There is nothing comparable in modern publishing to the phenomenal success of Don Pendleton's creation. It not only became a cottage industry all its own, it started an entire genre of action heroes and it turned a tiny imprint into a major paperback player.
Before Mack Bolan, there were private eyes and spies. After he opened the door, the world was given another type of hero - the vigilante. This new fighter was the sort of man, or woman, who could walk through a door, shoot, stab, or beat up the bad guy(s), and then disappear before legal authorities showed up. The fighter could do the fighting back that many readers dreamed of doing but, of course, would never do.
The names of those what came after the Executioner were many. Quite a few have made it to these pages with their own columns but others have not. The Destroyer, The Death Merchant, The Avenger, The Revenger, The Marksman, The Sharpshooter, The Terminator, The Eliminator, The Expeditor, The Sexecutioner. And on and on.
What these people would do might vary and how they did it might change from character to character, but they all share one major common thread. They all struck back at the bad and defended the good.
Interestingly, however, the reason that Mack Bolan, the Executioner, is within this compendium of spy heroes came after the initial flush of success that Pinnacle would enjoy. Don Pendleton, the creator of Bolan, saw the first books hit the street in or around 1969. Two more would be copyrighted in 1970 and several more in 1971.
On a personal note, I saw the first six on a turnstile rack in a 7-Eleven in the fall of 1971. I was intrigued and bought the first one 'just to see'. The next day, I returned to that convenience store to buy the remaining five and have been a huge fan ever since.
Don Pendleton kept his fiery character going strong against the evils of organized crime despite a considerable backlash against the tremendous violence that Mack inflicted on the baddies, the lawless way that Bolan went about being judge, jury, and executioner, and, most vehemently, the way he made Italians the brunt of his anger. If the target of Bolan's wrath had been named Brown or Smith, it is unlikely he would have been as vilified. Nevertheless, Pendleton and Pinnacle Books suffered all the way to the bank.
But the reason for inclusion of the Executioner in this list of spy series came at the end of the run of Pendleton's authorship of the character's adventures. For 38 books (with one exception) and 11 years, Pendleton scripted each step of Bolan trek against the Mob. And Pinnacle Books published each one, averaging 3 a year.
In 1981, three major changes took place. The first was the alteration of the character from a vigilante against the Mob to a government agent fighting terrorism and enemy agents. The second was the authorship changing from one man to the work of many different writers. The third was the publishing house switching from Pinnacle to a new imprint, Gold Eagle, a Harlequin company.
It took a bit of time for the plans of the new management to get underway. The first book came out in April of 1981 and the next didn't get released until January of the next year. But after that hiatus, production went into high gear and has not slowed down much. 1982 saw 9 books and then from 1983 to date, each month has seen a new Executioner adventure.
1982 would also see the publication of two new series starring people that Mack had worked with over the years, including several from his Vietnam days. Able Team and Phoenix Force were two small groups of men and women, connected closely with Stony Man and made largely of people from Bolan's struggles. Both lasted over a decade and had over 50 books.
It didn't stop there. In 1983 the first of what would be called Super Bolans by the publishing industry and fandom was released. It was Stony Man Doctrine and really kicked the Bolan system into high gear as it solidified the concept that Mack Bolan, alias John Phoenix, was the focal point of an ultra-secret intelligence group.
From that moment, in addition to the Executioner books, Gold Eagle would periodically release double-sized adventures under the 'Mack Bolan' heading (the Super Bolan tag was mostly an internal title). These Super books came at first slowly but soon the frequency increased until within five years they were coming every quarter and within ten years they were bimonthly.
The names of the authors listed in here are from the excellent website devoted to Mack Bolan (www.mackbolan.com).
Note: Because there were two separate series running at the same time, both devoted to the same character, I chose to list them separately, hence this entry for the Mack Bolan series and a different one for the Executioner. Both series are about the same man and they both have the same sort of plots but this series has longer, more involved storylines.