FIRST OF TWO TEXT DOCUMENTS ON COTB. ART WILL FOLLOW LATER TODAY. ------- HEADLINE: Looking for fun? Looking for action? Watch out for Remo and Chiun. SUBHEAD: After 30 years of publication, 'The Destroyer' is still out to offend us all ------- By JOHN SIMCOE Almost 30 years ago, a hero who didn't really fit the heroic mold was born. This hero was a little too cocky for his own good. He was a little too rough around the edges. He was The Destroyer, an assassin trained in a mystical martial art, and a secret enforcer of the United States government. If you're one of the privileged few, you might know him as Remo Williams. You might also know that he's kind of a jerk.
Not that his attitude has made him any less popular. In fact, it might be one of his most appealing traits to his fans.
The Destroyer has had his own movie. He's even had his own comic book. But most of all, Remo has been the star of more than 120 novels. These books, which have numbered titles such as "The Destroyer #64 -- The Last Alchemist" or "The Destroyer #102 -- Unite and Conquer," are usually corralled in the "men's adventure" section of most bookstores. There the books sit, waiting for someone to read their back covers and say "Wow! I've been dying to read something on neo-Nazi computer hackers who take over people's minds with TV dinners!"
"Destroyer" novels are kind of strange that way. They're not "Moby Dick," but they sure are fun.
And one of the reasons for their success: Pure attitude.
There's no doubt that Remo isn't exactly PC. But there's something about the way he's so anti-PC that makes him worth rooting for.
Created, the Destroyer: Remo Williams began his life in 1971. He was once a regular Joe-Schmoe cop, who was set up to be executed in New Jersey. But, oddly enough, he didn't die. Through some clever mechanization by an organization called CURE -- which isn't an actual acronym, but uppercase none the less -- he was spared, then trained in the ancient martial art of Sinanju by Chiun, a tiny, snippy Korean with more deadly skill in his pinky than an entire battalion of steroid-crazed Green Berets.
And once Remo was put through the rigors of Sinanju training, Chiun and Remo became an unstoppable team, capable of such feats as climbing sheer walls, killing foes with a single strike and, most intriguing, mastering the thirty-two steps to sexual ecstasy. Remo and Chiun's mission was simple. Fix America. Keep it safe. And do it anyway possible, even if it meant killing people.
It's a little extreme, but hey, he was created during the Nixon administration.
A typical 'Destroyer' pits Remo and Chiun against some strange threat to national security, such as No. 56, the one where U.S. missile bases were getting attacked by U.F.O. whackos. Not exactly the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night, but still kinda scary in a Scooby-Doo type of way.
Anyway, this allows the pair to go out, wreak some Sinanju-brand havoc on the badguys and make the world a better place.
The best part about the series is that the books are so different from other so-called men's adventure novels.
"It's very funny. I love the satire. The martial arts. The supernatural. The seeming conflict between the two protagonists," said Feroze Mohammed, senior editor for "The Destroyer" series and other similar adventure books, including the grand-daddy of them all, "Mack Bolan."
Line of succession: The series was first written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, but over the years, a few others joined the team as ghost writers. The current writer, Jim Mullaney, says it's often hard to nail down exactly what "The Destroyer" books are about.
"It's a kind of James Bond-type adventure series that isn't like James Bond at all, and does political and social satire," he said in an e-mail interview. "And I always stress that it's funny."
But that's not all.
The series is also about two grown adults who fight like schoolkids arguing whose dad can beat up the other.
Shooting schedule: Remo and Chiun did manage to get a film made of their exploits. The 1985 film, "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins ..." starred Fred Ward as Remo and Joel Grey as Chiun. Unfortunately, Remo didn't have the same impact on the big screen. "I saw the movie when it came out," Mullaney said. "The best part for me was when Sapir and Murphy's names appeared on the screen. It was all downhill from there. My favorite line was from some reviewer who titled his newspaper review 'Remo Williams: His Adventure Should End'."
The film did have its moments, mostly provided by Grey playing Chiun. He had some great lines, including such modern classics as "Watches are a confidence trick invented by the Swiss" and "Women should stay home and make babies."
But Remo's film future hasn't been completely shot. A glimmer of hope, however faint, is still out there.
"There was interest in a TV series and even a movie," Mohammed said, adding "but I don't know if anything was signed. And even if they are signed, it's about finding money to produce it."
Balance of power: As Chiun and Remo worked with each another, a strange chemistry was created. At times, Chiun would think of Remo as a son; at other times, he was an embarrassment to the ancient master of Sinanju.
That's when Remo went from being Chuin's "son" to a "pale piece of pig's ear." But this affection, when it did surface, was hard-built. It came after years of torturous training, which Chiun inflicted upon Remo with unsettling glee.
And through that training, Remo went from a oafish, hamburger-eating American buffoon, to a deadly assassin with skill equal to his master's.
With all that time together, the two characters have changed a lot, especially Remo.
"The early Remo was darker and more smart-alecky. He was also brighter than he was eventually portrayed. He wasn't a great thinker, but he wasn't a moron," Mullaney said. "My Remo sort of goes back to the roots of the character while acknowledging everything that's happened in between."
The slow, but understandable, change of the character was probably the result of the different "Destroyer" authors over time, Mullaney said.
Chiun, on the other hand, is a real character, one who is amusing in his pettiness and thoughtful with his wisdom. He's not the most tolerant person, he despises failure and hates imperfection. And, thanks to his snooty attitude, he's one funny old coot.
"He's an elitist because he has a right to be," Mullaney says. "After all, he's the best -- as he'd be the first to point out."
Return engagement: The film didn't do very well, and neither did the comic series that came out in the late'80s. In all, there were only a dozen or so issues, but still the series had a real zing to it. The zing was there because the chemistry between Chiun and Remo was right on par with the novels.
Still, it just didn't make it. The comic was canceled. The novels, however, are still chugging along after three decades. In fact, Mullaney just finished writing the next book. "The title is 'Air Raid.' It's No. 126 in the series. It has to do with a bunch of scientists who've created a genetically-engineered plant that may or may not take over the world. It's a send-up of the doomsayers in the environmental movement," he said.
And another, "No. 125 -- The Wrong Stuff," is getting the final touches before publication, "I go after NASA in that one," Mullaney said. "By the time I'm done working on 'The Destroyer,' I hope to have insulted everyone in the world."
After 30 years, there's still a lot of problems in America, but we can breathe easy, thanks to Remo and Chiun.
After all, we'll never again have to worry about evil, genetically-altered plants bent on world conquest.
Whew! This article originall appeared in March 2001 in The York (Pa.) Sunday News. You can find other similar articles by its author, John Simcoe, at www.comicsonthebrain.com