Remo Williams’ adventure begins again–the Destroyer returning to film

Created, the Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

As regular readers know, one of my favorite series of paperback originals is the Destroyer, created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. They made a movie version once, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, but it wasn’t a big enough hit to get a sequel, even though everyone who lived through the ’80s seems to have seen it. An attempt was made to go small-screen and turn it into a TV series. One godawful pilot aired (with different actors in the lead roles) and that was that for Remo and Chiun’s film careers, something that no doubt upset Chiun mightily.

After years of rumors and a trickle of solid-sounding news, something that means almost nothing in Hollywood, a new Destroyer movie has been officially announced. This time, it’s as solid as can be, because the director is Shane Black. Shane Black wrote and directed Iron Man 3, which grossed over $400 million in the States and $1.2 billion worldwide. A success like that means Shane Black can do anything he wants for his next movie, and Mr. Black wants to do the Destroyer.

The tales of Remo Williams and his master in the assassin’s art of Sinanju, the incorrigible Chiun, ran to nearly 150 novels before finally fading away in the early 2000s. The series was revived as The New Destroyer for Tor books a few years later, but that series didn’t take off with buyers (perhaps due to really ugly cover art). That was a real pity, because one of those volumes, Dead Reckoning, was one of the best yet in a series with lots of great entries.

Warren Murphy owns the rights to his characters, so he has published a couple of novellas, one novel, and two in a series of Young Adult-ish spinoffs through his own imprint, but my gut tells me they probably haven’t sold much beyond the series’ hardcore following. I feared that my beloved Remo and Chiun would fade away forever, relegated in most people’s minds to a bit of trivia about an ’80s movie.

Enter Shane Black and some interesting history. Black’s first produced screenplay was for a little movie called Lethal Weapon. You may have seen it. If you have, you’ll recall that it’s about a pair of cops, one black and one white.

Those cops bore a striking resemblance to a couple of cops in a five-book series by Warren Murphy named Razoni and Jackson. According to legend, Murphy’s lawyers made some noises and the deal struck was that Murphy would work on the screenplay for Lethal Weapon 2 as compensation.

And now Shane Black wants to do the Destroyer, so he really is a fan of Mr. Murphy’s work.

Black is not writing this one, though. And this is where the news gets really good. Not because he couldn’t write a good screenplay, but because of what it tells us about this movie.

One of the screenwriters is Jim Uhls, best known for writing Fight Club. The other is a fellow named James Mullaney.

There are probably only three people who know the characters of Remo and Chiun almost as well as Murphy and the late Dick Sapir. Those are Murphy’s ex-wife, Molly Cochran, who ghosted several entries, Will Murray, who ghosted many, and James Mullaney, who ghosted the last great run of the original series and earned cover credit for The New Destroyer, the only person other than Murphy and Sapir to get cover credit when the series was mass market.

Jim Mullaney is beloved by fans of the series. His selection means that they are making a real Destroyer movie. And from what we know about Shane Black, he wants to make a real Destroyer movie. They are going to make every effort to make Remo and Chiun the real Remo and Chiun.

Mullaney confirms this via Facebook: “[E]verybody on EVERY level is on the same page as to what a Destroyer film should be.” 

I liked Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, despite it’s devastating weakness of an utterly lame villain. But back in the ’80s it would have been difficult to capture Remo and Chiun’s wilder adventures and physical feats. As far as wilder adventures go, it is thought by many that the shape-shifting T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was inspired by series supervillain Mr. Gordons. As far as physical feats go, more than one person believes The Matrix has some Destroyer influence in at as well. Things like those weren’t going to happen back when Fred Ward and Joel Grey gave it a go. They can happen now.

And maybe the series of novels can be fully revived? A man can dream.

I’m thrilled about the flick happening in the right hands, and I’m extra-thrilled for Jim Mullaney. Since the Destroyer gig ended, he’s been writing two series, the Red Menace and Crag Banyon. The books are a lot of fun, but I doubt they are making him rich. We are Facebook friends, and he’s a nice, funny guy who shares my love of Warren Zevon. He has spent his time in the trenches doing great work for the characters I love, and he has earned this opportunity by dint of well over a decade’s worth of hard labor and quality output. Congratulations, Jim!

