Spider (pulp fiction)
|First appearance||The Spider, vol. 1, #1 ("The Spider Strikes")|
|Created by||Harry Steeger|
|Alter ego||Richard Wentworth|
|Supporting character of||Nita Van Sloan|
The Spider is an American pulp-magazine hero of the 1930s and 1940s. The character was created by editor Harry Steeger and written by a variety of authors for 118 monthly issues of The Spider from 1933 to 1943. A 119th Spider novel manuscript, Slaughter Incorporated, had been completed but was not published until decades later. A complete list of all 119 Spider pulps in the original series is available online at fan sites.
The Spider sold well during the 1930s, and copies are valued by modern pulp magazine collectors. Hulse has stated "Today, hero-pulp fans value The Spider more than any single-character magazine except for The Shadow and Doc Savage."
The Spider was created in 1933 by Harry Steeger at Popular Publications as direct competition to Street and Smith Publications' vigilante hero, the Shadow. 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. The ninth pulp represents him as the last surviving member of a rich family.
Wentworth was easily identified as the Spider by his enemies in a number of earlier novels and was arrested by the police but quickly escaped. He adopted a disguise, Tito Caliepi, and associated aliases. The Spider's earliest costume consisted of a simple black domino mask, black hat, and cape. Later in the series, vampire-like makeup appeared, which was replaced with a face mask featuring grizzled hair and finally a hunchback. These were added to terrorize the criminal underworld, while the Spider dispensed his brand of violent vigilante justice. (Actor and comedian Harold Lloyd previously had used a similar mask, lank hair wig, and hunchback in the comedy film Dr. Jack (1922)). Utilizing his talent with a violin, Wentworth, posing as Caliepi, sometimes used begging as part of his disguise.
At other 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, who held a badge of Inspector for services rendered; by the fifth novel, he also held the rank of lieutenant in the FBI.
Wentworth, 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 pianist and violinist, and he drove a Lancia. He could speak fluent Hindustani and so talk with Ram Singh in his own language, with little fear anyone else would understand what was being said. Page's Wentworth was also psychologically vulnerable and suffered "frequent bouts of fear, self-doubt, despair and paranoia".
The Spider stories often involved a bizarre menace to the country 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: pulp magazine historian Ed Hulse notes that "Spider novel death tolls routinely ran into the thousands". The master criminal of the stories was usually unmasked only in the last few pages. The stories often ended with Wentworth killing the villains and stamping their corpses' foreheads with his "Spider" mark.
The first two novels were written by Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott (aka R.T.M. Scott), but they were deemed too slow-paced, so another author was brought in. Later stories were published under the house pen name of "Grant Stockbridge". Most of the Spider novels were actually written by Norvell Page. Other authors of the series included Donald C. Cormack, Wayne Rogers, Emile C. Tepperman, and Prentice Winchell.
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 (Slaughter Incorporated) had been completed but was not published until decades later (as Blue Steel), a heavily rewritten mass-market paperback with renamed characters (see paperback novels section below). (In 2012, Moonstone Books finally published it as Slaughter, Inc., in its original unedited form. The novel was once again reprinted in 2018 by Altus Press as a facsimile edition, this time designed to look exactly like the actual Spider #119 pulp would have looked in the 1940s.)
The Spider sold well during the 1930s, and copies are still valued by modern pulp magazine collectors. Hulse has stated "Today, hero-pulp fans value The Spider more than any single-character magazine save The Shadow and Doc Savage."
Nita Van Sloan, is Wentworth's longtime fiancée, who often aided him. Though they are as close as man and wife, they know they could never marry and have a family, as Wentworth believes he will eventually be unmasked or killed as The Spider, and his wife and family would then pay the price. In the issue #100 story, "Death and The Spider", Wentworth expected to die. Nita disguises herself as The Spider a few times, covering for Wentworth when he has been seriously injured.
Ram Singh, a Sikh (originally Hindu), is Wenthworth's fanatically loyal manservant; he is a deadly knife thrower and usually carries several knives with him, including the deadly kukri. Ram Singh never views his position as a servant as demeaning or negatively impacting his self-respect, feeling that he serves a man totally above other men. At times, he and Wentworth talk in Hindustani, which only they understand.
Sergeant Ronald Jackson, Wentworth's chauffeur, had served under Wentworth in World War I and often referred to him as "the Major". He was killed by "The Avenger" in The Pain Emperor story (Feb 1935). However he was revived in "The Reign of the Death Fiddler" (May 1, 1935) when it was revealed that though near death, Ram Singh had saved him and brought him back to full health again.
Harold Jenkyns is Wentworth's butler, an elderly man who has been in the Wentworth family's service for a long time.
Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick or simply "Kirk", is Wentworth's main ally/antagonist, who is sure Wentworth is The Spider but can never prove it. He has promised to arrest him, try him, and send him to the electric chair if he ever has proof.
