Again we open with a Larry Lieber cover because - inexplicably - Atlas Comics did not realize advertising the fact Steve Ditko served as the series' artist might bring in more readers (of course, covers were always done early; p'rhaps Lieber drew all of the series' covers before Ditko had even been hired). Take notice of the words "All New No Reprint" in the top right corner. By 1975, the comic book industry had certainly been overrun with reprinted stories and the publishers usually disguised the fact that said reprints were not all-new material. In fact, it's been alleged that the entire reason for Marvel expanding the number of reprint titles in their library was simply to crush Atlas, forcing them off their newsstands (theorizing that vendors could more easily sell reprints of Don Heck's Avengers or Werner Roth's X-Men than gamble on an unknown quantity such as Morlock 2001 or Demon Hunter). If the direct market had been a force in those days, Atlas might have stood a better chance.
Anyway, the cover also serves to introduce the issue's villain: Deathgrip. He doesn't seem that formidable here (if his right hand can emit crackles of destructive energy, why is he bothering with that hook in his left hand?) and the woman hanging off the girder is needless clutter. The previous issue's cover was a touch generic, but it did a better job of selling the Destructor.
This story is called "Deathgrip!" and is again brought to us by writer Archie Goodwin, penciler Steve Ditko & inker Wally Wood. We resume the Destructor's tale by visiting the fallout from the first issue. While Destructor's primary foe Max Raven is dead, his lieutenant Lash and his mob are still a concern. There's a nice Daredevil-like bit where the Destructor's superhuman senses alert him to a truck trying to drive him over while he's in the midst of a fight. With the rest of Lash's men down, the Destructor moves in on the leader, but Lash points out if he's brought down, the Syndicate will simply bring in another leader, just as Lash replaced Raven. He suggests the Destructor should strike at the Syndicate's leader Big Mike Brand, who lives on a ranch in Ransom, New Mexico. The Destructor swallows this story and sets out to investigate Brand.
Once the Destructor leaves, Lash meets with a shadowy figure (soon revealed as Deathgrip) as they conspire over how they've tricked the Destructor into bringing down the Syndicate so their true masters the Combine can take over. While Jay Hunter briefly flashes back over his origin story, Deathgrip hints at his own origin (apparently the Combine supplied him with his bionic right hand) while being self-aware enough to note "Subtlety can hardly be the stock-in-trade of anyone called Deathgrip!" However, Deathgrip isn't with Lash simply to conspire - the Combine wants Lash killed. Deathgrip does so, apparently by burning through Lash's throat with his hand (Ditko cuts away for matters of discretion). "See Lash? No subtlety!" Deathgrip remarks. Again, while the Destructor is a fairly average series, Goodwin's scripting is well above average.
While Jay sets off to New Mexico, thinking how prior to his father's death he used to idolize Big Mike Brand, Deathgrip checks in with the Combine. The Combine want Deathgrip in Las Vegas for a new assignment, but he insists on following the Destructor's actions. The Combine agree, provided he serve only as a last resort - the Combine don't want Brand's death to be traced back to their agents.
In the New Mexico desert, Jay catches a rattlesnake and uses it to startle Brand's horseback-riding daughter Angela, giving Jay an opportunity to win Brand's confidence. One can't help but notice inker Wally Wood always wakes up when it's time to ink a pretty girl (and all girls are pretty in Wood's comics). Jay's plan works and Brand invites him back to the ranch, although Brand's top bodyguard Pepe is suspicious of Jay. For good measure, Jay fouls up Brand's car so he can save the day again through his mechanic training.
Jay soon accepts a job offer as Brand's chauffeur and intends to tear Brand's empire apart from within. As a continuing premise, this isn't too bad; if Jay's double identity/purpose is discovered by these people, it's worse than losing a secret - it would mean his life. And you thought Aunt May gave Peter Parker a lot of grief! Over dinner with the Brands, Jay meets Angela's boyfriend Glenn Thorne, whose curly perm suggests an underlying menace.
That evening, Jay dons his costume and breaks into Brand's office where he discovers Brand no longer has anything to do with the Syndicate operations Lash had been dealing in. The Destructor is seen by Brand's guards before he can leave and they shoot him, but his healing powers again save his life. Elsewhere, Deathgrip hears about the break-in and fears the Destructor might know Lash lied to him; he decides to go against the Combine and strike immediately.
The next day, Glenn takes Angela for a drive to an auto dump, where he removes a mask and wig to expose himself (in a fully-clothed manner) as Deathgrip tells of his origins as a cardsharp who lost a hand in an auto wreck. He again uses "subtle," this time to describe his ability with cards, but notes with his new hand "I can never be subtle again!"
Soon, Deathgrip sends a message to Big Mike: get out of the country and don't turn anything over to the authorities, or Angela will die. Jay overhears this and has begun to think Brand might not be the terrible gang lord he once was; Jay decides he'll rescue Angela. At the auto yard, Deathgrip shows off the compactor and has Angela locked inside a car, planning to crush her if her father doesn't comply with his demands. Fortunately, the Destructor arrives. Although Deathgrip's bionic hand causes Jay terrible pain, his quick healing enables him to stagger through and eventually he manoeuvres Deathgrip under the compactor's crane; Deathgrip's metal hand causes him to cling to the magnet and the Destructor releases him in the compactor, crushing him to death. The Destructor leaves the auto yard with Angela, still wondering if he'll have to kill her father.
Thoughts: Not bad. Again, average and I didn't find Wood's inking as energetic as before - the first issue had a kind of softness about the lines, whereas this issue feels almost glossy. Still, I'm one of those who always enjoys Ditko's layouts and Goodwin is virtually unbeatable as a scripter, so it's still a decent package. This is a minor treasure - worthwhile for any fan of Ditko, Goodwin or Wood.
In the next installment of Unearthed: The Destructor#3!