Related stuff

I reviewed the debut entries in Mullaney’s Red Menace and Crag Banyon series here. I may have a couple more Banyon reviews for you in the near future.

I look at a recent Destroyer novella, Savage Song, here.

If you read the Hollywood Report article I linked, you already know that Shane Black is also likely to bring another one of my series heroes back to life–Doc Savage. Former Destroyer ghost Will Murray currently pens the adventures of Doc Savage.

The Destroyer is the second biggest men’s adventure series. The first is, of course, Mack Bolan, the Executioner. He is also coming to film, with Bradley Cooper set to star.

When I was tweeting this news out last night, I said the screenplay was by George Uhl. Too much time spent in the Parker-verse. Wallace Stroby called me out on it.

Inside the new hardcover edition of The Hunter

hunter2014

 

As you may not be aware because I did not give it nearly the coverage I should have, Darwyn Cooke and IDW Publishing have launched a companion line to their highly successful line of comic book adaptations of the Parker novels. They will be reprinting the original Richard Stark novels, each with ten full-color plates by Darwyn himself.

“That’s great!”, you say, “But I’ve already got a couple of copies of The Hunter. Do I need to buy this, too?”

Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, but let’s have a look-see and maybe I can help you decide.

The appropriately stark red dust jacket declares this to be the “first hardcover edition of the classic novel.” That’s not technically true, but it’s close enough. There was a Gregg Press hardcover, but that was pretty much sold only to libraries so it isn’t like you could go to a bookstore and buy it, and there was a UK Alison & Busby hardcover as Point Blank, but that didn’t do you much good if you lived in the USA. So it is the first hardcover available to the general public in the United States.

Excitingly, the spine says “Volume 1.” I know IDW has said they are going to do the set, but that drives it home.

The back features an illustration, based on a photo I have not seen before, of a young Donald Westlake.

hunter2014back

The endpapers will be familiar to anyone who has purchased the graphic novel adaptations, tying these editions to those.

The pages are printed on high-quality, acid-free, blindingly white paper. This book is built to last.

There is a short and touching introduction from Darwyn Cooke, providing a little background while keeping it quick for readers who are likely eager to get to the good stuff.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for–we get to our plates!

You can see the first one atop this post, titled “Go to hell,” and illustrating a scene that needs no introduction for most of the folks reading this. If you’ve read Darwyn’s comic book adaptations (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), you’ll immediately note that he’s opted for a more realistic style than he did in the comic books. This is an important and excellent decision. Illustrations in the same style as the comic books may have made it seem like he was simply recycling art. This lets you know that you’re buying a whole new creation.

In selecting what to illustrate, Cooke picked a nice combination of brooding noir scenes and explosive action. Parker sits on the bed with a cigarette next to the corpse of an overdosed Lynn. Parker runs and fires his weapon during the heist that sets the events of the novel into motion. Mal Resnick waits alone, in fear. Parker tells Bronson, “I’ll be seeing you.”

As I’m sure you can guess by now, the plates are on beautiful, high-gloss paper, continuing IDW’s admirable commitment to quality for the Parker line.

I think this edition of The Hunter is a steal at the $20 or so you’ll pay at an online retailer, and even at the $30 MSRP if those discounts go away. For the price of the latest New York Times hardcover bestseller, you get a handsome edition of this classic, wonderfully illustrated, made from top-notch material in every regard. It looks great on my bookshelf, and it will look great on yours.

(If you have any questions about the book, drop a line in the comments and I’ll happily answer.)

PS: On Twitter, Alexander P. points out a Point Blank homage in one of the plates.

News for week ending 2014-07-20 (open thread)

Added to the cover gallery: The Black Ice Score, 1972 Coronet edition

I’ve occasionally been awful about posting covers that readers have sent me.

OK, I’ve been worse than awful. This one is from four years ago from longtime reader Matthew A., just stumbled across in my inbox.

But it’s here now, and added to the cover gallery for The Black Ice Score.

The real treat here is the prose on the inside cover (or whatever you call it).

He is the man with the look of wildness in his eyes and animal strength in his limbs. He kills men as you or I would kill flies. They call him Parker. Call not called. No-one will ever catch Parker, for in his mean, dark world he is almost a god.

Really–who the hell wrote that?!? That’s crazy over-the-top!

