The Spider

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The Spider
Spider-SlavesoftheLaughingDeath.jpg
Cover of the March 1940 issue, featuring the story "Slaves of the Laughing Death"
Charachter information
Publisher(s): Popular Publications
First Appearance: The Spider, October 1933 ("The Spider Strikes")
Created by: Harry Steeger
Power(s): Brilliant intelligence
Superb physique
Strength of will
(Sometimes referred to as having an almost hypnotic presence, making him "The Master of Men")
The Spider
Editor Rogers Terrill (1933 – 1942)

Robert Turner & Ryerson Johnson (1943)

Categories Pulp magazine
Frequency Monthly (Until March 1943)

Bi-monthly (Until final issue)

First Issue October 1933
Final Issue
— Date
— Number

December 1943
118
Company Popular Publications
Country USA Flag of USA.png
Language English
ISSN unknown

The Spider was the violent, relentless hero of a pulp magazine series produced by Popular Publications from 1933 to 1943. There were 118 stories in the pulps and another one, "Slaughter Incorporated" was published privately. It had been previously published under the title "Blue Steel" by Spider Page (a.k.a. Donald Cormack) with all the names changed. Often the adventure in a Spider pulp would start on page one of a story and would go full speed to its conclusion where on the last page, the villain would be killed then unmasked. The Spider was billed as the "Master of Men" on the covers of the pulps.

Background

Created by Henry "Harry" Steeger as competition to Street and Smith Publications' The Shadow, and at first written by R.T.M. Scott. Several years earlier Scott had written seven fast paced books from 1923-1947 about a character named Secret Service Smith who was probably the role model for the character of The Spider as he chased after deadly criminals. Like Wentworth, Smith had a faithful Indian servant (Langa Doonh) who was deadly with his long knife and would say "Han sahib!" to Smith. The books were "Secret Service Smith", 1926 "The Black Magician", 1926 "Ann's Crime" and in 1928 "Aurelius Smith : Detective". In 1936, "Murder Stalks The Mayor" followed, 1946 came "The Agony Column Murders" and in 1947 "The Nameless Ones". They were book length stories except for the fourth, a collection of twelve stories of Smith. Other stories remained only available in original pulp magazines. Scott also wrote in 1935 "The Mad Monk" which was not a Smith book.

Under Scott, The Spider began as a mysterious, but uncostumed, avenger who operated after the fashion of a secret agent. After two issues, the series was handed over to Norvell W. Page, who wrote under the house pen name Grant Stockbridge. Page's changes included making Ram Singh a burly, bombastic Sikh, and giving The Spider a 'public' persona: a disguise that made Wentworth look like a cloaked, slouch-hatted and hunchbacked 'monster' with a fright wig, hooked nose, bushy brows and fanged teeth. This disguise may have been copied from a 1921 Harold Lloyd film, Dr Jack where Lloyd dressed up in 'exactly the same disguise' as The Spider later wore, though other sources say it may have been a blending of John Barrymore's Mr. Hyde and Lon Chaney, Sr.'s vampire from London After Midnight. This character had been one of Wentworth's earlier aliases, Tito Caliepi who he used as an alias in "The Citadel of Hell", pretending to be a street violinist while on the run from criminals. He dropped this as an alias and used it for The Spider to make himself more fearsome. Another alias was Limpy Magee, a man with a heavy limp who owned a small shop where he fenced stuff for the Underworld and under whose guise he could listen in on conversations between crooks and pick up Underworld gossip. While this scuttling horror of the hunchback graced the ink sketches illustrating the inside of the magazine, it only graced a few of the covers. Most of the magazine's covers muted The Spider's look by depicting him in cloak, slouch hat and a black domino mask, akin to the mask of The Lone Ranger. In one of the early Page stories, before Wentworth created the 'vampiric' disguise, The Spider wore a full-face "curtain" mask with eyeholes. Unlike The Shadow, which focused on mystery, The Spider stories focused on frenetic action and desperation, with Wentworth battling to foil some of the most vile and sadistic villains in pulp history. Probably the most violent and action-packed of any of the major pulp series, The Spider has a gritty feel whose appeal seems ironically fitted to the modern age, despite when the stories were written.

Character universe

Richard Wentworth was a wealthy socialite and amateur detective, who lived in a penthouse and had previously served in WWI. Wentworth led a double life as The Spider, a mysterious and fearsome vigilante who killed criminals and stamped their foreheads with the seal of a crimson spider. He had many doubts and fears but when in the guise of The Spider he fought fearlessly and relentlessly in a two-gun battle against evil, often being injured or wounded, even near to death as he dodged in and out of life or death situations. In the 100th issue, "Death and The Spider" (January 1942), it was prophesied that The Spider would die and Wentworth believed it, but he made it through alive.

Supporting characters

Wentworth was aided by his fiancé, Nita Van Sloan. She featured in his deadliest adventures, sometimes fighting side by side with The Spider and even impersonating him when he was out of action (First in "Master of the Death-Madness", August 1935). In "Spider and the Slaves of Hell" (July 1939) she works under her own masked identity as The Black Widow. She and Wentworth were lovers but knew that they could not marry, as Wentworth believed that he would eventually be unmasked or killed as The Spider and his wife would suffer for it. Several times they almost married in lulls between super-criminal activity, only for some crisis to occur and bring them back to the status quo.

