The Doom marine's identity has finally been revealed: He's (partially) John Romero, the co-creator of the game. "But that blonde disembodied head who grimaces and bleeds a lot doesn't look anything like Mr. Romero," you might protest. Well, yes, that is what the Doomguy looks like in the game itself. But on the metal-as-hell cover art? That appearance was derived from Romero, at least in terms of posture and attitude.
Romero tells the full story on his personal site, but here's the condensed version: cover artist Don Punchatz (a Dallas-based fantasy/sci-fi illustrator) had come to the id Software offices with a camera and a body model to capture a base image for Doom's cover. They started with the basic idea of a marine fighting off a horde of demons, but none of the poses were working. "I kept telling the model what to do but he couldn't see the scene in his mind," Romero explained. Then the co-creator of Doom took off his shirt.
"Frustrated, I threw my shirt off and told him to give me the [toy] gun and get on the floor - grab my arm as one of the demons! Defeated, he deferred. I aimed the gun in a slightly different direction and told Don, 'This is what I'm talking about!' Don took several pictures. I moved the gun some, the demon grabbed my leg, other arm, etc. At the end of it we all decided the arm-grabbing pose was going to be the best. And that's the story of how the cover composition was created."
If the end product hadn't worked out well, the story would make him sound a little pushy. But more than two decades later and the original Doom's box art remains one of the best video game illustrations ever committed to cardboard. So nice work, John.
Oh, and bonus points: John Romero is technically the final boss in Doom 2 (his head is hidden behind the Icon of Sin as the part that actually takes damage), so it's kind of John Romero fighting John Romero.
Make sure you check out the new Doom's free weekends if all this talk has you thirsty for demon blood.