Monday, December 20, 2021

The Destroyer #17: Last War Dance

The Destroyer #17: Last War Dance, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
October, 1974  Pinnacle Books

The Destroyer continues to grind my gears with another volume that goes heavy on the “comedy” but light on the action. This series so far seems to me like a ‘70s variation of those annoying “spy comedy” paperbacks that populated the book racks in the ‘60s, ie The Man From O.R.G.Y. and whatnot; ostensibly packaged as action, but really more just satires. And unfunny satires at that. 

This is not intended as an insult to authors Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy; they clearly had a formula that worked for them, and they turn in novels that read super fast. It’s just that their formula is not the series I want. As I say in practically every single Destroyer review I’ve written, I want my men’s adventure straight with no chaser. The concept of Remo “The Destroyer” Williams being a “Superman for the ‘70s” (per those Pinnacle house ads) is a very cool one; I want to see him tearing mobsters and etc apart with his bare hands. But damn it all to hell, Sapir and Murphy want to write a satire, or even a spoof; the action is always secondary to the humor. And what action does happen is even usually played for laughs. Even the sex is tame; for once Remo gets lucky, and it happens off-page. 

It’s the tone that most annoys me, though. The authors want their cake and to eat it too. Thus Last War Dance (published the month and year of my birth, btw) veers from spoof to moments in which Remo’s concerned the world is about to be destroyed via a super-secret nuclear weapon. And speaking of Remo, given the “funny” vibe of the series, he and Chiun come off like total assholes. I mean, their recurring schtick is Chiun is a racist and looks down on everyone who isn’t from his tiny village in Korea, and he’s always putting down Remo, and all he wants to do is watch his soap operas. This volume adds the bit that Chiun also wants to sell out his and Remo’s services to the USSR, as the Russians better appreciate professional assassins. As for Remo, he spends the novel tossing around innocent people – his intro even features him tearing the shirt off some random guy in the airport – and he does nothing “heroic” in the course of the book. For that matter, he even plans to hand over the girl he has sex with to some people who want to kill her. 

Well anyway, Last War Dance is very much in the ‘70s mold at least, in so far as the satire goes – this one’s on the same level as The Thirteen Bracelets in its focus on making fun of races. This time it’s American Indians (or Native Americans, if you prefer), and the authors trot out all the usual stereotypes – they’re a bunch of lazy drunks, etc. There’s also a recurring “joke” that a white woman who is devoted to their cause is constantly being told by them to shut up and then getting punched in the face. (Making it worse, this is of course the woman Remo has sex with…and then plans to hand over to her would-be killers.) You all should know I’m not someone who gets worked up over accusations of “misogyny” in old pulp paperbacks, but even I got disgruntled with this shit. Ultimately though it was just another indication of how little I like The Destroyer

The novel opens making you think it will be more on the level than it really is; it’s the early 1960s and a group of military contractors are digging up missile sites in Montana. They uncover the remains of an Indian massacre and go on strike. A military general flies in and explains to them that this is pretty much ancient history: the massacre occurred in 1873, and indeed a monument will be erected commemorating the horrendous act – the Wounded Elk Masssacre. The workers go on with the dig, and then we have some dark stuff where this general has an agency hitman kill off the head contract worker on the site, and then the general kills the hitman. All to keep the location of this particular site as secret as possible. 

We then flash forward to 1973 and this general, Van Riker, is retired, under the assumption his secret is safe. There under the Wounded Elk monument he has stashed the Cassandra, a mega-powerful nuclear bomb of his own creation that could change the tide of the Cold War. It’s so powerful that it could wipe out several states if it were to be set loose. Unfortunately for Van Riker, activist American Indians are now protesting at the monument, which they intend to blow up. This could of course set off the Cassandra. Oh, and they’re not even Indians, we’re informed; many of them are young whites who are just looking for the latest activism to get involved in. The actual American Indians live across town and are too busy getting drunk and laying around and have no interest in the protests. In fact they have a serious grudge against the “fake Indians” who are over protesting at the monument. 

Sapir and Murphy skewer the sentiments of the radicals, with them going on about America being a racist country and founded on cultural genocide and etc for the TV cameras. At the same time it kind of wrankled, as how could the authors know that in a few decades such bullshit would make for the tenets of Critical Race Theory? They’re playing all this for laughs, as the “Indians” are of course a moronic lot who just want to blow stuff up and make a fuss to get on TV. Chief among them (so to speak) is Lynn Cosgrove, aka “Burning Star,” a blonde-haired actress who is known for latching on to the latest activist fads. She’s even written a book about the Wounded Elk massacre, the authors spoofing Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Lynn is the aformentioned recipient of the slaps and punches in that unfunny recurring “joke” the authors continue with throughout the entire book. Even Remo, who ingratiates himself into the temporary trust of the Indian radicals (by promising them free food and booze, naturally), gets in on the act, telling her to shut up and hitting her. Sometimes she’s knocked out, sometimes we’re informed of her “swollen lips.” It’s not funny at all and it makes you wonder how two authors could think it was. But regardless Remo does have the belated realization that he has the hots for Lynn; he notices her nice rack beneath her deerskin tunic, and at one point pulls her aside and tells her he wants to do it. This is the first I’ve ever seen Remo display a libido. He uses his Sinanju training to touch a few sensitive spots and Lynn’s very ready for the act…the entirety of which is relayed as, “And Remo made love to her.” 

