Spider (pulp fiction)
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Cover of the first issue (October 1933), featuring the story "The Spider Strikes"
|First appearance||The Spider, vol. 1, #1 ("The Spider Strikes") (October 1933)|
|Created by||Harry Steeger|
|In story information|
|Real name||Richard Wentworth|
|Supporting characters||Nita Van Sloan
|Spider (pulp fiction)|
|Schedule||Monthly (until March 1943)
Bi-monthly (until final issue)
|Publication date||October 1933 – December 1943|
|Number of issues||118|
|Writer(s)||Norvell W. Page
Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott
|Editor(s)||Rogers Terrill (1933–1942)
Robert Turner & Ryerson Johnson (1943)
|Films or serials|
|The Spider’s Web||Columbia Pictures
Portrayed by: Warren Hull
|The Spider Returns||Columbia Pictures
Portrayed by: Warren Hull
|Comics and graphic novels|
|The Spider||Eclipse Comics
|The Spider: Judgement Knight||Moonstone Books
The Spider was created in 1933 by Harry Steeger at Popular Publications as direct competition to Street and Smith Publications' vigilante hero, the Shadow. Though similar, The Spider was millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth, who had served as a Major in World War I, and was living in New York City unaffected by the financial deprivations of the Great Depression.
When Wentworth was easily identified as The Spider by his enemies in the earlier novels, he was arrested by the police but quickly escaped, adopting a hunchback disguise under the name of Tito Caliepi, donning make-up, a wig of lank hair, a black cape and slouch hat. Later in the pulp series, vampire-like makeup appeared and then a face mask with grizzled hair; a hunchback was then added to terrorize the criminal underworld with The Spider's brand of violent vigilante justice. (Actor and comedian Harold Lloyd previously had used a similar mask and hunchback in the 1922 comedy film Dr. Jack). Caliepi sometimes begged cover on a case, utilizing Wenworth's talent with a violin.
At times, Wentworth also ventured into the underworld disguised as small-time hood Blinky McQuade in order to gain needed information. To Scotland Yard, Wentworth was known as Rupert Barton and held a badge of Inspector for services rendered; by the fifth novel he also held the rank of Lieutenant in the FBI.
Wentworth himself, according to the fifth story, was 5'11" tall and had grey eyes and an old battle scar on his head that would flare-up at times of great stress. He was an accomplished musician with violin and piano, and he drove a Lancia. He could speak Hindustani and so talk with Ram Singh in his own language with little fear anyone else would understand.
The stories often involved a bizarre menace and a criminal conspiracy and were often extremely violent, with the villains engaging in wanton slaughter of thousands as part of sometimes nationwide crime sprees. The first two novels were written by Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, but they were slow paced, so another author was brought in with later stories being published under the house name, Grant Stockbridge; most of the Spider novels were written by Norvell Page. Other authors of the Spider novels included Emile C. Tepperman, Wayne Rogers, Prentice Winchell, and Donald C. Cormack. The cover artists for the Spider magazine were Walter M. Baumhofer for the debut issue, followed by John Newton Howitt and Rafael De Soto. The Spider was published monthly and ran for 118 issues from 1933 to 1943. A 119th Spider novel manuscript had been completed but was not published until decades later, then as a rewritten mass-market paperback with retitled characters (see paperback novels section, below).
Richard Wentworth was aided by his longtime fiancé, Nita Van Sloan. Though they were as close as man and wife, they knew that they could never marry and have a family, as Wentworth believed that he would eventually be unmasked or killed as The Spider, and his wife and family would then pay the price; in issue #100, Wentworth expected to die in a story called Death and The Spider. Nita disguised herself as The Spider a few times, covering for Wentworth when he had been seriously injured.
Ram Singh, a Sikh (originally Hindu), was Wenthworth's manservant; he was a deadly knife thrower and usually carried several knives with him, including the deadly Kukri. Ram Singh never saw his position as a servant demeaning or having a negative impact on his self-respect, feeling that he served a man totally above other men. Ronald Jackson was Wentworth's chauffeur. Jackson had served under Wentworth in World War I and often referred to him as "the Major". Harold Jenkyns was Wentworth's butler, a man who had been in the Wentworth family's service for a long time. Wentworth's main ally/antagonist was Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick or simply "Kirk", who suspected Wentworth was The Spider but could never prove it. An old war colleague and inventor named Professor Ezra Brownlee featured heavily in the early Spider novels before being killed in the July 1935 issue Dragon Lord of the Underworld. Brownlee's son made some appearances afterwards, taking over for his late father.
Despite The Spider's tendency to kill his enemies, he encountered several foes more than once, such as The Fly and MUNRO, a master of disguise. Some storylines featuring a struggle against a single villain lasted for several consecutive issues, such as The Spider's four-part battle against The Living Pharaoh and his three-part battle against The Master and his Black Police. Among the enemies he encountered just once were predecessors of the costumed super villains of comic books, such as The Red Mandarin, The Brain, The Bloody Serpent, The Wreck, Red Feather, The Silencer, Judge Torture, and The Emperor of Vermin. The names of two Spider villains, The Bat Man and The Iron Man, would later be adopted for DC and Marvel comic book superheroes.
