There once was a time, before the rise of their more colorful, Spandex-wearing cousins, when pulp heroes dominated pop culture.
Nowadays, heroes such as The Spirit and Doc Savage have faded into the shadows of the public’s conscience, offering glimpses only when a writer such as Roman Leary comes along.
Leary’s first novel, “Brother Bones: Six Days of the Dragon,” tells the tale of a supernatural avenger who solves most problems with gunfire.
“I have always had an affinity for pulp fiction and comic book characters and superheroes and things of that nature,” said Leary, director of the Edgecombe County Memorial Library. “What was particularly interesting about Brother Bones is he was unique in terms of the dark avenger archetype that we are all familiar with from the comics, mainly through Batman.”
Brother Bones originally was created by Ron Fortier, who after some hesitation, allowed Leary to use his character.
“Allowing another writer to handle Brother Bones was something I had never imagined,” Fortier said. “Roman won me over. The concept was true to the character, but envisioned him in an exciting, new adventure that was like nothing that had been done before.”
Although there are similarities between Brother Bones and someone such as Batman, Leary said there was one key difference.
“The thing about most of these guys, like Batman or The Shadow, or any number of imitators, is they are driven by revenge,” Leary said. “They, or someone they love, have usually been the victim of some terrible crime. That motivates them to go out and rectify things. They want to be a force of justice.”
Brother Bones, on the other hand, started off as a low-level hit man, Leary said.
“He is a total lowlife creep,” he said. “There are absolutely no redeeming qualities about him. But something happens that awakens his conscience. He suddenly becomes aware of exactly how awful a person he is and wants to change.”
After being killed by his associates and returning to live as a vengeful ghost, it is not revenge that drives the character, but rather a desire for redemption, Leary said.
The book’s themes seem to fit with society’s fascination with anti-heroes, such as Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” But Leary said that while Brother Bone’s character is dark, the line between good and evil is well-defined.
“One of the things that is very important to me, and I think this comes across in the book, is that you understand where the villains are coming from,” he said. “I spent a lot of time getting into their motivations and why they feel compelled to do these things, the fact they feel perfectly justified. By the same token, the line between right and wrong is very clearly defined here.”
When he was writing the book, Leary said that he took inspiration from writers such as Richard Stark and Elmore Leonard.
“I don’t try to emulate it, but I will say it definitely has had an influence on me,” Leary said. “Whenever I started feeling the tank is kind of running low creatively, those are the guys I kind of look to for inspiration. I do not want to flatter myself and say I am Elmore Leonard or Richard Stark, not even close. Those are the guys I kind of look to as my literary icons.”
The hardest part of writing the book was finding the time to write, Leary said.
“I would have finished this a lot earlier, but as it was, basically I would do a half a page a night,” he said.
Two more books from Leary are on the way, he said, one a western and the other a mystery.
“Brother Bones: Six Days of the Dragon” costs $15 and can purchased in print or as a Kindle e-book at amazon.com or in print by visiting the library and asking for Leary.