Duke’s one of those love him or hate him characters, that doesn’t really have any middle ground. He’s special because few characters are capable of causing such a dividing line. It’s similar to Serpentor, in that a lot of the divide was at one point, based kind of on the Cartoon vs. Comic Book divide. While that has somewhat subsided, Duke’s still a lightning rod, because he isn’t all that likeable as a character, in any form! Plus he was a figure and character that wound up suffering from overexposure in the post ARAHC G.I. Joe lines.
I personally am a fan of Duke. He is a good figure, and the character has a little bit of life to it, for my silly little G.I. Joe universe. The “MAN OF ACTION” character is somewhat goofy, but I do see Duke as being an exceptional soldier, with enough of a maverick streak that he can go for high percentage plays, and more often than not come out ahead, though I’ve always figured when they go bad, they end very badly. Part of what makes him capable of that stuff in my eyes, is that a lot of G.I. Joe filecards mention all the special schools they went to. Duke’s filecard mentions the special schools he ran.
Duke’s first appearance in the comic issue #23 is hilarious, because he comes off as a complete jerk. He shows up at General Flagg’s funeral, and proceeds to tell the deceased’s commando team he’s going to turn them into real soldiers. Moments after shooting down an airplane.
As a figure, Duke is kind of interesting since he’s a Frankenstein. The head and front part of the torso are new, while the back torso, waist and arms belong to Doc, the feet are Gung Ho, and the thighs belong to Major Bludd. It’s kind of surprising how many different figures had parts involved in Duke. However it makes sense, when you factor in the figure was originally a mail-in premium. What I’ve always been most interested in was the fact the figures he shared parts with were all his contemporaries, it’s not like Starduster or Steel Brigade where the majority of the chosen parts had been out of service domestically for a while. The nice thing about Duke, is that despite being a fairly unoriginal figure, he’s well done. His colouring is great because it is made up of the two common 83 colours, light olive drab, and tan. He’s a match for a lot of figures, because of how well Hasbro could match plastics back then. If you’re on the look out for a Duke v1, definitely try and get one with the second, thinner head. He can’t wear a helmet, but his hair is perfect.
Duke in my universe was brought on to the Joe team when it became clear the original set-up wasn’t going to get the job done. I justify the decision as I imagine Duke was leading his own special unit with a specified target, who wound up becoming highly embedded within COBRA Command. It was claimed that Duke’s accumulated a lot of intelligence on the target required him to be put into a position of authority on the Joe team, but it was also done in ways to put a bit of a damper on Hawk’s political aspirations which had begun to take more precedence over actual results. Due to this, Duke has a bit of a combative relationship with some of the older Joes.
This little idea allowed me to justify why there were the original Commando Sweater wearing Joes, and then the guys dressed however they wanted. They had originally been separate commando teams.
Duke is a fragile figure, as he’s prone to breakage and discolouration, he also has a few variants, as there’s two head sculpts and one with Grunt lower arms. However the smiley jerk is still important to a collection, and if you can’t find the v1, try and get the Chinese variant.