Black Ice 1972 - Front Black Ice 1972 - Inside Black Ice 1972 - Inside Back Black Ice 1972 - Back

Hard Case Crime review: Grave Descend by John Lange (AKA Michael Crichton) (#26/MC7)

26 - Grave Descend by John Lange

DIVER JAMES McGREGOR
IS USED TO
EXPLORING SUNKEN SHIPS

But there’s something strange about the wreck of the luxury yacht GRAVE DESCEND. No one who was aboard tells quite the same story about what happened. And then there’s the matter of the mysterious cargo they wre carrying…

In one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a sinister plot is about to unfold. And if McGregor’s not careful, he may find himself in over his head.

In his early days, Michael Crichton published eight novels under the nom de plume John Lange. He described them this way (via the official Michael Crichton site):

“My feeling about the Lange books is that my competition is in-flight movies, ” said Crichton. “One can read the books in an hour and a half, and be more satisfactorily amused than watching Doris Day. I write them fast and the reader reads them fast and I get things off my back.”

Our friends at Hard Case Crime reprinted two of these novels toward the end of Crichton’s life under the Lange pen name, and have recently reprinted all eight for the first time under Crichton’s name. Grave Descend is the seventh of the Lange books.

Grave Descend is an old-school pulp tale, at least a twenty-year throwback already in 1970 when it was published. John Lange doesn’t bother with character development, and that’s quite intentional. Our protagonist, James McGregor, is no white knight, but he’s being sucked into a plot by bad actors, and that’s all you need to know. Any more would leave less room for barroom brawls, ocelots, spearguns, alligators, gun battles, hammerhead sharks, explosions, femmes fatales, and ambushes in the book’s scant length.

Lange has two goals–keep the intrigue up and keep the action moving, with an emphasis on the latter. He is also more successful at the latter, which helps a lot with the great flaws in the former. It’s a Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial for a slightly older crowd, designed to toss up excitement and plot twists at such a dizzying pace that there is little time to contemplate that the master scheme being executed behind the scenes is needlessly complicated and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This was a nominee for the Edgar Award, which might give you the impression that this is a great mystery. This isn’t a great mystery, or even a good one, but it is a lot of fun in this era of bloated page counts. Sometimes you just want a rollicking adventure, logic be damned. Grave Descend is definitely that.

MC7 - Grave Descend by Michael Crichton, with bonus covers

(Editions image swiped from Gravetapping, which has lots of other good stuff for genre fans.)

News for half-year ending 2014-07-12 (open thread)

Hello, folks!

The Twitter Digest plugin I had been using for this weekly roundup broke back in January. I have spent hours trying to get it going again and trying to find an alternative, but I couldn’t and I didn’t. This is a bummer, because it was easy content and I know people enjoyed the threads.

This will teach me about switching to the latest version of WordPress just because WordPress insists that I should.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the developer of Twitter Digest eventually releases a new version or that someone develops an alternative. In the meantime, I will try to do this manually.

Here is some stuff that would have appeared in the news roundup had the feature been working for the past six months.

 

 

New Donald Westlake blog: The Westlake Review

I don’t suppose there’s any way to write this post and not mention that Chris Lyons and I have had our differences in the past. Some of them spilled out into public, and they were sometimes not pretty. However, his take on things Westlake is always interesting (even if I strenuously disagree with it from time to time) and he’s a fine writer. We hosted an essay of his on Parker (part one of which is here) for those very reasons.

A few months back, he started a new site devoted to the world of Donald Westlake, The Westlake Review, and it’s a welcome addition to the world of Westlakeiana. Christopher’s essays are, in general, a more in-depth approach to the books than you will generally find at The Violent World of Parker–getting a BA in English cured me of the desire to write in-depth analyses forever, although I still do on occasion, and Nick sometimes dives in deep. With the wedding and all, I’ve barely had time to delve into his archives, but now that I’m back and diving into this sort of thing again, I love what I’ve read so far.

No surprise there. I’ve added The Westlake Review to our links on the sidebar, and will be a regular visitor. You should be, too.

Trailer for A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones cover

I’m a bit late to the party on this, so maybe you’ve seen it already, but below is the trailer to the upcoming film adaptation of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson as Scudder. Lawrence Block has a cameo.

