Saturday, August 23, 2014

Unearthed: The Destructor#3!

Welcome back to my examination of Atlas Comics' 1975 series the Destructor! Having covered issue #2 last time, we're on to issue #3!

For the third time in a row, Larry Lieber handles the cover art. Here we have our hero being attacked by the Huntress and her giant kitties while a stadium of businessmen cheer her on. I don't think anyone would seriously think for a minute that the Destructor is going to be defeated, but at least this cover sells this issue's villain - it certainly sells her more effectively than Deathgrip on the previous issue's cover. She actually looks formidable and avoids Deathgrip's awkward posture. As always, simplicity serves this comic best.

Perhaps the most important thing to note are the white fringes which have appeared on the Destructor's boots and gloves, evidently to give his appearance about 5% more pizzazz while still remaining pretty generic. The new design is found within as well.

We open "In the Hands of the Huntress" to note that while writer Archie Goodwin and penciler Steve Ditko are back again, inker Wally Wood is MIA. Sadly, now that the series finally has a significant female character to be drawn, Wood has tapped himself out. The actual inker is uncredited, but the Grand Comics Database attributes the role to Frank Giacoia.

We're back to the Combine, the faceless masters of last issue's villain Deathgrip; they're no longer quite as faceless, as one member - Dr. Shroud - is identified as the one who designed Deathgrip's hand. Shroud is working on something called the Darkriver Project, but believes they should deal with the Destructor at the same time (having evidently forgotten that the entire reason they involved the Destructor last time was to pit him against their rival Big Mike Brand). Noticing from films of his fighting style, Dr. Shroud believes the Destructor possesses enhanced animal-like senses; to that end, he has brought in an expert tracker: the Huntress! She demonstrates how her "laser-lash" weapon generates a crackling energy whip, boasting "there's practically no limit on what it can do!" Truly? Can you use it to fill out your tax return?

We return to the deserts of New Mexico... no wait, the pine forests of New Mexico where Big Mike Brand's ranch is located. From the Destructor's dialogue about his wounded arm, it seems this is indeed soon after last issue - no explanation as to why he changed his costume. To sneak back into Brand's ranch... because he couldn't walk in through the front door as Jay Hunter why, exactly? - the Destructor flings himself over the security fence by using one of the newfound pine trees as a catapult. Wow, after two issues of no particular storytelling issues, suddenly there are a lot of little things turning up.

While the Destructor takes a nap to let his left arm finish healing, Angela confronts her father about his career as a criminal, which she learned about from Deathgrip. Big Mike insists he's been preparing to confess his activities to the authorities, but Angela notes he lied to her about his life for 19 years - it's hard to trust him now. Big Mike's right-hand man Pepe notes he's been looking into Jay's background and learned about his connection to the Destructor (from issue #1), but Big Mike is too distraught by the conversation with Angela to pursue this train of thought.

The Destructor wakes up at night for a little Destructor: After Dark on Cinemax, as evinced by Angela heading to Jay's room in her nightie; Jay switches back to his civilian clothes in time to greet her and his arm is fully healed now. Angela is so clearly distraught that Jay helpfully speaks one of her speech balloons for her (above).

After hearing Angela's story, Jay heads out the next day as the Destructor, revisiting the auto yard Deathgrip used ("yesterday," he claims; I guess the police have already cleared up the crime scene?) to find out if the site owner had been working with Deathgrip. However, the Huntress (somehow) anticipated this and the Destructor sets off a trap which gasses him unconscious. The Huntress collects her quarry alongside Lobo, her Wolverine-before-it-was-cool-to-be-Wolverine sidekick. Returning to the Combine in Las Vegas, Huntress tells them she's caught the Destructor but rather than simply kill him, she intends to let him go free and hunt him, while cameras capture the event for the Combine's pleasure. The Combine point out this is not what they asked for and it makes more sense to kill him while he's helpless, but the Huntress is in love with this Most Dangerous Game homage.

The Destructor wakes up inside of a cage somewhere in the wild and smashes through the bars. The Huntress observes and sets after him with Lobo and her two pet mountain lions Siva and Kali. We now learn Lobo is infatuated with his mistress, but she is adamant that he's merely the "back-up man" and isn't physically attractive (as Wolverine had yet to make hairy comic book trolls sexy). The Huntress tells Lobo he can only hunt the Destructor if she fails, but she won't. Me-ow! I'd say she had him whipped, but if she tried her laser-lash would kill him.

The Destructor finds no way out of the valley the Huntress deposited him in as there's a force field encasing the area. Siva & Kali attack him but he dives into a pool to flush the big kitties away. His costume torn and scratched-up, the Destructor runs right into the Huntress! He manages to get past the laser-lash by throwing a piece of kindling at her, causing her to strike it with the lash and thus leaving her open to a punch, but Lobo intervenes to try and save the Huntress, causing the Destructor to run away. The Huntress throws two of the giant claws from her headband at him and the claws explode. She prepares to resume the hunt but Lobo insists on going ahead to prove he's "man enough" for her. Lobo follows a trail of blood to a cave and blindly opens fire with his gun into the mouth of the cave, but the Destructor's wounds have already healed and he snuck out of the cave, knowing it would bring someone there; with Lobo having wasted his amoo, the Destructor easily trounces the less-than-bright flunky.

The Destructor again tries to get through the force field, but this enables the Huntress to catch up. One of her lash blows strikes the force field as she tries to strangle the Destructor and the backlash hurls the Huntress over a cliff to her death (not that we readers knew they were standing on a cliff). With the force field shorted out due to the lash, the Destructor escapes, leaping himself away from the Combine. The next day the Combine scour Las Vegas to find the Destructor, reasoning his wounds would be severe enough to give him away in his civilian guise; of course, their men go right past Jay Hunter, whose body has again completely healed.

Thoughts: It's not as good as before, and not only because Wally Wood is gone (it doesn't help, anyway). The Combine have gone from being clever schemers who utilize the Destructor as a pawn against their enemies to a typically brain-dead criminal organization whose wealth of resources can't handle a lone man who barely knows they exist. Big Mike has gone from being possibly-good to essentially a reformed mobster, which makes him a lesser threat to the Destructor. And while the Destructor's terrific sensory powers would have been well-served in the Most Dangerous Game pastiche this issue, instead the Destructor seems to get through problems by relying on his healing factor (put he and Lobo together and you've got Wolverine!). Earlier issues were generic, but well-handled. This issue is just plain generic.

Next time on Unearthed: Something completely different; having looked at three obscure 70s Ditko comics, let's visit the King himself: Jack Kirby's Justice, Inc.!

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