Born of Fury! Sworn to Vengeance! He is...

The Destructor #3-4

Now that I'm updating the blog again, I figure I should make a stab at finishing up some of the series that I started and never finished. First up, the works of Steve Ditko. Or at least the ones I have as individual issues. Because I just happened to have them all out the other day.

Destructor #3 cover

The Destructor #3

"In The Hands of the Huntress!"

Written by Archie Goodwin
Illustrated by Steve Ditko
Lettering by Alan Kupperberg

First thing of note: the Destructor has a great logo. It's got a fun, '70s retro feel to it, and I'm surprised no one's ripped it off for a band logo. Or maybe a blog theme.

The plot of this issue is pretty pedestrian. The Destructor, a superhero with generic origin #2 (swears revenge on crime after death of loved one) and generic power set #18 (super-strength, healing factor) is targeted by some Mafia types. They're not capable of handling the job themselves, so they decide to bring in... the Huntress!

Destructor #3, p. 2 detail

The Destructor #3, p. 2

The Huntress is a great villain. She's got sort of a Kraven-meets-Thundra thing going on — she hunts men for sport, partly for the thrill, and partly from some deep-seated misandry. She's got a great character design, too. Bold but not distracting, titillating but practical, with just enough ornamental detail to give you an idea of what she's about at one glance. If she was a Bronze Age Marvel character rather than a Bronze Age Atlas character, she'd have become a mainstay of someone's rogues gallery for sure.

You may also notice that the Huntress doesn't really look like she was drawn by Steve Ditko, either. Her face is a lot less lined than other Dikto characters, and her body type isn't one that I don't think I've ever seen Ditko draw before or since. She's definitely a Ditko character design — the mask is very Ditkoesque, as are the tooth/claw ornaments and the weird animal she's A studio assist from Eric Stanton? A touch-up job after the fact by Wally Wood, who inked the first two issues, or Larry Lieber, who may have inked this issue? Or just Ditko drawing his heart out?

Anyway, the Huntress manages to capture the Destructor with a minimum of effort, and then stages an elaborate manhunt for the viewing pleasure of the Mafia types who hired her. It's a pretty fun sequence, though it doesn't get better than this page right here...

Destructor #3, p. 12

The Destructor #3, p. 12

That's some nice use of body language and staging to direct the eye. The force of the first lioness slamming into the ground leads nicely into the Destructor tumbling to the right, which takes you over to the second panel. The Destructor's position flows nicely from the first panel to the second panel, and his awkward left hand and the force of the second lioness's blow sends you back diagonally to the third panel. The bent leg and curved posture in the third panel slingshot you into the fourth, where the downward plunge and vertical waterfall lead nicely into the fifth panel.

I think having the Destructor swim to the left in the final panel hurts the flow a bit, but it's hardly a fatal mistake (and it's the last panel on the page anyway, so it's not a huge issue). I think the intention was for his arms to shoot you back up to the top panel on the next page, but they're not quite at the right angle (and you tend to follow the tilt of the head more than the arm position anyway).

Anywyay, the Huntress's love-struck henchman, Lobo, tries to defeat the Destructor by himself only to take a beating for his troubles; the Huntress is caught by one of her own snares and is sent plummeting to his death; and the Destructor beats the crap out of the Mafia types with a lounge table and escapes.

Hey, no one ever said this was Shakespeare, kiddos.

The Destructor #4

Doomsday -- Minus One!

Written by Gerry Conway
Penciled by Steve Dikto
Inked by Al Milgrom
Lettered by [?] Duffy

And now for something completely different.

After three issues of beating up on the mob and their super-powered goons, the Destructor...

...is kidnapped by mutant freaks!
...is taken to their secret underground commune!
...discovers that they're (probably) reclusive pacifists!
...gets caught in the explosion of an atom bomb!
...gains a brand new set of super powers for no good reason!
...is (possibly) tricked by the aformentioned freaks into attacking the US Army!

This issue doesn't flow naturally from what's happened in the previous issue, which isn't necessarily a problem, but what's on the page here is just completely baffling. One of the key plot points of the issue is that the founders of the commune, atomic scientists trying to escape the arms race, were enslaved by their backer and forced to develop new nuclear technologies, which caused their children to become horrible, mutant freaks. Which of course, is all the backer's fault.

Doesn't sound right, does it? Why does the backer get all the blame? The scientists are the ones who built all the insufficiently-shielded nuclear devices. Sure, the backer may have forced them do to it, but he certainly didn't force them to do a half-assed job...

Anyway, eventually the scientists form an angry mob and beat the guy to death.

Destructor #4, p. 11-12

The Destructor #4, p. 11-12

That's a beautiful sequence (right page). Tight, and claustrophobic, with a the vantage point rotating around the central figure (the fat guy in the red jumpsuit). Note that all the important story elements are on the right-hand side of the page — the threatening mob on the first panel, the new arrivals in the second and third panel, and the bludgeoning clubs in the fourth panel. The guy in the red jumpsuit snakes through the page design — he grabs your attention in the first panel through the bold color, drags you down through the next panel with the swing of his club, and then forces you to slide off his back to your inevitable doom in the final panel.

I'm a bit confused by the depiction of the scientists. They're supposed to be the protagonists here, but Ditko invariably depicts them as monsters, their sweaty faces continually distorted by irrational rage.

Their mutant freak babies are much the same way...

Destructor #4, p. 14

The Destructor #4, p. 14

In the panel where the Destructor agrees to join their cause, three of them have faces twisted in disgust, a fourth is smirking like he just pulled one over on the Destructor, and a fifth appears to be laughing at the Destructor behind his back.

What gives?

Is this some subtle foreshadowing that maybe the scientists and their mutant offspring aren't quite the good guys they're presenting themselves as? There's nothing else in the script that hints at that possibility. Maybe this is Ditko's Objectivist leanings coming to the fore, and he's passing judgment on those who initiate force by revealing their inner ugliness? Or maybe there was a last-second rewrite of this issue, leading to a disconnect between the art and writing?

We'll never know, because issue #4 was the last issue of The Destructor. And truth be told, I don't think anyone really cares about the answer either.

Comments (3)

  1. Steve White (01/14/2008)

    What the hell is up with the Huntress' bizarre three pack of abs? She must be taking stackers.

  2. Date 'The Knave' White (01/14/2008)

    Hey, cut her some slack — it was the '70s and bodybuilding wasn't in yet. Being halfway to a six pack still puts her way ahead of the general population.

  3. Nick Caputo (10/22/2008)

    The female villain in Destructor # 3 may look a little different due to the uncredited inking of Frank Giacoia. As far as the story in # 4 goes, yes, its entirely possible Ditko was commenting on the script, either that or Conway was setting up something for the next issue. I wonder if it ever went to the pencil stage? A cover was prepared, seen in the fanzine The Comic Reader.

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