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Literature / The Spider

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Master of Men!

The Spider was created as a Follow the Leader of The Shadow when Popular Publications decided to compete head-to-head with Street & Smith with their own solo hero Pulp Magazine. The first story, published in October 1933, was written by R.T.M. Scott. In it, Richard Wentworth used the false identity of "the Spider" to cover his ruthless vigilante activities. When introduced, the Spider is already notorious as a killer of criminals. He even brands his victims with the mark of the Spider on their foreheads, so no one else will be blamed for the deaths.

Starting with the third story, "Wings of the Black Death," The Spider was usually written by Norvell Page under the "house name" of Grant Stockbridge. Page pumped up the action and scale of the stories. Richard Wentworth now was the Spider, the criminals he fought were larger than life, and the stories were charged with emotion. Already a Master of Disguise, the Spider soon added a particulary fearsome appearance to his bag of tricks, making himself appear to be a hunchback with a sharp nose and vampiric fangs.

The Spider's love interest and primary sidekick was Nita Van Sloane, his fiancee. While not quite up to modern Action Girl standards, Nita was no shrinking violet, but a dead shot, and quite capable of impersonating the Spider in times of need.

Wentworth's bodyguard was Ram Singh, a Proud Warrior Race Guy (initially Hindu, later Sikh) who served the Spider out of personal admiration. Also helping the Spider were his chauffeur Ronald Jackson (who'd served under him in World War I), his butler Harold Jenkyns, and Professor Ezra Brownlee, who early on supplied the Spider with many of his gadgets and scientific knowledge.

Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick was one of Wentworth's closest friends, but also extremely dangerous to him. For if Kirkpatrick ever had definite proof that Wentworth was in fact the Spider, he would have to arrest the man for the many cold-blooded murders he'd committed.

The Spider magazine ran until December 1943. There were also two movie serials (which had the title character in a costume that makes Lee's inspiration more obvious), a Comic Book adaptation by Tim Truman (which had a curious setting update to an alternate version of the 1990s where the League of Nations persisted to recent years), and a recent short story anthology.

Dynamite Entertainment publishes The Spider currently, setting it in the current era (aka the mid 2000s).

Contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Maybe not to the same standards as modern examples, but for the time period Nita was a surprisingly progressive and feminist character who didn't make the same mistakes as most superhero love interests. She knows from the start that Richard is the Spider and is supportive of him, and is perfectly willing to put her own life in danger to help him in anyway possible.
  • And I Must Scream: Lazarus kills the elderly by paralyzing them with tetrodotoxin, resulting in them being paralyzed and Buried Alive. He masturbates to their screams.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing
  • Back from the Dead: Several characters, sometimes with an explanation.
  • Buried Alive: How Lazarus disposes of his victims.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Stanley Kirkpatrick, though unlike the Trope Namer he is actually dedicated to catching the Spider and suspects Richard of being the vigilante. The problem is that he refuses to arrest him without proof and often knows that the Spider is the only one who can save the city from whatever threat it faces.
  • Costume Copycat: Both by good guys and criminals; at one point, Richard Wentworth leads an entire army dressed as the Spider.
  • Covers Always Lie: The pulp covers usually showed a much less scary Spider than the vampiric fellow in the text.
  • Eagle Land: The very patriotic Spider definitely belongs to the type 1 variety.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • Often, but a real standout in The Secret City of Crime: The Big Bad is repeatedly smashed to a bloody pulp against a giant statue of Jesus.
    • In The Red Death Rain, The villainess is raped to death by an orangutan.
  • Femme Fatale: Nita could fake this role when necessary, and several female villains took this route.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The Spider's ruthless methods meant that the police and much of the public considered him as much a criminal as the scum he killed.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Rosa Sleen, the Cannibal Queen, from "Burning Lead for the Walking Dead".
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Richard Wentworth felt he couldn't marry Nita as long as he was the Spider, since the underworld would then target her. (Made a bit silly by the many times Dick and Nita were menaced by criminals without the crooks having discovered the Spider connection. It didn't help that Wentworth was a notorious crimebuster in his own right.)
  • Jesus: In The Secret City of Crime, the mastermind puts a huge statue of the Redeemer of Mankind on top of his building as both blasphemy and part of his Villain with Good Publicity pose. Said bad guy eventually winds up being repeatedly smashed to a bloody pulp against the statue's chest.
  • Killed Off for Real: Professor Brownlee, unlike some other characters, never came back after his death.
  • Never Found the Body / No One Could Survive That!: At the end of the Fly's first appearance, he's run through the chest by Wentworth's sword and falls several stories into a river. So when the Fly shows up hale and hearty in The Green Globes of Death, the Spider believes this must be an Identity Impersonator. There's no way the Fly could have survived, right? The Spider is partially correct. The new Fly is an imposter hired by the original Fly, who just barely survived and is horrifically scarred and crippled from the sword wound and fall.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Regardless of their day job (Corrupt Corporate Executive, Mad Scientist, President Evil, etc.), the master villains could build a nationwide criminal organization in just the month since the Spider smashed the last one without alerting any law enforcement agencies.
  • Outlaw Town: The Secret City of Crime, effectively an entire underground city block situated beneath an enormous building.
  • Plot Hole: Like most pulps PlotHoles can tear these stories to pieces. Witness the beginning of Corpse Cargo where the author cannot make up his mind about how light out it is. Said chapter also features a silenced revolver.
  • Proto-Superhero: The Spider was a Pulp Magazine hero created in 1933 as a Follow the Leader Expy of The Shadow. Stan Lee, in his 1974 book Origins Of Marvel Comics, credited him as an inspiration for Spider-Man — or at least, his tagline, "The Spider, Master of Men!"; the two characters otherwise have virtually nothing in common.
  • The Reveal: Most of the stories ended with the Secret Identity of the master criminal revealed, usually right after the Spider killed them.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: Rosa Sleen's restuarant in "Blazing Lead for the Walking Dead".
  • Smoking Is Cool: Richard Wentworth enjoys smoking his own special blend of cigarette. This nearly kills him in The Red Death Rain.
  • Superhero Packing Heat
  • Vigilante Man: The Spider did what he did because there were just some criminals the legal methods couldn't handle.
  • White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Richard Wentworth is the epitome of the trope.
  • Would Not Shoot a Good Guy
  • Zorro Mark: The Spider's Seal.