This is one I have not yet read, so I can’t comment on how close it looks like it hews to the book. It does look like they got the origin story right, though.

It looks like they’re trying for a dark, serious film. Fingers crossed!

(Thanks to cluelo for the tip. Book cover illustrating this post of an inscribed copy is from my personal collection, suckaz!)

New York Crimes

14059087949_577cfb63c4_z

I look rather the dork in this photo–we don’t have the professional pictures back yet, so we are having to suffice with whatever guests took on their camera phones–but no matter how well I photographed, I was never going to shine in comparison, was I?

After the craziest year and half of my life, which saw me go from unemployed and single to working a great job and married to a wonderful woman, I believe I finally have a chance to take a deep breath and relax, and, more important for your purposes, do some reading and writing, and put some work into the site. Thank you all for your patience, and thanks as always to Nick for his contributions during this exhausting and exhilarating period.

Now that the wedding and honeymoon are over, I should be back to regular posting of Westlakeiana, coverage of crime fiction and related genres, and occasional asides soon enough. Allow me one of those asides right now, to tell you a little about my honeymoon. (Not too much!)

We went to New York City. Although I’ve traveled extensively in this great country, I had somehow never been there before. Being new to it, I wanted to hit up the things that every tourist does (the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Central Park, Greenwich Village, a museum or two, &c.), but I did manage to squeeze in a couple of genre-related things along the way.

We made it to the Empire State Building, where King Kong briefly reigned and where I got to go to the 86th floor where Doc Savage’s headquarters used to be. From there, you can see the Chrysler Building, where Doc’s headquarters were in that bad 1975 movie. We went late at night, which is the way to do it as the crowds were minimal and the view of the city at night is spectacular. We also bought top deck tickets, which were worth the extra money.

Coverage (I hope) coming soon

Coverage coming soon (I hope)

We also made it to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop, where Mysterious Press, publisher of many books by Donald Westlake and his friends, is also headquartered. I did not get to meet Mr. Penzler, although I did see him exiting at the end of the business day from my perch at the bar across the street, he being completely unaware that he was being watched. (I wasn’t actually stalking him–the window seat was where the electrical outlet was for a badly needed phone charge.)

10258801_10152452235862733_3766111142762166061_o

Lack of money on my part (weddings are expensive!) and lack of interest on my bride’s part (crime is not her genre) kept me from staying at the Mysterious Bookshop for too long, although I did stay long enough to pick up my first inscribed Donald Westlake book.

Inscribed Backflash title page
I chose Backflash both because its price was modest relative to many of the inscribed Richard Stark and Parker volumes, and because it is a personal favorite.

The following day, we had the pleasure of breakfasting with Mr. Levi Stahl. Levi is the fellow at the University of Chicago Press responsible for getting the Richard Stark novels back into print. He also blogs at I’ve Been Reading Lately, and, speaking of lately (as in, “What have you done for me…”), is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of Donald Westlake’s nonfiction, The Getaway Car.

Westlake-Getaway-Car-Cover
We only had a short visit together, as he was in NYC on business and his first appointment of the day was coming up on him quickly, but what time we did have was very enjoyable. I look forward to seeing him again when we have more of it at our disposal.

We did not talk much about his new book and the making thereof, as our time was so limited and I wanted to save those questions for a more extensive interview to be presented here closer to publication date. I have not yet finished reading my advance copy of the book, as I’m savoring it bit by bit, but I’ve read enough to be able to tell you that you need it. In fact, I could have told you that before I read any of it, and you probably knew that without my having to tell you. We’ll have a full review when the time comes.

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany is scheduled for release on September 24.

So now that I’m out of excuses, what do we have coming up? Planned for the near term, I’ve got a couple of books I’d like to tell you about, a musical aside that will be of interest to at least some of our readers, and a Parker artifact I’ve rescued from obscurity. I will also be getting caught up on correspondence (if you’ve written, I’m sorry!), as well as reviving the Twitter account and weekly news roundups. And that’s in addition to whatever great stuff Nick has for us.

Thank you all for your patience and continued patronage. It’s good to be back.

Westlake on Highsmith, in The Getaway Car

ripley-under-ground

NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.

