REVIEW: G.I. JOE "DOLLAR GENERAL" DUKE
The summer of 2012 will likely be known as the summer of the super-hero movie. The Avengers not only broke up Loki and his alien Chitauri army, they also broke records at the box office. The Dark Knight and the Web-Slinger also put in very respectable appearances, and the catchphrase, "You sank my Battleship!" took on rather unfortunate meaning well beyond the board game for one movie studio.
And while some or none of this might have been a factor, the forces of G.I. Joe and Cobra decided to absent themselves from the playing field for a while. Originally planned for a summer 2012 release, the sequel movie, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was bumped to spring 2013, so much at the last minute that it seemed to catch everyone by surprise -- including Hasbro and the retailers.
And as for the action figures, given the very last-minute delay in the movie's release, most retailers already had a fair amount of Retaliation merchandise in their warehouses, if not the back rooms of their stores. Hasbro basically said for the stores to go ahead and sell what they had in stock, which they did, and then G.I. Joe would essentially take a break until early 2013.
With as much Retaliation merchandise rounded up as the collectors could expect to see for a while, this left many fans wondering -- what to do in the meantime?
Answer -- find your local Dollar General store. It seems that a very interesting and distinctive series of G.I. Joe figures has been turning up there.
Now, this isn't the first time that G.I. Joe has put in an appearance at one of these types of stores. But it is the first time that these were new figures, exclusive to this particular series! Need it be said, the fan community was enthusiastic about this.
Finding the figures has proven -- challenging. Personally, I have yet to see any locally, although the last time I checked a Dollar General, there was at least a shelf tag for them, displayed at the front of a very empty peg. But that's still more than was there the last time I checked. Fortunately, with a little help from some friends online, I've been able to gather this interesting assortment into my collection.
The series features very interesting and previously unseen modern versions of six popular G.I. Joe and Cobra characters -- Duke, Snake-Eyes, Shipwreck, Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, and a Cobra Trooper. This review will take a look at DUKE!
Although Duke is often epitomized as the ultimate G.I. Joe, and was in fact the focal point of the recent live-action movie, Duke was not in fact with the G.I. Joe team from the start. It just seems that way sometimes, doubtless due to the characters significant presence in the first three animated mini-series, as well as the first season of the daily series -- even if he did manage to get captured by Cobra in the first two mini-series.
Duke, for quite some time, wasn't nearly as prominent in the comic books, although this has obviously changed over time. Nevertheless, Mrs. Hauser's little boy Conrad was not with the team from the beginning. The "Original Thirteen" members of the G.I. Joe team, as presented in 1982, including the four vehicle drivers, included Stalker, Rock & Roll, Flash, Zap, Grand Slam, Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Clutch, Steeler, Grunt, Breaker, Short-Fuze, and Hawk, at that point a colonel and the team's commanding officer. And yes, I rattled that list off from memory.
Duke wouldn't really come along until late 1983, when he was first offered as a mail-order figure, as the G.I. Joe team's First Sergeant, and then he would join the regular line-up of individual figures at retail in 1984.
Clearly, however, Hasbro had major plans for the character. He was first introduced in the first animated mini-series, pretty much as "Team Leader", given that Hawk was absent from the show. Duke was given a distinctive, heroic voice by actor Michael Bell, and was clearly portrayed as a no-nonsense man of action throughout his appearances. He wouldn't really be usurped from that role until newly-promoted General Hawk came along in the second season of the animated series in 1986, right along with his newly-minted action figure.
In the comics, Duke would debut alongside Roadblock, who both surreptitiously showed up at the funeral for General Flagg, and it's a good thing they did, because Cobra attempted to attack the funeral with a one-plane air raid, testing out their new Cobra Rattler, which Duke and Roadblock successfully shot down -- no doubt much to the chagrin of the groundskeepers at Arlington.
As for the initial action figure of Duke, his intended prominence was obvious right from the package artwork. Most of the G.I. Joes had package illustrations that placed them in some sort of action pose. Duke was standing tall and straight ahead, with a determined, heroic smile on his face, not quite at attention, but not in any sort of action pose. It was a very unusual pose for one of the package illustrations, and really served to set Duke apart from the crowd.
