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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Paperback Heroes: The Executioner

In a new occasional series, The Archive takes a look at the heroes of the various Men's Paperback Adventure series that were so popular in years gone by.

Author Don Pendleton created his all action hero, Mack Bolan AKA The Executioner way back in 1969, and penned the first 38 books in the series. The author sold the rights to the character to Gold Eagle and remained on as a consultant while other authors ran with his character. When the author died in 1995 at the age of 67 the books featuring his character already numbered in the 100's and if the spin off series are included then the books number more than 500 titles, with the series still being added to today. Total worldwide sales are more than two hundred million.

The origins of Mack Bolan are that he was born in  1939 and served in the Vietnam War, was in fact a Green Beret. It was during the conflict that he killed over 90 men as the forces top sniper which earned him the nickname, The Executioner. While Bolan was serving his family back home fell on hard times - his father, Sam Bolan lost his job and turned to a savings and loans company to help the family through a rough patch. However the company was actually a front for the Mafia, and when the repayments are not kept up they start hounding Bolan Snr. Cindy Bolan, Mack's sister is forced into prostitution to help pay her father's debts. However when Bolan Snr discovers this he is so ashamed that he kills his daughter and then himself, leaving his youngest son Johnny in hospital. When Bolan comes home on compassionate leave he decides to take his war to the Mafia, who he hold responsible for the tragic events that befell his family.

Thus started his war on the Mafia which would last for 38 books, before Bolan started working for the government and targeting terrorists and enemies of the state. During Bolan's war on the Mafia  the authorities had occasionally pursued Bolan and sometimes supported him. The US government eventually offered the former soldier an amnesty on condition that he take a job for them. And so given the identity of Colonel John Phoenix, he heads the Stony Man organisation, a super-secret group that tackles the stuff that’s just too tough for the CIA, NSA and FBI. They’re answerable only to the White House. Bolan is just the sort of man that Donald Trump would approve of.

'The Problem, as I see it, is that the rules of warfare are all rigged against the cops. Just knowing the enemy isn't enough. They have to prove he's the enemy, and even then sometimes he slips away from them. What is needed here is a bit of direct action, strategically planned and to hell with the rules.' Mack Bolan, from War With The Mafia

Bolan is unlucky in love and whenever he meets and falls for a women they are invariably knocked off by hoods or kidnapped. He speaks at least five languages and is adept at intelligence gathering.

'Mack Bolan is a classic American hero. Readers like him and I feel very good about that.' Don Pendleton

Over the years Bolan has survived nuclear blasts, several shootings, the odd stabbing and a warehouse roof falling on him.

There have been many attempts to film Bolan's adventures and at one time Clint Eastwood was in line to play the character - Sylvester Stallone was also eyeing up the character at one time and most recently Bradley Cooper's name has been linked with the series.

The series also spawned a successful comic book franchise

Author, Don Pendleton was born in 1927 and died 1995 - as well as the Executioner series he was responsible for several detective series and a number of spiritual books which he co-authored with his wife Linda Pendleton.

The original Executioner book was written because the author was dismayed at the way Vietnam vets were being treated when they returned home from the conflict. Reading the book today I was amazed at how well paced the admittedly simplistic story was - it drags you straight into the action and doesn't let up for a single page. Maybe the obligatory love subplot between Bolan and an American beauty was corny but it worked well within the confines of the story, and not once did Bolan, the one man army, seem ridiculous. The skill of the author is to make it believable, for the time spent between the pages, that one man could take on all the organised might of the Mafia. There are many reasons why the series has been so successful, why it contines to find readers even today, and most of those reason can be found in that first book.

The Executioner series has been said to have invented the Men's Action/Adventure genre, and whilst I'm not too sure about that the series certainly had a lot to do with making those slim paperbacks so popular. I grew up in a world where paperbacks such as these filled shelves everywhere - no wonder this teenage reader was drawn towards these books with their action packed covers and titillating prose....It was books such as these that made me a lifetime reader, and gave me the urge to be a writer myself. Oh, sure I've read far more complex books, better written books even but in terms of sheer excitement and enjoyment nothing has ever topped the action/adventure novels I read as a kid. I don't think nothing ever could.

So raise a glass to Mack Bolan, our first paperback hero.

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