Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Was A Long Shot

Besides the Executioner, the Destroyer is, I believe, the only men's adventure hero of the 1970s to still be regularly published today. Published in 1971, the first Destroyer novel by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, CREATED, THE DESTROYER, was actually written in 1963, but couldn't find a company that would buy it until Pinnacle needed something to capitalize on the revolutionary success of its Mack Bolan novels. I won't write much more about the authors or the characters, as Wikipedia does a thorough job of describing them here, and Murphy goes into detail about the series' genesis in this interview.

I'm surprised it has taken me this long to get around to reviewing a Destroyer novel. The first one that I read awhile back (#17, LAST WAR DANCE) didn't do anything for me, and I wasn't looking forward to tackling another. However, the Destroyer is obviously among the genre's most important and successful figures, so there was no way I could ignore him. And since I already own a handful of his adventures, it would have been even sillier for me to do so.

The Destroyer is Remo Williams, a former New Jersey cop and Vietnam vet who was framed for murder, convicted and executed. Except he didn't really die. He just went to work secretly for CURE, a government agency answerable only to the U.S. President, to undertake dangerous missions no regular law enforcement organization could touch. Trained extensively in martial arts, Remo is the world's deadliest assassin and travels the world with Chiun, his 80-year-old Sinanju master.

After a couple of false starts, Murphy and Sapir really started cooking with CHINESE PUZZLE, the third Destroyer book. Presumably, #6, DEATH THERAPY, finds the co-authors (both former newspaper journalists) at the peak of their abilities. The Destroyer series is known for its outlandish plots, and this 1972 book finds the United States government up for auction by a sinister organization that is somehow able to brainwash top officials into treasonous activities, such as dropping a nuclear bomb on St. Louis (it didn't explode) or plow a Naval destroyer into the Statue of Liberty. With the bidding starting at $1 billion in gold and every major country eager to get in on it, Remo and Chiun have little time to ferret out the ringleader and stop him or her for literally selling out the U.S.

The Destroyer series stands out from its men's adventure brethren by its decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach to what is essentially silly material. Whereas the authors behind the adventures of the Death Merchant, Penetrator, Executioner, et al take their stories seriously, Murphy and Sapir use their plots as a clothesline on which to hang satirical barbs about politics and pop culture. Later books even took aim at other Pinnacle paperback heroes. Personally, I prefer the more straightforward series, as my enjoyment of them is partially derived from the idea of "how in the world could anyone take such crazy shit so seriously?" I did, however, have great fun with DEATH THERAPY, particularly Murphy and Sapir's cheeky attitude toward conventional action clich├ęs and the banter between Remo and Chiun, who sometimes act more like an old married couple than a student and his teacher.

By the way, if the name "Remo Williams" sounds familiar, Orion produced a film titled REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, which saw a financially unsuccessful theatrical release in 1985. Fred Ward and Joel Grey as Remo and Chiun, respectively, were good casting choices, but the producers foolishly ignored virtually everything about the books that made millions of readers fall in love with them. I don't even recall if the word "Destroyer" is even used. I didn't think much of it when I saw it in '85 (I don't even know if I knew then that it was based on a series of novels), and later viewings on home video haven't improved it any. Later, Jeffrey Meek (RAVEN) and Roddy McDowall starred in a Destroyer TV pilot, but the series was never made.


Anonymous said...

Actually its not being published anymore till they find a new publisher.

Direct from mr murphy himself:

right now, everything with the destroyer is basically on hold and i think remo and chiun, series-wise, are going on vacation for a while. tor hasn't offered us a contract and, frankly, if they did, i don't think i'd entertain it. they were just not efficient at getting the books out on time and the operative word with a book series is "series." publication dates have to be fixed and predictable. it's hard enough to write the books without worrying about when and if they're finally going to see the light of day. gold eagle was a suckful publisher, but at least they got the books out on time. tor was so stupid that they couldn't, so done and done. let's see what the future holds.

on the other hand, the audio people are at work, the trade paperback reissues from e-reads continue to sell well, and all the talk i hear from hollywood re the new movie is promising. if the movie gets near production -- and that's always a long shot -- we can pretty well rest assured that the publishing folks will be looking again for series books and we'll have to see what happens then. i just won't anymore do any contract when on-schedule publication isn't guaranteed.

sorry the news isn't more promising but life's landscape is full of peaks and valleys and all you can do is keep walking. it's good to know that so many other nice folk have spent so much time on this journey with us. warren murphy september 17, 2008

Jeff said...

While there are more than 100 Destroyer books, the first five don't really count, and the good ones get pretty far between past #30.

If you read 6-20, you get a couple of the classic Destroyer villians (Mr Gordons the android, and Nuihc, evil nephew of Chiun, come to mind). #20 ("Assassin's Play-Off") is possibly the best of the whole series, but suffers a bit if you haven't read the previous Nuihc stories.

In books 21-40, you get more crap, but Agent Ruby Gonzales shows up as a supporting character.

Grant said...

Obviously I'm coming to this very late, but somehow I always missed your review of this one.
Since I'm such a fan of hero / villainess scenes, DEATH THERAPY really delivers a great one, though it leaves you guessing about that till nearly the end. But when it does happen, it mixes the Remo / villainess romantic scene with the Remo / villainess SHOWDOWN in a pretty out-there way (especially if you haven't read DESTROYER # 2, which does so in even more of a "WTF?" way), and it's done pretty cleverly.