Mack Bolan. Any idea who that is? You might have, but I didn’t until a few weeks ago and now he’s almost all I think about.
I’ll explain, shall I?
As we’ve discussed to some extent before, I love pulp fiction. We just talked about the 1994 movie with that name and, a few months ago, we talked about the New Pulp movement in fiction and my participation in it. What we haven’t discussed though is the way some of the original pulp fiction used to be done and how much I like that.
By the way, I’m also an obsessive collector. That’s going to come into play later, but, for now, back to pulp.
After his debut as an announcer character on radio’s “Detective Story Hour” in 1930, The Shadow was developed by publisher Street & Smith into a pop culture phenomenon in a series of pulp novels by Maxwell Grant. Between 1931 and 1949, Street & Smith published 325 Shadow novels, all by Maxwell Grant.
Maxwell Grant didn’t exist.
For 282 of the 325 Street & Smith Shadow novels, Maxwell Grant, a name the publisher made up, was actually Walter B. Gibson, a former journalist and magician. The other 43 Shadow novels were written by Maxwell Grants such as Theodore Tinsley, Bruce Elliot and, in one case, Lester Dent, who created another pulp icon, Doc Savage, under the name Kenneth Robeson, another Street & Smith house name.
Get all that?
I love the idea of different writers contributing to the legacy of a character under a unifying name. The anonymity of the individual scribes may be a turnoff to some, but I quite like the idea of workmanlike writers pounding these novels out on a work-for-hire basis, all for the furtherance of popular entertainment and their own livelihoods.
Journalism is a bit like that when you think about it.
Anyway, I’ve often thought it would be cool if such a pulp series setup still existed today, beyond the realm of Star Trek tie-ins and summer blockbuster novelizations.
Enter Don Pendleton.
In 1969, Pendleton, a real person who was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, penned a novel called “War Against the Mafia” in which the hero, Vietnam vet Mack Bolan, returns home to bury his family, who were being terrorized by the mob before Bolan’s father killed them and himself in an act of desperation.
A bit morbid, yes, but still; it’s pure pulp.
Pendleton went on to write 36 more novels, the last published in 1980, in which The Executioner—one of Bolan’s nicknames in ‘Nam—smashed the Mafia in every city he found them, giving rise to the men’s adventure brand of widespread, popular fiction of the 70’s and 80’s in the process.
I now realize I remember seeing such paperbacks in spindly spinner racks in the pharmacies and dime stores near our Yonkers apartment when I was a kid. I probably saw the covers of more than my share of Mack Bolans and never realized it.
In 1980, Pendleton licensed the rights to Mack Bolan to Gold Eagle, an imprint of romance giant Harlequin. Since then, a revolving, evolving team of fictioneers, working under Pendleton’s banner, have written a further 389 Executioner novels.
The last was released earlier this month. I know because I stumbled across it in K-Mart a few weeks ago.
There have been and are Bolan spinoff series, there are also double-length Super Bolans released every other month, but it’s the core Executioner series that’s enchanted me. These are lean, hard-hitting, get-in-and-get-out, pulpy, mass market paperback action/adventure stories of around 200 pages and there is, as it turns out, a new one every month from a writer who pounded it out in a room somewhere and then got on with the next thing, just like they used to with The Shadow, Doc Savage, and any of a number of other pulp characters.
I get all smiley just thinking about it.
Of course, you know what this means. This means that, in addition to the five Executioners I’ve snagged from store shelves so far, there are 422 other brash, economical Mack Bolan adventures waiting out there, somewhere, for me to find and adopt them.
And that’s just the core series.
I can’t tell you, and maybe I don’t have to, what a joy it is to not only discover something in your wheelhouse you had no idea was there, but to do it in enough time that you can really delve into and enjoy it. I think it’s quite a special thing when you can find something beyond the age of say 11 that makes you feel like you did when something took hold of you then. Not a lot of those things have happened my way in my adult life. Mack Bolan is one of them and I want to be in for the long haul because he’s got quite a legacy to explore and the five books I have are just a small part of it.
A small part of Mack Bolan’s legacy.