Professor Ezra Brownlee, an inventor and Wentworth's old war colleague, features heavily in the early Spider novels; he is killed in Dragon Lord of the Underworld (July 1935). Brownlee's son makes some appearances afterward, taking over from his late father.
Despite The Spider's tendency to kill his enemies, he encounters 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 Tang-Akhmut, the Living Pharaoh (issues #36, 37, 38 and 39), and The Spider's three-part battle against The Master and his Black Police (#60, 61 and 62), which was reprinted decades later in a single volume as The Spider vs The Empire State. Other enemies he encountered had names like the costumed super-villains of comic books, such as Judge Torture, Red Feather, The Bloody Serpent, The Brain, The Emperor of Vermin, The Red Mandarin, The Silencer, and The Wreck. The names of two Spider villains, The Bat Man and The Iron Man, were later adopted for DC and Marvel comic book superheroes.
The Spider's seal and weapons
One of The Spider's distinguishing features is his "calling card." Wentworth often leaves a red-ink "spider" image (like a drop of blood) on the foreheads of the criminals he kills, so others will 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 weaponsmith for Wentworth, whom he looked upon as being close to a son. Wentworth also had a gun in one of his shoes, which he used twice in the 5th novel.
Wentworth was also 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) his 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 which erupted into a spider web-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, although 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 stakeout, 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.
Columbia Pictures produced two Spider movie serials, both 15-chapter cliffhangers starring Warren Hull as Richard Wentworth. The first, The Spider's Web (1938), was also the first film serial 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 writers who worked on the serial's screenplay.
In the second serial, The Spider Returns (1941), The Spider battles 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 was also produced as a serial by Columbia Pictures.
Many, if not all, of the original 118 (technically, 119) Spider pulp magazine novels have been reprinted over the years in both mass-market paperback and trade paperback editions or some other form. Very few attempts have been made however to publish the novels in chronological order, making it difficult for collectors to read them in the order in which they originally appeared.
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. However, these first paperback reissues met with poor sales after reprinting only the first four volumes (#1, 2, 3 and 4 in the original pulp series), and the planned series was canceled.
In the mid-1970s Pocket Books reprinted four Spider novels (originally published as pulps #16, 21, 26 and 100), featuring "modernized" pulp cover artwork by Robert A. Maguire. In this series, The Spider (renamed simply "Spider") was portrayed as a non-costumed, heavily armed muscular blond-haired hero (similar to James Bond). These paperbacks also failed to sell, and the series was canceled. These four novels were re-edited and heavily modernized so the stories didn't faithfully reprint the original pulp tales, one of several reasons why they may have never caught on with their intended audience. In the reprint of Death and the Spider for example (originally published as pulp #100 in 1942), Nita Van Sloan is shown driving a Jaguar E-type X-KE, a sports car not created until 1961, some 19 years later.
At roughly the same time in England, Mews Books/New American Library reprinted the same four Spider novels (#16, 21, 26 and 100) sporting entirely new cover art, but different in style and execution from those used by Pocket Books. Also called "Spider", this character also resembled a non-costumed James Bond-type character (only with black hair instead of blonde). This British Spider mass market series also ended after the four titles were released.
An unusual Spider publishing event happened right "out of the blue" in 1979. Python Publishing published the never-before-seen last original Spider novel, Slaughter, Inc. (written by Donald G. Cormack), which was originally scheduled to have been published in 1944 as The Spider #119. Python published it as a one-shot mass market paperback in 1979. For copyright reasons, all of the characters' names were changed, the story was retitled Blue Steel: The Ultimate Answer To Evil, and the author was credited as "Spider Page" (no doubt a sly reference to the novel's original author, Norvell Page). The Spider was recast in this book as a character named "Blue Steel". As with Pocket Books' modernized "Spider" editions, this paperback sported a modernized pulp cover painting featuring a non-costumed, but heavily armed, blond-haired hero (said to be an unused cover painting by artist George Gross, produced but never used for a Freeway Press reprint of another pulp magazine character, Operator No. 5). In 2012, Moonstone Books finally published the unpublished 119th Spider novel Slaughter, Inc. in its original unedited form. The novel was reprinted yet again in 2018 by Altus Press as a "facsimile edition", this time designed to look exactly how The Spider #119 pulp would have looked had it been published in 1944.
In 1980 Dimedia, Inc. (aka Pulp Press) reprinted three Spider pulp novels (#9, 10 and 11) in the larger trade paperback format. In 1984, they reprinted those same three novels again as mass market paperbacks, sporting brand new cover paintings of the original costumed Spider by artists Ken Kelly (on volumes one and two) and Frank Kelly Freas (on volume three).
