Other than Cobra Commander, Destro is one of the most recognized and feared enemies of the G.I. Joe team. Since his first appearance in 1983, he’s been featured in the toys, cartoon series, comic books and the movies. On paper, Destro is an amoral weapons manufacturer who uses his vast resources to supply Cobra with any weapons it needs. Though his role in Cobra is to give the terrorist organization weapons, Destro’s intelligence, skill and ruthlessness make him an equal to Cobra Commander. In fact, he and others would argue he should be the leader of Cobra, which has led him to struggle for power in the past. Yet he’s always remained in the shadow of Cobra Commander and Serpentor in their endless war. That’s going to change right now.
We’re going to be talking about Destro today, and we’ll be exploring some things you might not know about the masked genius. We’ll be talking about his origin, why he wears the mask, and others who’ve worn it. You’ll even find out how Destro turned both Cobra and G.I. Joe upside-down, saving one and conquering the other. CBR is peeling off the steel mask to give you 15 of Destro’s secrets.
15. DESTRO WAS WARMASTER
G.I. Joe started out as a doll from the 1960s but was revamped into a popular action figure with dozens of characters, both good and evil. Like almost all characters in G.I. Joe, Destro began as an action figure from the new version of the 1980s. He was released in 1983 as part of the second wave of characters.
Also much like many other characters in the G.I. Joe universe, Destro was developed by Larry Hama from Marvel comics. All Hasbro had was a figure with a foil helmet, and Hama’s original name for the character was Warmaster who would operate out of an oil tanker called the Valkerie. Originally, Destro was just supposed to be Cobra’s field commander but was developed into an amoral arms dealer. Since then, Destro has become a central figure in Cobra.
14. DESTRO’S HISTORY
Let’s take a step back and find out more about who Destro is and where he came from. Destro’s full name is James McCullen Destro XXIV, part of a long line of Destros from Scotland. His work as a weapons manufacturer and arms dealer is part of a family history going back centuries, and his reasons for wearing the mask are just as old.
During the English civil war of the 1640s, one of Destro’s ancestors was selling weapons to both sides of the conflict. When his treason was exposed, the armies were reluctant to kill Destro because he was still useful to them, so they forced him to wear a mask made of steel as a sign of his betrayal. The Destro clan came to see the mask as a badge of honor and started a tradition of each Destro wearing a metal mask to show his headship.
13. DESTRO’S FATHER SAVED SNAKE-EYES
Destro has had several connections with G.I. Joe. One of the oldest happened during the Vietnam war before James McCullen was Destro at all. His father was the leader of the clan and took him on a trip to sell weapons to the South Vietnamese. The people he met turned out to be Vietcong agents, along with several Americans and a humanitarian named Baron Eugen DeCobray.
The baron was trying to provide medical supplies but was murdered when he discovered the supplies were being sold to buy weapons instead. The murderers were killed by an American soldier who was framed for the murder of DeCobray. The oldest Destro proved the soldier’s innocence through his knowledge of ballistics, and the soldier went on to become the G.I. Joe ninja Snake-Eyes.
12. DESTRO’S ARMY
For many of Destro’s appearances, he seems to be working for Cobra but he’s powerful all on his own. After the first action figure in 1983, Destro didn’t return again until 1988 as the leader of the Iron Grenadiers, a rival to both Cobra and the G.I. Joe organizations. The Iron Grenadiers are Destro’s own private army of security guards, mercenaries and thugs.
Unlike Cobra, the Iron Grenadiers aren’t motivated by power, loyalty or dedication to a cause. They’re motivated by the huge amounts of money Destro has at his disposal. Not only does Destro have his own men, he also has high-tech weapons and equipment that he uses for his own purposes. Even Cobra Commander felt threatened by the Iron Grenadiers, leading him to attack Destro, and the war profiteer had enough to fight back against Cobra.
11. DESTRO’S COMPANY
Cobra has tons of weapons, from laser rifles to weather control devices, and that’s all thanks to Destro. Destro is a genius at weapons design, but his biggest asset is his enormous company M.A.R.S. Industries. M.A.R.S. is so powerful because it’s the product of the collective wealth of hundreds of years.
Since the 1600s, Destro’s family has been making and selling weapons, and investing the money in the company. By the modern era, M.A.R.S. has become the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, selling its high-end products to governments around the world. At least, that’s what it’s been to the public. In private, M.A.R.S. has been providing Cobra with most of its equipment. Without Destro and M.A.R.S., Cobra would just be a bunch of guys talking about taking over the world instead of doing it.
10. DESTRO’S MASK
Destro’s defining feature is the metal mask that he wears on his face. It’s perfectly molded and can even change and move to match his features like a metal skin. In the main G.I. Joe universe, the mask is passed down to each head of the Destro clan as a symbol of authority.
The mask has a bigger significance than you might have thought. When he was first introduced, his mask color was silver but when his figure was introduced in 1988 with the Iron Grenadiers, the mask switched to gold, showing his changing allegiance. The mask is very important to Destro which is why (in the Action Force UK continuity), his mask is rigged to shock anyone who tries to remove it. The mask also has different tools like explosives hidden inside it so he can make quick escapes.
9. DESTRO SAVED G.I. JOE
Cobra Commander thinks G.I. Joe is his mortal enemy, probably because they pretty much exist to stop his plans for world domination. However, Destro has a different approach. Destro respects the G.I. Joes even though he’s often on the opposite side. He even once saved the Joes.
In 1990, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #103 (Larry Hama, Mark Bright) revealed a secret group of U.S. generals nicknamed the Jugglers that met in a hidden chamber in the Pentagon. The Jugglers decided to covertly buy weapons from Destro and use the Joes to help Serpentor in his civil war against Cobra Commander. When Serpentor lost, the Jugglers tried to claim the Joes had no authorization. At the last minute, Destro revealed receipts to prove the Jugglers had bought weapons from him and saved the Joes.
