Thursday, December 20, 2012
The Destroyer #10: Terror Squad
The Destroyer #10: Terror Squad, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
June, 1973 Pinnacle Books
I haven’t read a Destroyer novel since I was a kid, back when the now-forgotten film version came out in 1985. I know I had the novelization of the film, which I read, but I also had a few of the then-current volumes in the series, but I don’t remember which ones. At any rate, I know they weren’t my cup of tea, given that I was more into Phoenix Force and The Executioner at the time; I wanted to read about terrorists getting blasted to bits, not a warped spoof featuring a disinterested protagonist and his soap opera-addicted mentor.
But the other week I lucked into about twenty volumes of the series, ranging from this tenth volume on through to #73, which should give me a good indication of the series’s evolution over the years. What’s most staggering is the Destroyer series is still around; though it hasn’t been published since 2008, series co-creator Warren Murphy is still out there and supposedly trying to find the series a new home. It also appears that he’s made the majority of the installments available as eBooks.
Terror Squad though comes early in the series run, back when it was published by Pinnacle and series creators Murphy and Sapir were still writing the books together. By this point they’ve figured out the series vibe, which is a mix of satire, spoof, and action. My feeling though is that the comedy outweighs the action here; in fact the very few action scenes are barely described, and there’s little tension or suspense because the heroes are presented as such invincible fighters.
Remo Williams is the titular “Destroyer,” a former New Jersey cop whose death was faked so he could be reborn as the sole enforcer for CURE, a super-secret US agency which is overseen by Dr. Harold Smith. Remo’s mentor is Chiun, without question the highlight of this series, a wizened and world-weary Korean martial arts guru; the master of Sinanju, which apparently is the ultimate form of martial arts, though only known to a handful. By this tenth volume, Chiun feels that he has so properly trained his pupil that Remo is nearly “perfect,” and is grooming him to become the eventual master of Sinanju.
The novel is more comedy than action, which makes the brutality somewhat unexpected, lending Terror Squad an uncertain tone. The threat this time is an international army of terrorists which has abruptly sprouted up, hijaking planes and murdering people around the world. The novel opens with one cell hijacking a plane, during which they repeatedly rape a woman and then murder her baby.
After this horrific scene the novel settles down into extended bouts of banter between Remo and Chiun as they go off on a low-key search for the terrorists. Strangely, the terrorists in the opening scene are never mentioned again, so there’s no retribution. Instead Remo and Chiun head over to a college campus in New York from which this new terrorist army either trained or gathered new members.
In a coed-frequented bar Remo encounters Joan Hacker, a pretty blond who turns out to not only be filled with revolutionary fervor but also knows members of this terrorist army. This plot turns out to bear the brunt of the narrative; rather than traipsing around the world, taking on this international terrorist army, Remo instead hangs out here in New York, following Joan Hacker around and taking out the few assassins she sends after him.
Because, coincidentally enough, Joan also just happens to be working with the number one man behind the terrorist army, an “Oriental” whom the authors keep a mystery until the surprise reveal at the end. Following the man’s advice, Joan gets specific assassins to try to kill Remo – an old man, a thin man, etc – all as part of the mystery villain’s attempt to send Chiun a message.
The action scenes are brief and sparsely described. In fact they’re over in a few sentences, and usually relayed from the point of view of Remo’s victims; we’ll read that Remo rips off a guy’s fingers or something. Don’t expect much “true” action stuff, save for the finale, where Remo engages in a martial arts battle with the mystery man. (Spoiler warning: It’s Nuihc, Chiun’s nephew, who apparently has fought with Remo and Chiun in a previous installment, and who considers himself the true master of Sinanju.)
But really, the entire novel plays out on a humdrum level…Remo following Joan (after sleeping with her, of course, though don’t expect much from the sex scenes either), hastily dispatching the latest assassin (one of whom is an elderly German who once was an SS sadist), and then going back to his hotel to trade banter with Chiun.
Readers of this series know that it’s the banter that’s the true star, though. Remo and Chiun have a great rapport, with Chiun’s acidic whit fairly dripping off the page, and Remo’s lame attempts at comebacks always drawing a laugh. Without question the two leads of the Destroyer are more memorable and entertaining than the average men’s adventure protagonist, but at the same time the series is separate from the genre in that it operates on an entirely different vibe.
Also worth mentioning is that our heroes are friggin’ vicious. Remo doesn’t just kill his opponents, he pulls them apart. One brutal scene has Remo board a plane that’s been hijacked, and after questioning the terrorists he hurls each of them off of the plane! Also there is a nasty undertone in that anyone who finds out about CURE must end up dead. It gets to be that you feel sorry for the villains, in particular Joan Hacker, whom the authors portray as a good-natured fool who has gone astray.
Anyway, I wasn’t blown away by Terror Squad, but I enjoyed it enough that I’m happy I have several more volumes of the series to read.