The action scenes are just as nondescript. Actually they aren’t even action scenes. Once again the authors relay everything from the perspective of Remo’s victims; suddenly they’ll find thesmselves flying through the air, or getting their necks broken, or whatever. One memorable bit has Remo shoving a guy headfirst into a toilet. But then that’s the thing. Remo is super brutal here, needlessly so. He hopelessly outmatches these befuddled would-be radicals, and thus comes off as more sadistic and evil than they are. Again, this is the problem with playing everything for laughs; the bad guys don’t even seem like bad guys, and the “heroes” seem like cruel bullies. Also, given the jokey vibe of the entire novel, it’s especially hard to buy the periodic parts where Remo will worry that the Cassandra might accidentally be blown up. There’s absolutely no tension in the entire novel, and the authors’ attempt to add some comes off like half-assed catering to the imprint’s desire for an “action” novel. 

To their credit, Sapir and Murphy stick with this piss-poor setup for the entire novel; Remo tries to prevent the radicals from destroying the monument (beating and killing some of them as necessary), then spends more time trying to track down a 155 mm cannon one of the locals intends to use to kill all the radicals. And Remo isn’t trying to find the cannon to save the radicals (indeed as mentioned he even plans at one point to turn them all – including Lynn! – over to the locals), it’s just that Van Riker has informed him a cannon of such power could also set off the Cassandra. There’s also another time-filler subplot about a Russian agent who has been hunting for the Cassandra for decades, and now has deduced it’s here in Montana; he is the one Chiun considers selling the services of Sinanju to. 

Speaking of which, the Sinanju stuff is really the only thing I like about The Destroyer (even the Remo-Chiun bickering is annoying me now). This time we learn that Remo exercises entirely mentally; there’s a part where he stretches out in bed, imagines himself in a wooded area, and “runs” for several minutes, getting his heart pounding. We also get a brief explanation of how Remo was recruited into Sinanju, with Van Riker acting as the new guy being brought into the bizarre fold of CURE…but then that’s another example of the clumsy vibe of this series. Because CURE is top secret of course and anyone who learns about it must die. Once again this makes our “heroes” seem more like villains – nothing like killing off the guy you’ve been working with for the entire novel. But then again it’s a nice payoff, given how Van Riker just as ruthlessly enforced his own secrecy at the beginning of the novel. 

Anyway, Last War Dance is certainly my least favorite volume of The Destroyer yet. But then again I haven’t liked any of them. Readers of the day must’ve felt differently, though, at least judging from the cover blurb – was The Destroyer really “America’s bestselling action series?” Even more so than The Executioner?


Steve Johnson said...

I very much doubt the Destroyer outsold Mack Bolan ... probably just hype.

Have you tried #35, Bay City Blast, where parodies of the Executioner, the Butcher, and the Death Merchant take over a New Jersey town? Too bad the Death Merchant parts didn't have footnotes ...

Come to think of it, could it be you like Rosenberger, for all his faults, more than the Destroyer is that Rosenberger at least appears to be taking his subject, whatever whacky subject it happens to be, seriously and with respect, and the Destroyer guys don't?

Front Toward Enemy said...

(Zwolf again)

I don't even really consider The Destroyer to be an action-series hero. To me, he's just a painfully-nerdy parody of the genre, and thus outside of it. Counting him as a legit action-series dude is like calling Get Smart a "spy show," or "Car 54 Where Are You?" a cop show. Technically, yeah, same ballpark, but vastly different game.

I picked up some Destroyers just because I'm an obsessive about this stuff, but I've never liked 'em. I'm not a "satire" fan, that stuff's always been really dorky to me. Either like a genre or don't, but sillying-it-up never does anything but make it annoying and drag it down. I'm the same way with horror comedies. Once you bring a bunch of slapstick bullshit in, you compromise the integrity of everything around it, and you can't go back. I don't mind if the hero is a smartass and makes jokes or whatever (like The Death Merchant, terminally unfunny as he is, *tries* to do), but The Destroyer doesn't even straddle a line -- it's just comedy. I mean, some of these books are so over-the-top they become funny (the Gannon series, for instance), but they're playing it straight, they aren't intentionally *trying* to be silly. Destroyer is... which is why they've never worked for me. It's a different genre, not really part of the Executioner/Butcher/Marksman/Narc/Liquidator/whatever. Remo Williams is a action-series-vigilante like Ambush Bug is a "superhero."

Grant said...

This isn't EXACTLY the first time the Remo character shows that he has a libido. I know I harp on it, but there's the big scene between him and the villainous twins in # 5.
Some people seem to find it EMBARRASSINGLY titillating, some people seem to think it isn't titillating ENOUGH, and to me it gets things just right. But either way, he definitely makes the most of his libido in that scene.