Oh, sure, you’ve read ‘Understanding Comics.’ But… are you familiar with the rest of the McCloud oeuvre? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of DESTROY!! #1 awaits!
Writer: Scott McCloud
Penciler: Scott McCloud
Inker: Scott McCloud
Letterer: Bob Lappan/Scott McCloud
Editor: cat yronwode
Publisher: Eclipse Comics
Cover Price: $4.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00
Previously in DESTROY!!: “The LOUDEST comic-book in the UNIVERSE! PARENTS BEWARE: This Comic-Book is exactly what you think it is: 32 pages of meaningless, overblown violence, mayhem and destruction! (Plus one Naughty Word.)”
Aaaand that’s you open ‘The Loudest Comic In The Universe.’
Growing up in the Midwest in the 1980s, I had difficulty in consistently finding Eclipse books, meaning that I saw ads and references to the existence of DESTROY!! #1 for years and years before I ever encountered a copy, and it was only after the debut of ‘Understanding Comics’ that I became enamored enough of Scott McCloud’s work to seek out all of it that I could find, including the superlative ‘Zot’. But for some reason, the times I ran into this book, I either didn’t have money or didn’t care enough to spend it.
This was a mistake, as our next page will surely prove…
Man, those are some beautiful panels, right there. In the backmatter of this issue, Scott talks about the things that led him to create this comic: The sudden arrival of writer Alan Moore, Jim Valentino’s ‘normalman’, the divine idiocy of Don Simpson’s ‘Megaton Man’, but most of all? Most of all, he wanted to get some things out of his system so that he could move on to telling different, real stories that weren’t predicated on the idea of “two great big musclebound morons beating the crap out of each other.”
Enter: Captain Maximum!
The Red Basher (he’s the one on the cover, natch, and can be found at the end of most all the word balloons reading “DESTROY!!”) has been wrecking up Manhattan. Is he man? Monster? Hero? Villain? Sandwich artist at Subway? He may be all of those things or none, but he is apparently known to Captain Maximum. Perhaps a little bit too well known…
Spoiler: He says “DESTROY!!” The Basher lets loose a powerful strike that sends Captain Maximum flying down the length of Manhattan Island, blowing a huge hole in the historic Flatiron Building, hurtling out of control until he makes a hard landing on a lovingly rendered 42nd Street. But anybody who has read a superhero slugfest before knows that this isn’t the end…
That, by the way, is the Naughty Word warned about on the cover. There is a lot of talk about post-modernism as a concept in art, and while it’s tough to define (partly because post-modernism includes tenets about how there really aren’t universal definitions of anything and partly because the word is misused regularly), this particular work definitely fits the bill. Taking the works of Kirby, Kane, Kubert and other giants of the superhero fighty-fighty field (some of whose names probably do NOT start with K) as inspiration, the bone-headed chaos of this story serves as a deconstruction of super-books past.
Speaking of Kirby, that final panel apes a very famous Captain America moment, which I am 100% certain is intentional on the part of Scott McCloud. I also love Captain Maximum’s line in the middle panel. It’s a perfect example of the silliness that you see in comics, where the primary rule is “AND NOW THEY FIGHT!” The best part of Destroy!! #1 comes when McCloud turns it into a tour of Manhattan landmarks, with our dynamic dunce duo destroying the Chrysler Building (whose distinctive spire Red Basher turns into a club), blowing a massive hole in the side of the Empire State Building and giving the reader an impromptu tour of New York City. It gets real when Captain Maximum gets punched into Upper Bay, returning with a bludgeon of his own…
Grand Central Station gets it next, years before Thor and Hulk devastated it in the movies, leading the battle to intensify and McCloud to show off his skills at comic-booking and some really smart metatextualism, as the devastation even overcomes the word balloons.
The action is so huge that it busts out of the panels of the comic! All the scholarly analysis that would become ‘Understanding Comics’ is on display in these oversized pages, including the requisite melodrama…
The Red Basher isn’t a villain after all, you guys! He’s one of Cap’n Max’s own teammates, driven mad by perceived romantic betrayal. Yes, this big, dumb testosterone battle is all about a girl, and of course, this damsel has to end up distressed…
With their mutual lady-friend possibly injured by a “pathetically small piece of flying debris”, Maximum ups the ante and gets maaaad.
Please note: This comic is from 1986, smack in the middle of the ascendance of Wolverine to the throne of #1 Super Guy, and appeared on the stands roughly concurrently with ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, Marvel’s New Universe, and the hyper-violent relaunch of The Shadow by Howard Chaykin, making what happens next seem a little bit familiary-ish…
Page after page of bone-crunching ensues, with only “DESTROY!!” and “SHUT UP!!” for dialogue, but when Red Basher gets the upper hand, the crowd is shocked and terrified. “Good heavens!” shouts one bystander, “He’s winding up for his BIG BANG PUNCH!!”
Heh. That whole sequence never fails to make me laugh, especially the last-panel dodge avoiding the use of more bad language. (In space, no one can hear you “$&@$&!” Comics Code Authority rules, donchaknow.) With The Red Basher finally calmed down, things seem like they’re wrapped up, and he tries to turn himself in to the authorities.
That’s when Captain Maximum makes “one powerful leap”, with his own cry of “DESTROY!!”
Clickety To Embiggen
The island of Manhattan is turned into a smoldering crater, and the already-surrendering Red Basher is taken into custody by the Captain himself. And then, Scott McCloud cements his status as a comic-book genius with one final, perfect line of dialogue…
Scott refers to this book as “The Ultimate Fight Comic”, and in many ways it is exactly that, taking the tropes and tools of superhero battles and bringing them to their illogical, rubble-strewn conclusion. That’s really the fun of this issue (and there’s a lot more brilliance in this book, so if you see a copy, you need to rush right out in a buying frenzy, y’all), watching a skilled artist create what is perhaps the Platonic Ideal of big dumb punchemouts. DESTROY!! #1 is a really sharp take on superhero comics, done with love, brains and considerable artistic talent, distilling down the fist-fights our yore into the comic book equivalent of a Dean Martin roast, mocking because it loves and earning 5 out of 5 stars overall. If nothing else, it’s a book that vividly proves his bona fides as a scholar of sequential art, deepening my appreciation of his work in ‘Understanding Comics.’