Monday, December 16, 2013

The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day

The Destroyer #14: Judgment Day, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
February, 1974  Pinnacle Books

I enjoyed this volume of The Destroyer a lot more than the previous one I read. This time Sapir and Murphy make no attempt to write an actual men’s adventure novel, thus there are no unwieldy or arbitrary moments in which they must insert an action scene. Instead Judgment Day works as a straight-up satire from beginning to end, lampooning corporate culture.

This is done primarily through the character Blake Corbish, a thirty-something executive at IDC (read: IBM) who is a company man through and through, to the point where he speaks solely in “corp speak” and thinks only of advancing his own career. He’s the antagonist of the tale, further sign of how at odds The Destroyer is from others in this genre; the closest comparison I could think of would be TNT, which itself was a spoof of the genre conventions (though I enjoyed it a whole lot more).

As Judgment Day opens Corbish is moving in on the mysterious data mine in Folcroft Sanitarium of upstate New York; Corbish has learned that the computers there store a wealth of information, information beyond even that possessed by the FBI or other government agencies. Little does Corbish know that it’s actually the secret HQ of CURE. At any rate Corbish, a former Special Forces commando, has been tasked by IDC CEO TL Broon to find out what’s going on at Folcroft and to forcibly bring it into the IDC fold.

The titular Destroyer meanwhile is busily going about killing off IDC executives; Remo’s latest mission, courtesy Harold W. Smith, boss of CURE. Remo and Chiun are mostly supporting characters this time out, with Smith himself the true protagonist. Sapir and Murphy give the notoriously cold-blooded Smith the spotlight, having him captured, tortured, and left to die by Corbish; once Smith is able to free himself, he sets about gaining his vengeance, and it’s all very satisfyingly delivered.

Corbish gets the jump on Smith and takes him to a remote cabin in California, where at great length he breaks the old WWII spy. Smith tells Corbish all about CURE; at first Corbish thinks this is all just yet more bullshit to keep from telling the truth about what’s at Folcroft, but eventually he realizes that this CURE stuff is the truth. Believing the old man to be at death’s door, Corbish leaves the battered and bloodied Smith locked up in an old bomb cellar in the cabin and heads back for New York, to take over CURE.

The organization is so super-secret that only Smith, Remo, Chiun, the President, and now Corbish know about it, so Corbish is free to waltz into Folcroft, deliver the instructions Smith gave him for taking over the sanitarium, and thus become the new head of CURE. Remo’s caught in the middle; he’s never much cared for Smith and thinks the new guy might be a nice change of pace. Remo doesn’t come off too sharp here; though he is initially distrustful of Corbish, Remo basically brushes it off and plows on under the new management, instilling himself with patriotic/”good for the country” thoughts.

Chiun of course knows something is wrong, but instead of taking action he spends the majority of the novel sitting in various hotel rooms and belittling Remo, while working on a history of “Emperor” Smith. The Remo/Chiun verbal sparring is prevalent throughout Judgment Day and is as enjoyable as ever. There’s even a somewhat touching moment where Chiun states that Remo is the best student a teacher could hope for – not that this stops him from continuing to berate him.

I guess we can give Remo a little slack, though, given that he has no knowledge of Corbish being an IDC executive – Corbish merely presents himself as “the new man” and starts sending Remo out on jobs Corbish himself thinks of. Part of the comedy of the novel comes through Corbish putting Remo on tasks that are outside of Remo’s training or skillsets; there’s a great recurring joke with Chiun, who calls Corbish “Mr. Garbage,” constantly telling Remo that soon enough Corbish will be asking Remo to take out the trash or other menial tasks.

Since this time the authors aren’t trying to write an action novel, there are no forced combat scenes; Remo murders a few IDC executives (though to quote Schwarzenegger in True Lies, “They were all bad”) and Smith runs over a henchman Corbish sends after him. But other than that Judgment Day is free of any action scenes. There isn’t even any sex, though Remo does sleep with Holly Broon, the calculating and manipulative daughter of TL Broon. This scene too is played for laughs, as Remo takes the young woman moments after she’s tried to kill him, in vengeance for Remo’s having murdered TL Broon (at Corbish’s orders, of course).

Sapir and Murphy do a great job of juggling the comedy with the mounting suspense, as Smith works his way closer and closer to Folcroft. Since Remo and Chiun can’t be contacted and CURE must be kept secret at all costs, Smith must use his wits to get hold of Remo and to gain his vengeance on Corbish. It all comes to a head with another funny scene where Remo and Chiun finally meet up with Smith in a hotel room; Remo has been ordered by Corbish to kill Smith, but Smith boobytraps his room and talks some sense into Remo.

It is funny though that Smith is just as emotionless in his own way as Corbish is; despite having been abducted and tortured for the past few weeks, Smith doesn’t even try to contact his wife, who has no idea where he is. And when Smith gains his inevitable revenge and resumes control of CURE, there are no obligatory “emotional” scenes of reunion or anything of the sort; true to form, Smith immediately begins berating Remo.

Anyway I wasn’t really into #10: Terror Squad, but it would appear that these later volumes are better, likely because Pinnacle backed off and stopped insisting that Sapir and Murphy turn in an action-heavy Executioner-style series, and instead just let them do their own thing.


Grant said...

This is partly a SPOILER.

Like a lot of my reasons for liking these stories it might sound misogynistic, but I always wish the big romantic scene with Remo and Holly Broon were followed by a big showdown scene between them, like in # 2 and # 6 and a lot of others. I think she's killed by SOMEONE (I haven't read it in a long while), but not by Remo.

One female character whose scenes I COULD'VE done without is the "loony liberal" journalist who writes glowing things about Muslim extremists before getting treated horribly by them herself. I know these books are considered satirical - and more often from the conservative side of things than any other - but that part of the story is so miserably heavy-handed about it!

I still hope you get around to Destroyer # 5, because when it comes to "femme fatale" scenes, it's just about the best one. Especially when it comes to "gratuitous" ones, and of course I mean that word in a good way!

Joe Kenney said...

Grant, thanks for the comment.

You are correct -- Holly Broon is actually killed by Blake Corbish, in a scene that's pretty anticlimatic. He basically gets her out of the way so he can advance to the presidency of IDC.

I don't yet have Destroyer #5, just a scattered assortment of volumes with the earliest being #10 and the latest #73, but I'll probably track that one down someday.

Grant said...

If you like "soft core" titillation in these stories as much as (or more than) the really out-there kind, then the swimming pool / bed scene of # 5 is a dream come true.
For that matter, so is the Remo / villainess showdown scene later on.