His Sikh (originally Hindu) manservant Ram Singh was a deadly knife thrower. Though Ram Singh referred to Wentworth as "the Master", he is not an employee but happily serving someone who was the greatest warrior he had ever known and would have laid down his life for him, as he knew Wentworth would have done for him in turn.

Ronald Jackson, his faithful chauffeur, is like Ram Singh. He had served under Wentworth in World War One and often referred to him as "the Major". Jackson fought the good fight too against the underworld. Jackson was killed off in "The Pain Emperor" (February 1935) where he died after confessing to the police that he was really The Spider to cover for Wentworth and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. However, in the pages of "Reign of the Death Fiddler" (May 1935), Jackson reappeared to save Wentworth from the guns of the Underworld. It was later revealed in that same story that he had just been injured and Ram Singh had spirited him away to a secret location to be treated but no one had thought to tell Wentworth who thought him dead. He eventually married Marianne Harcourt, the half-sister of the villain "The Ghost" ("The Devil's Paymaster", May 1941).

Harold Jenkyns is an elderly butler who had been in the Wentworth family's service for a long time. He acts more frequently as Wentworth's butler than as a direct ally of The Spider. He sometimes suffered for being close to him, such as when he was crucified, along with Ram Singh and Jackson, by one of the villains The Spider was fighting.

Dogging Wentworth's steps was his friend and foil, Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick or simply "Kirk", who suspected Wentworth was The Spider but could not prove it. The police, including Commissioner Kirkpatrick, were after The Spider for his many bloody murders. Though he has mixed feelings about The Spider's activities, often saving the city by illegal means, officially he had to arrest Wentworth if he ever found evidence that he was The Spider. There was many close calls but he never found the conclusive evidence he needed. Kirkpatrick was at one time pushed into the job of Governor of New York by the politicians he hated (in "Reign of the Death Fiddler", May 1935) only to be impeached and return to his former position shortly after ("The Mayor of Hell", January 1936). During this time, the Commissioner's job was taken over by Flynn who Wentworth first thought might just be a political flunkey but turned out to be an able man for the job. Kirkpatrick eventually fell in love with, and married, Lona Deeping. They met when she was the slave of "The Man in the Cowl", the villain of "Murder's Black Prince" (July 1941).

An old war colleague and inventor named Professor Ezra Brownlee featured heavily in the early stories before being killed off ("Dragon Lord of the Underworld", July 1935). Brownlee's son made some appearances afterwards.

Equipment

While The Spider used such secretive weapons as a silent air pistol that could be broken down and concealed in a hollow shoe tree, and a sword cane, his weapons of choice were a set of blued steel .45 automatics. The air pistol was only in the very early stories. Later The Spider killed his cold blooded enemies ruthlessly, often as they shot at him or to stop a slaughter. Needless to say, Wentworth was a dead shot, as was Nita Van Sloan. The Spider also carried his "web," a coil of nylon rope which though thin as a pencil could hold several hundred pounds weight.

The Spider stamped the foreheads of the criminals he killed with the seal of a crimson spider he kept concealed in a special cigarette lighter. This "Mark of The Spider" was said to resemble a drop of blood and was placed on the foreheads of people he killed, often at risk to himself as police were nearby, so that no one else would be wrongly blamed for his kills. The lighter was invented by Professor Brownlee.

Back up stories

Like other hero pulps, The Spider pulps had a number of back up stories and there was none better than the Doc Turner series. Written by Arthur Leo Zagat, the stories featured elderly doctor, Andrew Turner who had his practise in the shadow of the "El" (elevated train) on Morris Street. Doc Turner, sometimes helped by young assistant Jack Ransom, came up against a number of fiends in human form who preyed on the residents of "Hell's Kitchen" as the area was less than affectionately known. Elderly Doc Turner was often in great peril and though unarmed, he used his wits to escape as in the story: "Doc Turner's Doom Dose" (April 1936) where a man who had already tortured another man to death and now planned on torturing Turner as well as a woman and child to death was tricked by the doctor into mixing an explosive which blew his face off. Unfortunately it set light to the room the captives were held in and the only way Turner could escape was to use the flames to burn the ropes off of his wrists.

Movie serials

There were two movie serials produced about The Spider. They maintained the character of The Spider and his assistants fairly well with the police chasing them as well as the crooks. Commissioner Kirkpatrick was for unknown reasons changed to Commissioner Kirk. There was more hand to hand combat, as in common in serials, with a death trap to be escaped at the end of each chapter before the final unmasking in the last episode.

  • The Spider’s Web (1938)
  • The Spider Returns (1941)

These were 15-chapter cliffhangers produced by Columbia Pictures, and starring Warren Hull as Richard Wentworth. The film depiction had The Spider wearing a web-patterned black cloak and full-head hood which nowadays looks closer to Spider-Man's costume rather than the pulp 'monster' image. These are not currently available on the home video market. They are available on the video collector market.

Adaptations

The Spider pulps have been reprinted in both paperback and magazine format, with mass-market paperback reprints appearing as recently as the 1990s. Berkeley tried some reprints in the early seventies, intending to reprint all 118 stories in order but immediately hit poor sales and of the four reprinted, number four was given away free with number three. Small boutique publishers such as Girasol have been releasing facsimile editions of the original stories in limited runs up to the present time.

The characters were reinterpreted in comic book form by Timothy Truman in the 1990s from Eclipse Comics.

The Spider is a member of the Wold Newton family.

The Spider will make his return with a short story collection from Moonstone Books, a small independent publisher best known for their stories about Lee Falk's famous hero The Phantom.


External links


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