Something happened to the Joe line between 1991 and 1992. While 1991 saw the full complement of 17 standard carded figures, many of them were short shipped and only appeared at retail for one year. In 1992, the Joe line was drastically cut down. There were only 12 standard carded figures. There were, though, 19 new figures that were branded under different subsets. It seems the standard Joe line had gotten a bit stale at retail. So, Hasbro pumped up new themes and refreshed some of the cardback designs to make the toys stand out more on retail shelves. For most collectors, the 1992 year is defined by the perception of bright colors. But, in looking at the 1992 releases, the neon that would be more common in 1993 is largely absent. The standard line is full of muted, realistic colors. The DEF figures are more traditionally colored. It's not until you get to Eco Warriors and Ninja Force that the colors get out of whack. (Though, I can forgive Eco Warriors as the colors make sense there.) But, among the 12 carded figures, there are still missteps. Brightly colored divers are forgiven due to their specialty. But, the 1992 Duke features a poor color choice that doomed an otherwise excellent figure.
Most collectors know the 1992 Duke from either his ubiquity in the marketing materials of the day or for the parts base that created several figures during the 2000's repaint era. But, as a figure, Duke stands mostly on his own. The figure features a tan base color with brown highlights and golden metal accouterments. He has muted cammo on his legs and some color splashes on his arms, neck, sleeves and boots. All this sounds good so far, no? There's one key detail here that is missing but defines the figure. The color chose for those splashes, as well as the cammo pattern, is red. Visually, the red ring around Duke's neck and even the sleeves could be forgiven. But, the figure becomes a contrast in red when you view him in totality. Were this red a green, black or brown, this figure would be the best Duke ever released. But, he wasn't and, therefore, he's not.
But, from a pure sculpting and design standpoint, this Duke is excellent. The headsculpt is very detailed. It retains the idea of Duke. But, the stupid grin is gone for a more hardened face. The figure's chest features a flak jacket as well as a centrally aligned pistol as well as bandoleers and grenades. His waist is full of pockets that give it some bulk and the rest of the figure is relatively unadorned which keeps Duke from being too busy. His arms feature a weird shoulder length short sleeve. It's different and weird and became the bane of collector's existence in the 2000's. As a one off, the look can work. But, beyond that, the sleeves become annoying.
Duke's gear is OK and terrible. He is one of the last few figures (outside of Star Brigade) to include a removable helmet. Duke includes a small brown knife and a large rifle as his weaponry. The knife is well done. The rifle is cool. But, it's rather large. The small stock and comically lone barrel and body make is less useful that it might otherwise be. It should be noted, though, that the brown plastic used on these weapons is extremely brittle. The knife is prone to snapping in two and the rifle's handle is easily stressed and will snap off as well. Duke also includes a huge missile launcher. This can be used in two ways. The first is as a backpack. It looks dumb. The second way is that the launcher includes a stand and a seat. Duke can sit atop the cannon and ride it. This looks dumber. On some level, the engineering to produce this launcher is impressive. But, the reality is that it's a waste of resources that could have given this Duke more traditional gear.
In my collection, this Duke doesn't have a huge role. I first acquired the figure in 1999 or so. At that time, new figures were quickly entering my collection. As I was a long time fan of the 1993 Duke (I had found him at retail a few years earlier.), I had no need for this Duke. He went into a drawer and stayed there. When the 2001 repaint was released, though, it showed how much potential this figure had. By late 2001, I had the character represented by the 1993 Duke sent to die in prison for treason. The 2001 Duke became the new field leader of the Joes. This 1992 version was his older, less accomplished brother. (The brown hair on the 2001 duke helped distinguish them as different people.) The two brothers had an early bond since the character of this 1992 Duke was more experienced. But, he had less talent. This Duke was slowly left behind as the 2001 version became increasingly important...to the point where he is now the number three leader in the Joes. If I ever want to use this figure mold, I use the 2001 version. The 1992 version has seen precious little time in any photos I've taken through the years. And, that's likely to remain his fate since the later repaint is so vastly superior.
1992 was also interesting in of the 12 characters released in the standard line, only four of them were new characters. (You can make a case that General Flagg was also an existing character due to the comic, but this figure is his first appearance.) The remaining figures are all updates of classic characters that were hold overs from the '80's. Looking at the subset figures, the trend continues with Stalker, Cobra Commander, Hawk, Mutt, Cutter, Stormshadow and others. It's almost like Hasbro gave the line a soft reboot to keep classic names front and center. The 1990 series featured only 5 rehashed characters. In 1991, slightly more than 50% of the carded figures were existing characters. In 1992, it was 18 out of 31. Maybe this was a way to connect buyers to cartoon reruns and recycled marketing material. But, it is a definitive shift in the line's strategy in a very short time.
This Duke version feels like it was heavily used. The reality is that it really wasn't...outside of a couple of years in the early 2000's. Several closely clustered uses of the mold made it appear common. But, there is really one Duke figure that uses this body: the excellent 2001 version. The ARAHC from that year is, easily, the best paint job on this mold and is the definitive use of the parts. Later that same year, the chest appeared on the Leatherneck figure. In 2004, the superb Desert Patrol Stalker used this Duke's body with a 1989 Stalker head. Again, it's an excellent figure (one of the highlights of the repaint era) but it's Stalker instead of Duke. Various Duke parts were then used on other figures, including the 2000's era Crimson Guard. The mold was planned for a 2003 Wal Mart exclusive Sky Patrol Duke. While the figures were cancelled and never actually released, hundreds or thousands of the pre-production figures made their way into the collecting community via Asian Joe sellers. The Wal Mart figure is extremely well done and was once common enough to encourage collectors to track it down. Now, it's a 3 digit figure that can months or years to find. But, it does exist for fans of this mold. I'd have loved to have seen this figure released in the 2000's in colors similar to the V1 Duke. It would have been a great repaint. But, it was not to be.
1992 Duke figures are cheap. Despite the fact that the figure tends to discolor and the seat, stand, knife and his gun tend to be brittle, you can easily get mint and complete figures for around $8.00. In this day and age, that's a pittance for a vintage figure that is pretty good. Dealers will sell them for about double the open market pricing. But, for a figure of a major character that's pretty well done and has good gear, you'd expect to pay much more. A big part of that pricing, though, is the fact that this isn't the best paint job for Duke in this mold. And, it's also not the best desert themed Duke. So, collectors don't really need this figure for anything. There are better options out there and that helps keep the figure affordable. If you're looking for a decent enough Duke or just something different, though, this version is definitely one of the top options.