Four years ago on Existential Ennui I posted a review of Ripley Under Ground, Roger Spottiswoode’s 2005 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s second Tom Ripley novel. Much as I love Highsmith’s source text—indeed the Ripliad as a whole—I wasn’t terribly keen on the film; the dreadfully miscast Barry Pepper’s performance as Tom Ripley left a lot to be desired, and the way the filmmakers eviscerated Tom’s character, excising his murderous background, for me fatally undermined the entire enterprise. I didn’t blame anyone in particular for any of this, but I did make note of one of the people at least in part responsible: Donald E. Westlake.

Westlake is credited as co-writer of the screenplay for Ripley Under Ground—with William Blake Herron—but at that point I was only dimly aware of who Westlake was; I hadn’t yet read anything by him, although I was just about to, namely The Hunter, alias Point Blank—the first Parker novel (written, of course, as Richard Stark), and the first of many Westlake books I would read over the ensuing years. One of the most recent being this:

Westlake-Getaway-Car-Cover

The Getaway Car, the forthcoming (in September) Westlake non-fiction miscellany put together by Levi Stahl of the University of Chicago Press. Levi kindly arranged for me to be sent an uncorrected page proof of the book, which I’ve been dipping in and out of since it arrived the other week; I expect I’ll review it in full nearer the pub date, but I was drawn in particular to a piece to do with Westlake’s experiences on Ripley Under Ground—partly because Patricia Highsmith has been on my mind of late (I reviewed two inscribed copies of her short story collections recently, and have further posts on her planned), but also because it sheds a little light on what may have gone wrong with the film and on what Westlake made of Highsmith—i.e., what one of my favourite authors, responsible for one of the two most brilliant series of novels to feature a conscienceless criminal ever written, made of another of my favourite authors, responsible for the other most brilliant series of novels to feature a conscienceless criminal ever written (IMHO).

It’s part of a longer piece titled “The Worst Happens,” which comprises a selection of Westlake quotes from an interview by Patrick McGilligan (originally published in Sight and Sound in 1990 and then later expanded for Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s) in which Westlake expatiates on other writers’ adaptations of his own work (The Hot Rock, The Outfit) and his own adaptations of other people’s work (The Grifters). Westlake calls Ripley Under Ground—or rather “Mr. Ripley’s Return” as the film was apparently known to Westlake—”one of the odder episodes,” going on to recount how he “was delighted to take a crack at the book,” and that his “first draft . . . attracted Michael Tolkin to direct . . . [who] had some lovely ideas, details of menace and suspense for the second draft, which I wrote, and then never heard from them again.”

Over a decade later the film was made with no further involvement from Westlake (or indeed Tolkin), who had “no idea what happened to the script over the last eleven years” but who agreed to a shared credit in order to receive, on top of belated payment for his work, “a potential production bonus.” This despite the fact that, as Westlake memorably puts it, “[n]o one [from the production] has contacted me directly. I am merely that truck-stop waitress in Amarillo they fucked in 1992. That’s okay. I think highly of them, too. Someone working on the set of the movie—I think it was shot in France, but don’t know for sure—said it wasn’t coming out well, which could merely be schadenfreude.”

Highsmith_Ripley_Ground

As entertaining as all of this is, however, much more interesting to me are Westlake’s thoughts on the source novel and on Highsmith herself:

I’ve always loved the deadpanness of Highsmith, and I thought it reached a peak in that book. The guy Ripley is tormenting, in his passive-aggressive way, suddenly turns around, smashes Ripley’s head with a shovel, and buries him in Ripley’s own garden. Ripley survives, comes up out of the grave later that night, takes a nice hot tub, patches his cut parts, and then what does he do? Call the cops? No. Shoot the guy? No. He haunts the guy for the next one hundred pages of the book, appearing and disappearing in windows, stuff like that.

I’ve long wondered whether Westlake read Highsmith—I mean beyond Ripley Under Ground, which for obvious reasons I figured he must have read at least—so it’s nice to find that he did and that he loved her “deadpanness.” I’ve yet to discover whether Highsmith read Westlake, but something I did learn was that almost certainly the two never met. Westlake told McGilligan: “I was delighted to take a crack at the book, and I didn’t mind Highsmith’s weirdness and repulsiveness, because I wasn’t going to meet her or deal with her; that was the ground rule.”