By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
"What can we learn from that thing except a faster way to die."
uke Nukem, that lovable, irrepressible mass murdering wisecracker, is a gestalt entity, a symbolic configuration unified as a whole out of many borrowed bits and pieces. He is the end result of years of crossbreeding between the action and science-fiction genres, the bloody last man standing. One only has to look at the little guy to immediately begin to pick up on his multifoliate origins.
Duke's physical heritage can be traced back along a steroid laden family tree the branches of which include such notables as illiterate action goon Dolph Lundgren and Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot autuer Sylvester Stallone in his Rambo phase. The wife beater style shirt can't help but recall every thick necked tough guy from Bruce Willis in Die Hard (a somewhat higher figure on the action evolutionary scale) to Sgt. Slaughter, perhaps one of the silliest thuggie types either while he was "slamming and jamming" the competition in the WWF, or selling GIJoe products. Now speaking of GIJoe, I must admit that there was one character which slid into my pop culture diseased mind the second I laid eyes on Duke's oily muscles and especially his blonde-on-blonde buzzcut: Sgt. Duke, erstwhile leader of the original GIJoe organization.
Dear Sgt. Duke lead his team through thick and thin before being supplanted by the particularly uninteresting General Hawk. I recently made my way back home to unearth my old Joe action figures, and after finding Duke and studying him for a few seconds the connection was undeniable. The rigid facial features where a definite marker but again it was that hair that was a dead giveaway. Both Dukes share a fondness for severe facistic folical fashions...a little touch of aryan goes a long way I suppose. In the end, Duke is really just a combination of every powerhouse action type. You could point to him as the new Thundar the Barbarian or the latest model of the muscle bound Pex, late of Paradise Towers really doesn't matter. Duke Nukem equals pumped up hero material whose comic bookish look separates him from such other popular muscle-gainer eating machines like the troop characters seen in both Quake 1 and 2. The Quake soldiers, particularly in the second game, are designed with a grittier realism which is slightly creepy. Duke Nukem is far from disturbing; he's a big ol' gore soaked teddy bear spouting witty rejoinders in the face of death.
It is Duke's voice which is his most memorable feature. The deep, gruff tone of Nukem's voice seems reminiscent of the original "Duke", John Wayne, and of another wrestling spokesman, Randy "Macho Man" Savage (I for one can certainly imagine Nukem backing the right wing politics of "cowboy-for-hire" Wayne and snapping into a slim-jim while he does it). Nukem also follows the vocal intonations of another cult hero: Ash of the Evil Dead Trilogy. There is a trace of the comically macho Ash in Duke's speech patterns, but the connection is felt most directly in the actual phrases Nukem utters from time to time.
All a horror film fan has to hear is the word "groovy" to think of Sam Raimi's battered hero Ash. This is just one of Nukem's borrowed catch phrases. The game Duke Nukem 3D follows the idea behind Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness pretty closely: gory action/horror combined with humor. The outrageous "House of Mystery meets Mad Magazine" hero style is also very Raimi-esque, and Duke is definitely shaped from this mold. Another comic action/science-fiction film, John Carpenter's They Live is referenced in Nukem's use of the phrase "It's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum...and I'm all out of gum." Like Raimi's films, Carpenter's little smash 'em up flick is an over the top adventure into a world part Three Stooges and part Twilight Zone...and like Raimi and Carpenter, the creators of Duke are spoofing the genre with just the right amount of love and appreciation.
The character of Duke Nukem is clearly a creation of fans of the action/science-fiction genre. He is the end result of years of watching countless film, tv, comic book and cartoon militerized heroes battle their way across popular culture. As expected, Duke also embodies the changes which have developed in the genre, particularly the steady stream of wiseacre comments and slightly sinister sense of humor which the modern action hero is called upon to spout to get the audience cheering. One can see the pieces from which Duke was built but don't expect a further evolution for our dependable killer. Nukem's personality is a character cul-de-sac: sewn together from various cliches he is a limited creation very much the sum of his parts.
And so Duke Nukem stands in his little corner of the collective pop culture universe, guns blazing while behind him stands a somewhat proud heritage of musclebound heroes whose buttons are the brightest things about them, and who just can't rest until they've rid the universe of a few more "damn aliens."
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.