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Another Duke #1 review

Yo Joe?

Uh… not yet. This is Duke # 1, a brand-new comic series published by Skybound Entertainment and starring the non-ninja frontman of G.I. Joe, Conrad Hauser AKA Duke! With Robert Kirkman’s Void Rivals having launched Skybound’s new Energon Universe, G.I. Joe is the second Hasbro property to take its place in this new world after Transformers. Rather than a typical G.I. Joe team book, they’ve opted to do solo Duke and Cobra Commander books to lead it off.

After making his debut in Transformers # 2, Duke’s all set to go on his own adventure. He witnessed Starscream transform and kill his comrade Tyler Frost in that issue, but now finds himself the victim of a cover-up as the US government flat-out denies the existence of transforming alien jets! What’s a Duke to do but go rogue and try and uncover a conspiracy that has coiled its way deep under the surface of America?

Yo… Larry Hama?

Nope, Larry Hama’s doing his own thing, so if you’re looking for more traditional Joe fare, go check out his ongoing G.I. Joe comic that continues the long-running original Marvel continuity. Your creative team for Duke # 1 is Joshua Williamson on script and Tom Reilly on pencils, with Jordie Bellaire and Rus Wooton handling colors and letters respectively.

I think the art by Tom Reilly is a particular standout here- I really dig it and he handles expressive action and heightened emotion really well. Jordie Bellaire’s colors work well with Reilly’s pencils and the whole package is just expertly-presented.

So Yo Duke.

Pretty much. Duke # 1 certainly lives up to its name, maintaining its tight focus on the title character. If Duke is your favorite G.I. Joe character, you can rest assured that he is the center of attention, but that doesn’t mean other Joe characters don’t show up. As Duke investigates the government cover-up of the Transformers’ existence, he runs afoul of a secret organization run by a classic Joe antagonist, and fights the organization’s chief enforcer, who will also be known to Joe fans. The cliffhanger centers around Colonel Hawk sending even more well-known characters after Duke.

I guess this can be considered a topic of minor criticism in the vein of those leveled against Thor: Ragnarok. How many trappings of a character can you strip away before that character is no longer recognizable? I mean, Duke’s whole identity is being one of the field leaders of G.I. Joe, and while this issue takes the time to establish that right off, it then spins him in a new direction that will likely inform the rest of this series. I’m not sure that I got right behind “conspiracy nut” Duke, and there’s another thing- we as the audience already KNOW he’s NOT crazy, there IS a cover-up, and Transformers exist. You can have a suspenseful thriller in that vein… but is Duke really the best character to star in it? I think the premise of this series itself is already on shaky ground.

All these squares make a circle.

I hate to sound down on this first issue- I think the art is really good, but the story wasn’t really for me. Maybe it highlights the inherent problem with placing Transformers and G.I. Joe in the same universe… the Transformers’ doings are usually so world-shaking that it’s impossible for them not to influence G.I. Joe. There’s another thing too; it’s kind of a stretch for me to claim that six months have gone by since the Transformers have landed on Earth and fought in front of large crowds of people, yet their existence is STILL somehow covered-up and not considered public knowledge. That’s what this issue does, and it’s a premise that has always been too unbelievable to me.

If you’re a massive G.I. Joe fan or Duke stan, maybe you’ll find something appealing here. If you’re a Transformers fan, well, there isn’t much here so far that looks essential to their corner of the “Energon Universe”. It’s still early days, so maybe it is worth giving Duke # 1 a shot, but it all depends on what you’re looking for in a G.I. Joe comic.

Buy it this week as a Christmas chaser, and don’t let THEM find out!!

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