In the early 1990s Carroll & Graf Publishers issued a series of eight mass market Spider paperbacks, each one reprinting two complete Spider novels. These 16 novels became the longest-running Spider reprint series done for the mass market paperback book market up to that time. The novels reprinted in this series were #14, 15, 17, 26, 30, 40, 41, 50, 52, 54, 75, 76, 78, 81, 92 and 113. All of them used the original The Spider pulp magazine artwork for their covers. (One cover was a newly done painting by Rafael DeSoto, the original pulp cover artist.)
After Carroll & Graf, several specialized small press pulp reprint houses tried their hand at reprinting The Spider series. Bold Venture Press published ten issues of The Spider (#'s 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 26, 31, 50, 69 and 70). Wildside Press published two The Spider reprints (#'s 78 and 92).
Pulp Adventure Press (PAP) reprinted 12 Spider novels in a magazine-sized format, even including the original interior artwork from the pulps (they reprinted #'s 12, 31, 36, 37, 38, 39, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 85).
Girasol Collectibles (aka Adventure House) has been the most dogged of them all. They have reissued the novels as both a series of single pulp novel facsimile editions, as well as re-typeset stories in "pulp double novel" trade paperbacks. Both series use the original pulp magazine cover artwork for their books. Girasol published the first 23 issues of the original pulp series as "facsimile" editions. They also published 25 of their "double-novel format" issues, which totalled 50 novels reprinted in all (#'s 1, 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 19, 20, 22, 25, 27, 28, 29, 32, 34, 35, 42, 43, 49, 51, 53, 54, 55, 57, 59, 64, 66, 70, 71, 72, 77, 82, 83, 86, 87, 91, 95, 98, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108, 110, 112 and 114.)
In 2007, New York science fiction publisher Baen Books published a trade paperback featuring three Spider novel reprints (#16, 74 and 85). In 2008, they released a second companion trade paperback featuring 2 more Spider reprints (#26 and 75) as well as a third bonus story about another pulp hero called "The Octopus". In 2009, Baen re-issued both volumes as mass market paperbacks. The Baen editions sported brand new Spider cover paintings by noted graphic designer and comics artist Jim Steranko. (In 1970, for Pyramid Books and HBJ/Jove Books, Steranko had illustrated 27 (of 28 covers) for their mass market novel re-issues of rival pulp hero "The Shadow" (with the exception of the cover for Mobsmen On The Spot which re-used a George Rozen original Shadow pulp magazine cover). Steranko also illustrated additional new covers for five of "The Shadow" novels' second printings.)
Also in 2007, Moonstone Books published an original anthology of brand new Spider short story pastiches entitled The Spider Chronicles. In 2013, Moonstone published a second anthology, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice featuring 12 more brand new Spider short story pastiches.
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 to be published.
In August 2009, Age of Aces reprinted The Spider's Black Police trilogy in a single volume which they titled "The Spider vs. The Empire State". This trilogy consisted of three 1938 issues that were connected plotwise... #60 (September 1938), #61 (October 1938) and #62 (November, 1938).
In October 2012, Moonstone Books published an original Spider pastiche novel, Shadow of Evil, by C. J. Henderson.
In 2013, Sanctum Books reprinted 20 Spider novels in ten "double novel issues". Each book contained two reprinted novels. The pulps Sanctum reprinted were # 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 16, 17, 18, 30, 31, 68, 74, 78, 90, 92, 93, 96, 106, 111 and 118.
The Vintage Library has 34 licensed Spider novel reprints available in the PDF format. For a small fee, each one can be downloaded from their website.
Altus Press has recently begun reprinting the entire Spider series of novels in their original order of publication beginning with #1, the books being currently issued on a monthly basis. Altus also launched (in August, 2018) a "Wild Adventures of The Spider" pastiche novel series. The first pastiche was written by Will Murray. The Doom Legion saw Richard Wentworth team up with James Christopher (aka "Operator 5") and "G-8", two of Popular Publications' top pulp heroes. A pastiche sequel, Fury in Steel by Will Murray came out in 2021.
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, in which installments 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 eight-issue comic book miniseries that teams The Spider with Dynamite's other pulp hero-based comic book characters, including: the Green Hornet and Kato, The Shadow, and a 1930s descendant of Zorro, among others. Together, they fight a powerful criminal syndicate, which, along with its 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 of the 1930s, is not in the same universe/story continuity as Dynamite's main Spider comic book series. The story is based on The Spider Magazine novels "The City That Paid To Die", "The Spider at Bay", and "Scourge of the Black Legions" all written by Norvell Page. Page was not credited in this adaption. The completed Masks miniseries was then gathered by Dynamite into a one-volume graphic novel.
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- "Fifth novel". The Spider (5).
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- Page, Norvell, 2009. "The Spider vs The Empire State". Age of Aces. Pg. 6. ISBN 978-0-9820950-3-4.
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- "Welcome to Wildside Press -". wildsidepress.com. Archived from the original on 2005-09-24.
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- Page, Norvell, 2009. "The Spider vs The Empire State". Age of Aces. Pg. 6. ISBN 978-0-9820950-3-4
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