So, too, did Duke's original uniform. Most of the G.I. Joe team, unless they had some sort of specific specialty, such as Snow Job or Torpedo, wore either green or tan as the main color of their uniform. This was years before the rainbow cascade of colors in later years. Duke wore both. He had a tan shirt, with a green collar, olive green trousers, and brown boots. It fit well within a military color scheme, and yet at the same time managed to be distinctive. It was so distinctive that the next figure of Duke, part of 1988's Tiger Force, largely just reversed the colors, giving Duke a green shirt and tan pants.
Duke has obviously been a prominent part of the G.I. Joe team ever since. He is one of a very small handful of characters, which also includes Snake-Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Cobra Commander, that has had literally dozens of figure versions throughout the entire run of G.I. Joe, and has been involved in every incarnation.
Duke would be present not only in Tiger Force, but also Star Brigade, as well as the Armor-Tech team within Star Brigade. When everybody else was starting to dress in bright colors, Duke bucked the trend in 1993, by wearing a very authentic-looking desert camo uniform.
It was Duke that brought back the 12" G.I. Joes. When Hasbro and Target got together to see if the 12" G.I. Joes could be brought back without a negative effect on the 3-3/4" line, it was a 12" figure of Duke, also in desert gear, that heralded the debut of the Hall of Fame line. It was so popular that the Target near me had to keep the figures locked in the safe in the manager's office, and dole them out to people who had made advance reservations.
Duke would continue to be a part of G.I. Joe throughout the 1997-98 line, the 2000-2002 line, and the so-called "newsculpt" line of 2002-2006. Duke would lead the way for the Sigma 6 team, once again as the G.I. Joe team leader. A talking 12" Duke barked out orders and even had a moving mouth -- giving a few of us who remembered the Commando Elite from the movie "Small Soldiers" a bit of a bad moment, recalling the chaos that those talking "action figures" caused.
And, of course, Duke has been part of the modern-style line, from its introduction as part of the 25th Anniversary in 2007, right through several incarnations, including, naturally, the "Rise of Cobra" movie, and Duke will also be a prominent part of the sequel.
And yet, I think at one point, somebody at Hasbro pondered the question, "What if Duke HAD been with the team from the very start? What would he have looked like?"
We need to recall that when the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line was introduced in 1982, no one was at all sure that it would work. As such, the figures were crafted fairly simply. They still had a generous range of articulation, certainly better than Kenner's Star Wars figures of the time, and their individual specialties and character profiles and such, but they used a lot of common parts. Only a handful of figures, such as Scarlett, Stalker, and a few others, had really distinctive parts that were unique only to that figure.
For the most part, the first-year G.I. Joes were all dressed very basically, and all dressed in slightly varied shades of olive green. There was a sort of light, not quite bright olive, a more standard olive, and a somewhat darker, slightly grayer olive. With few exceptions, that was pretty much the color palette for most of the G.I. Joes in 1982. The only real color came from boots, belts, and straps across the upper body in one configuration or another.
What if Duke had been part of this? A comic-based two-pack a few years ago answered this question. The two-pack featured Duke, and Oktober Guard member Red Star, along with a comic book written by Larry Hama that brought popular Oktober Guard members Horror-Show and Daina back into action. In this particular pack, Duke was dressed very much as if he were one of the "Original Thirteen". His uniform was entirely green, a rather grayish olive green, and he was wearing a separately-molded brown harness, and had brown boots.
I personally tend to be of the opinion that Duke was almost, but not quite, an afterthought in this set. It seemed to me that one of the main purposes of the set was to get at least one Oktober Guard member into the modern line, something that might not have happened with an individually-carded figure, and that along the way, someone decided to design the Duke figure to look like one of the original group, just because it was something that could more readily be put into the set. No particular mention was made of the uniform in the comic story.
It was actually a cute idea. Duke had become such a prominent, and so entrenched character in the G.I. Joe team, that coming up with a figure that made him look like he really had been there from the start -- well, it really wasn't a bad idea.
The Dollar General figure of Duke follows this same theme. Although in many respects, I think it succeeds better than the one from the two-pack.
So, how's the figure? Perhaps to some eyes, it would look a little plain -- until you get the idea behind it.
