Destroyer opens with its titular character punching through a man’s head – an eyeball, teeth, and pieces of scalp flying towards the reader, making clear the level of graphic content present in the book as if the combination of the MAX Comics label on the cover and the creative team of Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker wasn’t enough of a clue as to what Destroyer traffics in. This book is ultra-violent to its core. An early splash page shows Destroyer shoving a gun through a man’s abdomen, guts coming out the other side while yelling, “Guns are for pussies!”.
For those who don’t know, Destroyer first appeared in Mystic Comics #6 back in 1941, just under a year after Steve Rogers was created in Captain America Comics #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Destroyer was a Stan Lee and Jack Binder character much in the same vein as Rogers – he was a normal person-turned-superhero via a super-soldier serum who would go on to fight the Nazis. Unlike Cap, however, Destroyer never really caught on – he would go on to be largely forgotten post-World War II, with his only major appearance being in Invaders #18, which re-established his presence in the primary Marvel Universe. Thirty years later, Kirkman and Walker would reinvent the character for the MAX Comics series.
I said that Kirkman and Walker reinvent Destroyer, but that may not be wholly accurate. Yes, the character curses now and commits acts of violence befitting his name, but the creative team takes an interesting approach with the miniseries. This is the same Keene Marlow who appeared in those World War II comics, now elderly and approaching death. When informed that the Super-Soldier Serum coursing through his veins is no longer enough to protect against multiple heart attacks and daily superhero fights, Marlow decides to go out on his own terms – killing anybody who could threaten his family after he dies.
This only works because the writing and art are strong enough to support it. Kirkman does an excellent job of juxtaposing Destroyer’s hypermasculine personality with his alter ego’s weariness and sincere kindness. In particular, I love the interactions he has with his wife Harriet, who years earlier lost an arm to one of Destroyer’s enemies and replaced it with a robotic prosthetic. Harriet expresses at one point her dissatisfaction with Marlow refusing to retire as a superhero, continuously putting what he feels is his duty over his love for her and their family. “I’ve had fifty-three years to get used to coming second,” she says as the pair crawl into bed. “It doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She then asks Marlow how much longer he has, and he replies with a simple “Not long.” It’s a bittersweet moment, made all the better by Cory Walker’s expressive art.
Walker’s art truly shines during the book’s fight scenes, however – much like the pair’s other work, Invincible. They are brutal and bloody, with Walker’s clean character designs and thick outlines making the action eas and fun to follow. And no amount of red ink was spared, either. The characters become absolutely drenched in blood, with one fight in issue three in particular literally turning into two entirely red figures battling. The over-the-top nature of it all and Walker’s relatively cartoony art style prevent things from becoming too morbid or brutal to look at.
The Invincible comparison is difficult to avoid; if you didn’t know going in that Destroyer was about a Golden Age superhero, it could be mistaken for a side-story set in that universe. I would argue that isn’t a bad thing, however. Keene Marlow’s history within the Marvel canon is confusing for such a relatively minor character, having been retconned multiple times in his few appearances since the Golden Age. Kirkman and Walker make the right choice here to ignore that history and tell a fun and engaging story, one that I highly recommend reading if you are a fan of any of their other work. Just keep an eye out for teeth and eyes flying towards you.