The Spider's seal and weapons
One distinguishing feature of The Spider was his "calling card." Wentworth often left a red-ink "spider" image (like a drop of blood) on the foreheads of the criminals he killed so others would not be blamed. In the sixth novel (1934), the Spider imprints his red sign on a gold ring so that any who need his help can use it by taking it to Kirkpatrick (where Wentworth will find out about it). During the same time period, in the same benign fashion and perhaps inspired by the Spider's calling card, Lee Falk's long-running 1936 syndicated comic strip hero, The Phantom, left a distinct skull mark in the faces of those enemies he fought, made by the ring he wore. The Spider's seal, however, was concealed in the base of his platinum cigarette lighter and was invented by Professor Brownlee. The Spider also carried a thin silken line (his "web") which had a tensile strength of several hundred pounds.
Brownlee also invented the lethal and almost silent air pistol the Spider used for 'quiet' kills. He acted as a sort of on-call technical wizard for Wentworth, whom he looked upon as being close to a son. Wentworth also had a gun in one of his shoes in the early issues, which he used twice is issue 5.
Wentworth was a master of disguise; in the small steel case of burglar tools he carried under his arm, he also had his make-up kit (and in the early novels) The Spider's eye mask.
In Timothy Truman's 1990s comic book adaptation, Brownlee created the "Web-Lee," a non-lethal 'stun' pistol that fired projectiles that erupted into a spiderweb-like mass, inundated with microscopic barbs of frozen curare.
Like The Shadow, The Spider's usual weapons of choice were a pair of Browning .45 caliber M1911 automatic pistols; he was a crack shot and normally shot to kill. However, he would not shoot anyone in law enforcement, whereas they frequently were under orders to shoot to kill him on sight.
Master of Men
The Spider's by-name was "Master of Men", indicating that he had a voice commanding enough to get many people to do his bidding. Wentworth could also imitate other people's voices. When he imitated Kirkpatrick's voice, he could give orders to lesser policemen during a stake-out, even during one intended to capture The Spider, so he could himself escape. Wentworth was not above disguising himself as a cop to escape when surrounded by policemen.
There were two Columbia Pictures Spider movie serials produced; both are 15-chapter cliffhangers starring Warren Hull as Richard Wentworth. The first is 1938's The Spider’s Web, the first to be made from a popular pulp magazine series character. In this serial The Spider battles The Octopus and his henchmen who attempt to disrupt all commercial and passenger transportation systems and later all U. S. industry; Spider pulp magazine novelist Norvell Page was one of the writer's that worked on the serial's screenplay.
The second serial was 1941's The Spider Returns, which has The Spider battling the mysterious crime lord The Gargoyle and his henchmen, who threaten the world with acts of sabotage and wholesale murder in an effort to wreck the U. S. national defense.
Both serials feature a dramatic wardrobe enhancement to the Spider's magazine appearance: his black cape and head mask are over-printed with a white spider's web pattern and then matched with his usual plain black fedora. This striking addition gave the silver screen Spider an appearance more like that of a traditional superhero, like other pulp and comics heroes being adapted for the era's movie serials; it also made the serial Spider look less like the very popular Street and Smith pulp hero The Shadow, which also had been produced by Columbia and starred Victor Jory.
Berkley Books (then Berkley/Medallion) first reprinted the Spider in 1969 and 1970, intending to reprint all 118 novels in order, hoping to tap into the reprint phenomenon of the Doc Savage novels being published by Bantam Books. But these first paperback reissues met with poor sales after only four volumes, and the planned series was canceled.
In the mid-1970s, Pocket Books reprinted four Spider novels, this time featuring "modern" pulp artwork on their covers: Each featured a non-costumed, heavily armed Spider depicted as a muscular blonde hero holding a gorgeous woman. These paperbacks also failed to find an audience and the series was canceled. It seems likely that these four novels were edited and modernized reprints, one of several reasons why they may have never caught on with their intended audience. In one, Death and the Spider, with an original publishing date of 1940, Nita Van Sloan is shown driving an Jaguar E-type X-KE, a sportscar not created and on the streets until 1961, some nineteen years later.
At roughly the same time in England, Mews Books/New American Library reprinted four Spider novels sporting new cover artwork, each being different in style and execution from those used by Pocket Books. This Spider mass-market series also ended after only four titles had been published.
Then, three years later, in 1979, an unusual Spider publishing event happened right out of the "blue." Python Publishing put into print the never-before-published last original Spider novel, Slaughter, Inc., originally to have been published as Spider pulp magazine #119. Python published it as a one-shot mass-market paperback. For copyright reasons all character names were changed and the novel was retitled Blue Steel ("The Ultimate Answer To Evil"). In it The Spider was recast as the title character Blue Steel. As with Pocket Book's Spider editions, this paperback sported a "modern" pulp cover painting featuring a very similar, non-costumed, but heavily armed blonde hero (that cover appears to be an unused cover painting by artist George Gross, finished but never used for a Freeway Press reprint of the pulp magazine character Operator #5).
