Created, The Destroyer was originally published in 1971, the first in a macho men's action-thriller series that ran for well over a hundred volumes. And that's not counting a movie, TV pilot and several comic book adaptations. Sphere, bless 'em, are bringing the Destroyer back in style - part of an interesting recent trend that's seen some of the top-selling pulp series of the last century resurrected by major imprints. (See also: Titan with Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Helen MacInnes' thrillers, Mulholland with The Saint and Hard Case Crime's very existence.)
(As an aside: I love this trend, as I always feel weirdly sorry for forgotten bestsellers and, better yet, I really enjoy these books. But I'm curious why this is happening now. Structurally, there's presumably something about the aging of the rights and the perpetual quest for 'long tail' ebook content. But is there something socially as well? Are we looking to the 20th century for escapism? A simpler time where men where manly-men and women were womenly-women and the forces of evil were all clearly identified? To be discussed throughout this week.)
The titular Destroyer is Remo Williams - a Newark cop and ex-Marine who begins the book counting down the minutes until his execution. He's sitting on Death Row, convicted of killing a drug dealer and sentenced with undue speed and (seemingly) cruelty. As the dread hour approaches, Remo thinks back on his life and... wait, what's this?
At the last moment, a secret agent disguised as a monk (because an ordinary priest wasn't Destroyer-y enough) gives Remo a Secret Death-Faking Drug. Remo falls unconscious, is lightly grilled by the chair, and his 'dead' body is smuggled to a Top Secret Training Facility. There, Remo wakes up and discovers his new, second life: as a government agent.
CURE was founded to stop organised crime and its agents have infiltrated all ranks of the underground - bluffing, conniving, scheming and generally outwitting the forces of dastardly evil. But CURE has never crossed the line into assassination - that is, not until now. A shadowy figure known only as "Maxwell" has become New York City's premiere gun-for-hire. No one can figure out Maxwell's identity, and now CURE have to pull out all the stops.
The majority of Created, The Destroyer is, appropriately enough, about the creation of the Destroyer. Remo is briefed by his commanding officer about his new life in one of the book's more pleasurable scenery-chewing monologues:
"I promise you terror for breakfast, pressure for lunch, tension for supper and aggravation for sleep. Your vacations are the two minutes you're not looking over your shoulder for some hood to put one in the back of your head. Your bonuses are maybe five minutes when you're not figuring out how to kill someone or keep from being killed."
In fairness, this bombastic speech is delivered whilst Remo is devouring four lobsters ("oozing butter") and a tumbler of Scotch. So perhaps the meal options aren't all bad. And, certainly, Remo isn't scared off - granted, his other career option is "be dead". He embraces his training and indoctrination with relative good will (it is important to note that Remo is grumpy about everything), learning how to shoot and stab and shoot some more. The highlight is Remo's encounter with Chiun, a martial arts master, who teaches Remo how to do terrible things to people. Chiun is the other central character to the series - and even earns a bit of a foreword (presumably for this edition?) - but, aside from a brief training montage, is largely absent from Created.
As well as the physical aspects of Remo's training, Created focuses - with surprising subtlety- on Remo's emotional development. This is a man who begins the book with no hope - facing an unfair, inexcusable death sentence. He decides, in one of the book's more powerful moments, that his life was meaningful - and that he can face death... and then a moment later, he is spared. Later, he is told that his life is meaningless again; that he is a mere tool and death is imminent. Whilst in training, Remo's name becomes a number, and his higher-ups tell him again and again that he will never have another permanent attachment. Remo, instead of despairing, begins to rebel - despite the CURE pressure, he starts embracing life. As Chiun points out, Remo won't kill a man for a cause, but for a night's shore leave. This dichotomy - a man being taught to kill other and embrace his own life - is what makes Remo an interesting character, and Created a book with, despite its trappings, surprising depth.
Curiously, where Created skimps is Remo's first mission - which is neither sleuthing nor scavenger hunt. Instead, he travels to New York, picks up a lead (singular), follows it to the bad people and destroys them. Although this external conflict is pleasantly ludicrous and suitably over the top (Maxwell is, well... you'll see), it is completely linear. The true conflict of the book is internal: will Remo give up on life? Will Remo give up on CURE? The villains are secondary - briefly introduced and summarily dismissed.
That said, there's no point in over-egging it: Created, the Destroyer is wall-to-wall macho kitsch (ma-cheese-mo!), complete with big manly dinners, tough manly training sequences, gory manly violence, and manly explorations of womanly women. It is excellent fun of the slightly-sleazy, very cheesy and not-at-all-wholesome variety. The series takes pride in its philosophy (this is repeated in both foreword and afterword) but, at least in this volume, that's not on display. Created is far less concerned about theory than - in all senses of the word - execution.