In the 2000's, Hasbro continually returned to long time fan favorite molds. The issue, though, is that while collectors loved the original releases, the post vintage takes on fan classics were rarely upgrades over the vintage figure. Instead, many of the redos of the pinnacles of the vintage line were sorry retreads that more showed the flaws of fan favorites rather than improving upon them. This is personified in no greater way than the absolutely terrible repaints of the version 1 Duke mold. The 1997 figure was an embarrassment. Hasbro's second attempt to take on the character's iconic look was in 2004 and it wasn't much better than the version from 7 years prior. The Anti Venom Duke is not a good figure and really doesn't have much going for it. But, it's a take on the classic Duke and is a part of the best G.I. Joe themed 6 pack of the repaint era.
Duke was simply out of place in this pack. The set included the Roadblock and Barricade molds from 1992, the 1988 Charbroil, the 1990 Stretcher, a remade 1984 Mutt and this Duke. While Duke kind of pairs with Mutt, the reality is that the mold is skinny and doesn't fit with the bulkier molds from later years that made up the majority of the set. In 2004, it had been a long time since the original Duke mold had appeared. And, the 1992 Duke (which is a great update for Duke) had been used in 2000 and planned for 2003. So, it made some sense for Hasbro to return to the original look for the first sergeant. But, we later learned that Hasbro had access to the 1993 Duke mold. This set would have been a great opportunity for that mold to appear. But, that Duke features a molded helmet and would not have meshed with the idea of Steel Brigade helmets that Hasbro used as the Anti Venom set's primary gimmick. A quick kitbash might have solved that. But, instead, Hasbro brought back this old mold.
This figure really has two flaws. The first is that he has a painted head. Instead of the head being cast in flesh colored plastic with eyes and hair painted on, it is covered in flesh toned paint. This is problematic for two reasons. First, the paint just looks terrible. Secondly, the figure is meant to wear a helmet. And, the act of putting that helmet on and taking it off will wear off the paint. So, the figure has a design flaw at its core. This is especially maddening because the unproduced variants of the Anti Venom set featured plastic molded heads instead of painted. They looked immensely better and would have held up to wear much better. Duke's second major flaw is the Gung Ho arms. These arms are scrawny as they were meant to be bare arms with no sleeves. They are smooth and without detail. Painted up, they look out of place. Full arm sleeves are particularly egregious as there's no folds or seams to give the figure more heft. While also overused, the 1984 Thunder arms would have been a much better choice and done wonders to improve this figure.
As such, this Duke is pretty terrible. The head looks too big for the chest. The arms are way to skinny. And, the juxtaposition of the green upper body and tan lower body really doesn't work as well as you'd think it would. This is especially unfortunate because the chest is actually kind of nice. The silver against the dark green is a nice look that brings out the Duke mold more than the golden highlights against tan did in 1984. With proper arms and a non-painted head, this Duke would be a worthy successor to the original version. But, those two pesky choices by the designers really limit this figure and ruin an otherwise useful release.
The Anti Venom set has aged well. The choice of molds combined with good colors and original gear has kept it a fan favorite. The AV set was well received (as far as Joe themed sets went!) in 2004 and was the first non army builder to really appreciate on the secondary market. With only around 16,000 sets produced, a little bit of popularity will drive up demand artificially. But, the set has always been held in high regard by collectors. The Duke, though, is usually the lone exception. With some other sets, there are only one or two good figures and you'll pay a premium for them while the set's duds linger for a fraction of the price. In this set, all of the other 5 figures are good. Duke is lone misfire. But, as you're 5/6 of the ways to a complete set with the good figures, Duke gets caught up in the completist mentality and many collectors finish the set with him just to have the entire team.
While this was just the second repaint of Duke in this parts combination, Hasbro quickly overdid it. Aside from the fact that there are two unproduced Anti Venom Duke variants (dark blue and light blue), Hasbro used the mold with a new head for a comic pack in 2005. This Duke was based on the coloring of the original figure. But, it's much worse. It's one of the more terrible releases of the 2000's as the paint is bad and the figure quality is poor, too. If that weren't enough, Hasbro released this mold in the HAS set in 2005. That Duke just has differently colored pants. That's it. It's one of the laziest figures Hasbro ever did. But, in some ways, it's better than this Anti Venom figure since the colors don't clash as much. Hasbro planned to bring the body with the comic pack head back in 2010 or so for a "Then and Now" set. Unproduced samples of this figure exist. It would have been better than the Comic Pack figure and the HAS version and, probably, this version, too. It didn't happen, though, and collectors are just left with terrible takes on the V1 Duke mold. At least Chinese Dukes were cheap and plentiful for a while in the early 2010's....
The Anti-Venom accessories, overall, were pretty good. Duke's, though, were not. While Barricade, Roadblock, Charbroil and Lifeline all included at least some parts from their original releases (or, in Roadblock's case, from his classic 1984 release), Duke did not. Instead, he was given a black pistol from the 1986 Lifeline (that's oversized and always been a release I felt was lacking) and a JvC era newly sculpted weapon that featured a sight and grenade launcher. This gun is, actually, well sculpted. But, it's also useless since it doesn't have a stock to hold it in place with the figure. It's one of those weapons that looks OK until you try to use it. And, once you realize how worthless it is when trying to pose a figure, you grow to hate the gun just on its lack of merit. Duke, of course, includes the modified Steel Brigade helmet with "Duke" emblazoned across the back. It's good for Cobra to know who they're shooting in the back, I guess. You'll see in all the photos below that I've attempted different accessory combos with this figure to find something that really works. The Ripcord rifle seems to have distinguished itself as my favorite. Which is kind of odd considering that in all my years of collecting I've only ever used Ripcord rifles with Ripcord, Airborne and a custom character made from Flint, Footloose and Snake Eyes parts.
So, Anti Venom pricing is just dumb. While carded sets were running around $125 for a while, they seem to have fallen back into the $80 range on the open market. But, here's the thing: even this craptastic Duke is expensive if you want him on his own. Dealers will get $30-$40 for a mint and complete figure. But, even open market figures will top $30. If you want to sacrifice the helmet, you can get a copy of the figure for around $10. But, there's really no in between. If you don't have the Anti Venom figures, I'd still suggest buying a carded set and opening it as it's the cheapest way to get all the figures. (Oddly, you can get loose, mint and complete sets for about the same price as a mint and complete Roadblock.) Aside from that, I'd NEVER buy this Duke. He's awful and not worth anything more than a couple of bucks. But, newer collectors don't really understand that there's way more of these figures in the collector market than there are collectors. And, once old timers realize they can get $30 for shitty figures like this, they will come out in force.