A year later, in 1980, Dimedia, Inc. reprinted three Spider pulp novels in the larger trade paperback format. Then beginning four years later, they continued with three mass-market Spider novel reprints, one in 1984 and two in 1985. These last three sported new cover paintings of the original costumed Spider by fantasy artist Ken Kelly.
In the early 1990s, Carroll & Graf Publishers began issuing a series of eight mass-market Spider paperbacks, each one in a double-novel format. All used original Spider pulp magazine artwork for their covers. These 16 novels became the longest running Spider reprint series done for the mass-market paperback book market.
After Carol and Graf, several specialized small press pulp reprint houses tried a complete reprinting of the Spider series before finally stopping. Bold Venture Press started this multiple small press revival during the mid-1990s with a series of affordable Spider trade paperback reprints. Others soon joined in with Spider reprintings. In later years, the prolific Wildside Press started offering Spider reprints. But Girasol Collectibles has been the most dogged of them all. It has reissued the novels as both a series of single pulp novel facsimile editions, as well as re-typeset stories in 'pulp double' trade paperbacks. Both series use Spider pulp magazine artwork for their covers. More than eight dozen Spider novels have been put back into print as part of Girasol's ambitious program, which still continues.
New York science fiction publisher Baen Books published in 2007 a single trade paperback featuring three Spider novel reprints. Then in 2008 they released a second companion trade paperback of Spider reprints. Baen then issued both volumes as mass-market paperbacks. One of the three novels in that second omnibus stars another Popular Publications pulp character, the Octopus. The Baen editions sported new Spider cover paintings by noted graphic designer and comics artist Jim Steranko. Steranko had illustrated all 28 covers for the 1970s mass-market reprint volumes of rival pulp hero The Shadow, published by Pyramid Books and HBJ/Jove Books.
In late 2009, Doubleday's Science Fiction Book Club reprinted in hardcover Baen's second Spider three-in-one volume from the previous year. This became the first Spider hardcover edition ever published.
In August 2009, Age of Aces reprinted the Spider's "Black Police" novel trilogy in a single volume. Moonstone Books also published an original anthology of brand new Spider short stories entitled The Spider Chronicles the same year.
The Vintage Library has thirty-four licensed Spider novel reprints available in the PDF format. For a small fee, each one can be downloaded from their website.
Facsimile Spider novels continue to appear in print from other publishers; they have also been issued in the Kindle e-book format and are available for download from radioarchive.com, Amazon.com, and others.
Spider comics and graphic novels
In the early 1990s, the Spider and its characters were reinterpreted in comic book form by Timothy Truman for Eclipse Comics. As noted in Comics Scene #19, Truman set his version of The Spider in the "1990s as seen by the 1930s". Elements of this version of The Spider's milieu included airships as common transportation, the survival of the League of Nations into the near past (Wentworth meets Ram Singh during an intervention into India/Pakistan), and World War II, if it ever happened, taking place differently. This series featured an African-American Commissioner Kirkpatrick.
Moonstone Books started a new Spider graphic novel series, which are structured more like illustrated prose stories than traditional panel-by-panel comics. In March 2011 the same publisher offered the first issue of a more traditional Spider comic book, with art by veteran creator Pablo Marcos.
In August 2011 Dynamite Entertainment announced that they were going to produce a brand new, updated Spider comic book series, written by novelist David Liss; the first issue was released in May 2012. The Spider's costume in this series is based on the one worn by actor Warren Hull in Columbia's 1940s Spider movie serials, but the black costume's web lines are rendered in blood red instead of white. This comics series depicts The Spider and his allies fighting crime in a modern day U. S. In 2013 Dynamite announced that issue #18 of The Spider would be its last.
In December 2012 Dynamite released the first issue of Masks, an 8-issue comic book miniseries that teams The Spider with Dynamite's other pulp hero-based comic book characters; these include The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, a 1930s Zorro, and four others. Together, they fight a powerful criminal syndicate, who, along with their gangster henchmen, secretly controls New York City through the corrupt and powerful Justice Party, which has seized complete control over the city and its citizens. This miniseries, set in the Depression Era 1930s, is not in the same universe/story continuity as Dynamite's main Spider comic book series. The completed Masks miniseries was then gathered by Dynamite into a single volume graphic novel.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Spider (pulp fiction).|
|Wikisource has several original texts related to: Spider (pulp fiction)|
- Spider at the Internet Movie Database
- The Spider Returns (fan site)
- The Spider Pulps at the Vintage Library
- The Spider at ThePulp.Net
- Magazine Datafile for The Spider
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- Robinson, Frank M. and Davidson, Lawrence. Pulp Culture. Collector's Press, 1998. ISBN 1-888054-12-3.