8. THE OTHER DESTROS
While we think of Destro as one man, there have actually been three Destros. The first is the original James McCullen, of course. The second was his son, Alexander McCullen. Introduced in 2001’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #2 (Josh Blaylock, Steve Kurth), Alexander walked into Destro’s life when James was bedridden from an illness. Alexander took over the family business and identity of Destro until the real Destro recovered and seized control again.
Then there’s Battle Action Force, a comic book series in the UK that was changed to more closely fit G.I. Joe. In the case of Destro, a character named Red Jackal started out as a driver that was disfigured in an accident, forcing him to wear the metal mask. He was renamed Destro later on.
7. DESTRO TOOK OVER COBRA
Since the beginning of their relationship, Destro has shown only tolerance for Cobra Commander while secretly plotting to take over Cobra for himself. He’s had to deal with the Commander’s mania for years and Destro is powerful and smart enough to run his own organization in the form of the Iron Grenadiers and M.A.R.S., so it makes a lot of sense for Destro to be in charge. In a few cases, Destro succeeded.
For instance in 2001, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #1 (J. Scott Campbell, Josh Blaylock) checked back as Cobra had been defeated and G.I. Joe disbanded. When Cobra Commander tried to rebuild his organization, Destro and the Baroness took over. It took a long time for the Commander to put himself back in charge again, having to resort to brainwashing his own crew and conquering multiple fronts. It was fun while it lasted.
6. DESTRO CONTROLLED TRANSFORMERS
Destro is a master of technology but he truly went above and beyond in 2003 when G.I. Joe vs. the Transformers brought together the two epic franchises into one series. G.I. Joe and Transformers are both properties owned by Hasbro so it made a kind of twisted sense to combine the two. Starting in the first issue by Josh Blaylock and Mike S. Miller, the comic imagined an alternate timeline where Cobra discovered the Ark and Destro worked with Dr. Mindbender to turn the robots into remote-controlled tools of the terrorist organization.
As you can imagine, Cobra became much more powerful with tanks and fighter jets that could turn into giant robots at its command. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Destro’s handiwork was short-lived because the Transformers were able to rebel against their programming and break away from Cobra.
5. THE MOVIE DESTRO RECAST
In the 2009 movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, we saw the origin of Destro played out live on screen for the first time. Through the course of the movie, we saw Christopher Eccleston as James McCullen, the CEO of M.A.R.S. who went on to join Cobra. When his face was burned, Cobra Commander injected him with nano-mites that turned his face into a metal mask.
Eccleston wasn’t actually the first choice for the role. David Murray was the first one cast as Destro for Rise of Cobra but he had problems with his visa that kept him from getting into the United States in time to start shooting. Murray later had a role in the movie, playing Destro’s ancestor in the flashback that showed the origin of the mask.
4. CASTLE DESTRO
As a multi-billionaire with centuries of wealth behind him, Destro doesn’t just make do with a mansion in Beverly Hills. No, Destro’s home is a castle that’s been passed down for centuries through his family. Originally located in the highlands of Scotland, Castle Destro is a monument to the fortune and ruthlessness of his ancestors.
The castle was grand but had a bit of a pest control problem in Transformers vs. G.I. Joe continuity. It was said that Castle Destro was haunted by the souls of all the men and women who died as a result of Destro’s weapons. After World War I, Destro decided he wanted to move to the United States, so he had the castle disassembled and rebuilt brick-by-brick in California. He also had the castle ghost-proofed.
3. THE ACTION FIGURE
In 1983, Destro’s action figure was released for the first time. The first figure came with a black laser gun and an attache case that could actually open. On the back, Destro’s card introduced him as the CEO of M.A.R.S. and also described his worldview as someone who believed that war was the natural state of humanity. He thought providing weapons was just part of helping the fittest to survive.
It also said that Destro respects G.I. Joe but hated them for wasting their talents on peace instead of war. It wasn’t until 1988 before a new Destro figure was released. He had a new gold-colored mask and you could only get him by buying Destro’s Despoiler hoverjet. Instead of a gun, this Destro came with a sword and a red cape, making him a much cooler figure.
2. DESTRO HAS NUKES
As we’ve seen from Cobra’s vast arsenal, Destro has access to a lot of weapons. He’s provided Cobra with everything from pistols to giant mechanical soldiers. There’s only one thing he won’t share with Cobra and that’s (arguably) the most dangerous weapon of all: nuclear weapons.
In 1992, G.I. Joe Annual had a story where the G.I. Joes were sent into a foreign country in the midst of a civil war to recover a crashed rebel helicopter. When they found the helicopter, they discovered it held a nuclear warhead from Destro’s company M.A.R.S. It turned out that Destro was trying to keep it out of the hands of Cobra because he thought nukes would be too powerful even for Cobra Commander. That’s saying something, considering Destro gave the Commander control of the weather.
1. DESTRO’S ARMOR
In most versions of Destro, his metal mask is the only thing he needs, but in the comics, he lost a whole lot more. One of his powerful creations was a matter-teleportation system that he called M.A.S.S. Obviously, the ability to send Cobra troops and equipment anywhere in the world instantly would have made them really powerful which is why the Commander wanted it to so badly. Unfortunately, in the comics, it didn’t work too well and had disastrous consequences for Destro.
In 2006’s G.I. Joe #6 (Chuck Dixon, Robert Atkins), Destro created the Multipoint Asynchronous Subether Station for Cobra but it killed its last test subject. To prove it works, Destro allowed himself to be teleported but returned to find himself falling apart. He was forced to wear a special suit of armor to hold himself together for several issues after that.
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