As with the Duke figure from the two-pack, this Duke is dressed in a solid green uniform. However, it's a different shade of olive green than was used in the two-pack. It's a slightly brighter, perhaps slightly greener shade of olive green, and while still well within what most would consider a military color palette, this Duke looks distinctly less drab than his predecessor for it.
The figure has different uniform pieces than before, as well. The previous Duke of this type was wearing a harness of sorts that featured two straps that went over the shoulders and connected with the belt. This was not an uncommon design among the "Original Thirteen" from 1982, but obviously in their case, the harness was molded directly to the figure. The modern figure used a separately molded piece, and it didn't want to stay put all that well. The belt kept hiking its way up because of the shoulder straps.
Here, there are two distinct pieces. A smaller harness that fits over the shoulders, criss-crosses in the back, and has an additional strap across the front. The belt is separate, and has a pistol holster to the left.
Both pieces are molded in brown, and both pieces are a much better fit than the single harness straps-and-belt combination. They really look excellent on the figure.
Duke has brown boots, with a holster on the right boot, and his hands have been painted in a flesh tone, as has his neck. There isn't a lot of painted detail on the figure. I'm sure that part of this was to keep the production budget down on these budget-store figures, but in all honesty, it works, because these uniforms never did have a lot of painted detail on them. Since the harness and belt are molded in brown, the only real painted detail on Duke, apart from the facial details and the hair, are the belt buckle, the hands and neck, and part of the boots. And he still looks good. He certainly looks appropriate for what Hasbro was trying to achieve with this figure -- that's a compliment, by the way.
I'm honestly not sure whose head was used for this Duke figure. For the most part, it's a capable likeness of the character, and certainly the eyes are remarkably well painted, with the whites of the eyes, blue irises, black pupils, and a brown line over the eyes representing eyelashes. That's four paint applications, all of them very tiny, and I have to say, painted with astounding precision here.
The hair is the only place where this Duke figure comes up a little off. It's the right color, a sort of sandy blonde-brown. It's the style that's odd. The Duke figures that I've encountered over the years, and brought into my collection, either have Duke with his hair brushed straight back from his forehead, or an outright crewcut. This Duke has slightly longer hair on top, combed to one side. It's not a bad style. It just doesn't quite look like Duke to me. Fortunately, his helmet looks good, and stays put well. And the face looks more than enough like a modern-style-figure incarnation of Duke, and as I said before, the rest of the paint details on the face are amazing.
These Dollar General figures do not come with a lot of accessories. However, Duke comes with a very nicely made rifle and pistol, the latter of which can fit into either the holster on his belt or on his boot, and he also comes with a battle display stand.
I have to say that Duke holds his rifle better than a lot of G.I. Joe figures I've had. Usually I find it to be a bit of a struggle to get the weapon into the hands of one of these figures and have him look good doing so when I photograph them for these articles. Duke was a pleasant exception to this, in that he readily took hold of his rifle and posed well with it.
These G.I. Joe figures do not include file cards. They are packed on a common card, that shows pictures of all six figures on the back. The only distinctive packaging point is a little insert inside the bubble which lists the character's name and specialty, which in this case is obviously, "Duke", and "First Sergeant".
However, Duke's history is pretty well known. He is Conrad S. Hauser, born in St. Louis, Missouri. He is highly trained, very intelligent, speaks several languages, and has repeatedly turned down officers' commissions in order to be able to remain on the battlefield with his troops. If you want further details, his various file cards are readily available online.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, these "Dollar General" figures aren't the easiest G.I. Joes in the world to find. However, they ARE worth it. All six of them represent either modern incarnations of somewhat less-prominent versions of very well-known characters, or slightly new takes on popular characters, such as the all-black-uniform Cobra Trooper, or this Duke, that are definitely worthwhile additions to any G.I. Joe collection.
And this certainly includes Duke. Although he was not, in fact, part of the "Original Thirteen", it's sort of a kick seeing him outfitted as if he were, and honestly, this version of him is superior in several respects to the last attempt. I'm pleased that this figure was made, I'm glad to have him, and I believe that any collector of the modern G.I. Joe line will be delighted with him.
The "DOLLAR GENERAL" version of DUKE from G.I. JOE definitely has my highest recommendation! YO JOE!