance and added some much-needed color to the Rise of Cobra aesthetic. The weathering isn’t bad, but it just throws some gray over black. That still doesn’t make for a very eye-catching figure. The Rise of Cobra era Joe logo is placed on the left side of his chest and the white does stand out very well against the black armor. The only other place for color on the figure is on Duke’s head. The paint work is good, but the skintone paint seems applied a bit too heavily. There are clearly some wrinkles and lines on his face, but they get a bit obscured by the paint over them. His eye paint unfortunately also reinforces my criticism of his vacant stare. Duke looks kind of dead behind the eyes. While that’s a spot on reference to Tatum’s portrayal of Duke in the first film, it’s a shame his action figures can’t show more life than he did. The brown for his hair is nicely applied and they filled his hairline perfectly, though again, it seems just a little gloppy and the hair detailing (and they did do a decent job of making his scalp look like had a buzz-cut) gets a little lost under all the paint.
While I wasn’t a big fan of the bland color scheme the Rise of Cobra Joes, the movie line did bring in a lot of great accessories that weren’t spring-loaded. I know a lot of people complained about how almost all of the Rise of Cobra Joe figures having the same FN2000 assault rifle, but I’m cool with it. First of all, they did give them other weapons that weren’t as commonly used across the line so they could be equipped more uniquely. Secondly, I like the idea of my Joes having a common weapon like the FN2000. After all, they’re a military unit. Their gear should be similar. Besides, the Joes all used the same laser rifle in the cartoon and nobody was angry about that. Heck, that laser rifle became the “iconic” Joe weapon that a lot of collectors wish every Joe would have come with. I don’t understand how people were willing to give that a pass yet hated that everyone came with the FN2000. If it were a terrible accessory (vintage Tomax pistol that we saw way too much during the Joe Vs. Cobra era, I’m looking at you), I could see a reason for the backlash, but it’s a nicely designed, realistic weapon based around a common firearm used in the international Special Forces community. It looks good in a Joe’s hand but still looks futuristic enough to fit the 15-minutes-into-the-future aesthetic Rise of Cobra consciously went for. I’ll admit, it’s not my go-to display weapon, but at the same time, I like having the option of having my Joes all equipped similarly on a mission. Duke’s other submachine gun is a bit of a headscratcher just because I’ve never seen one like it and I’m
relatively familiar with modern military weapons. It kind of looks like someone took a modular stock weapon that someone kitted out but forgot to reattach the barrel assembly. Even though I’m not sure how it works, I have to admit, it looks really cool. The incredibly short length would make it useful in closer quarters, but honestly, it reminds me a lot of the sticky-bomb gun that Batman used in The Dark Knight and I can see it being part of Duke’s breaching kit to break into a Cobra facility. In either capacity, it’s a great accessory and no other figures (aside from a few other Dukes) came with it during the Rise of Cobra line, so I’m fine with it. Duke can use the FN2000 when he’s working as a squad, but if he’s doing a solo operation, I can see him switching to this other assault rifle. Rounding out his kit, he’s got a pistol and a small boot knife. The pistol is appropriately sized but the boot knife seems just a little dinky. The handle seems just a bit too large for the size of blade it has. The handle fits nicely in Duke’s hand, but it leaves him looking a little foolish with this tiny blade. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t look as silly as the same knife does in Rise of Cobra Sgt. Stone’s big hands, but it still looks a little off. That being said, I’m pretty sure it’s never left its sheath, save for the photo of it in his hand, so it works
well as a piece to fill a sheath and that’s all I’m really planning on using it for.
I understand that Rise of Cobra wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea either as a movie or an action figure line, but that’s part of what makes the Joe brand so great. If you like something, you can bring it in, if not, you don’t have to. My inner sci-fi nerd loved the idea behind the reactive armor—that it’s an armor that works based on dispersing kinetic energy. It’s flexible while the wearer is moving, but if something, like a bullet, impacts it, the plates stiffen to absorb the kinetic energy. It actually reminds me of the episode of Mythbusters where they tested to see if a non-Newtonian fluid would actually be bulletproof. In the real world, it wasn’t terribly effective, but in a fantasy world, I like that there’s enough actual science behind something for my brain to latch onto, while still taking it beyond what’s achievable now to keep the film’s futuristic edge. While I still would have preferred the Joes to look a little less like Batman and a little more like Joes, I’m okay with the overall look. Even if you hate the concept, you have to admit, that Hasbro did an excellent job transferring the reactive armor look from screen to action figure and I think that’s a big part of what makes a successful movie-based toyline to me. I know growing up, I wanted figures from the Batman movie franchise or Spider-Man cartoon that actually looked like the characters on screen. For better or worse, Reactive Impact Armor Conrad “Duke” Hauser does look like his on screen counterpart and if you’re willing to stretch the limits of sci-fi in your Joe universe like I am, he’s not a bad addition.