“Mr. Wentworth’s Make-Up Is By Lon Chaney; Wardrobe By Mr. Lamont’s Of New York”

Sitting here, enoying my 4:30 PM breakfast of an everything bagel, veggie spread, and coffee (mmm… coffee), I think I’ve come to a point as a fan of pulp magazines that I can admit this:

I don’t see what the big deal is about The Spider.

There, I said it.

I mean, I’ll read a Spider story. Were I to find one at the bookstore, of course I’d buy it; it IS a hero pulp after all. And he does look cool in the stories, kind of a hunchbacked, Phantom of the Opera thing.

The Spider, as he's SUPPOSED to look...

But still…

I dunno. I’ve only read one so far, maybe it was a bad one. It was called, originally, “Prince Of The Red Looters”, a far more original sounding title than “Master Of Death”, which was what the paperback reprint named it. (“Master Of Death”, by the way, is the title of only about 475,000 pulp story titles.) I don’t remember a whole lot about it. It rambled a bit, and I thought it was unusual that the “Spider garb” wasn’t worn a whole lot by Richard Wentworth in the story. I remember a sword fight between The Spider and a criminal who called himself “The Fly” (did he call himself that just because it completes the whole spider vs. fly thing?). I remember New York under gas attack, while gas-masked thugs dropped down on ropes from a zeppelin to loot a bank. Hell, for that scene alone I should have loved this story.

But for some reason, it just didn’t “click” for me. It seems like so many pulp aficianados worship the ground that The Spider walks on. Maybe it’s because the ultra-violent nature of the character appeals to a more modern audience, weaned on the more violent action movies and such. Surely, the torture / menace evident in the stories have descendants in modern “horror” movies like the “Saw” series and “Hostel”, and Wentworth had some identity issues, presaging Batman’s by a few years. Maybe the plots don’t do it for me. I love the Chinese-box construction of Walter Gibson’s Shadow stories (with their layers of identity and secret plots within plots), the rollicking pre-Indiana Jones adventure yarns in Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories. I’ve heard that Norvell Page’s stories in The Spider were not long on plot or mystery, but full of crazy, frenetic action. I don’t dislike The Spider, but he’s not on the top of my list. He’s cool and all, but it’s not my bag, baby.

Then again, that zeppelin scene was pretty bad-ass…

Published in: on April 18, 2007 at 6:54 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The Spider is an acquired taste I admit. It took me a long time to get into him (having been weaned on the Shadow pulps and Shadow in DC back issues during the 80s).

    Eventually I got into him. I dig his stories because there is that sense of duality to him. there’s a tangible sense of conflict with this guy. the way he pursues criminals borders on insanity like the Batman. Downright obsessed in fact. Granted Batman doesn’t kill but his irrational nature to pursue justice at any cost is very remiscent of the Spider.

    It’s as if when he puts on the makeup (or according to some writers, a domino mask) he becomes a completely different person.

    Plus later visuals had some cool interpretations of the Spider. Tim Truman had this version http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v642/GabrielNYC/RedPhantom/truman_1-3.jpg
    which brought in new fans of the hero.

    It’s not a suit & tie hero but the madness is definitely there on his face.

    Then you have this way cool picture.

    Damsel in distress.. check. Vaguely Nazi agents of a criminal syndicate.. check. Obligatory pile of skulls.. BIG check.

  2. I liked Tim Truman’s “The Prowler”. You should check it out, Gabriel. It was influenced by The Spider, but also by old cliff-hanger serials and Bela Lugosi B movies (like “The Devil Bat” and “White Zombie”). It was pretty good stuff.

    By the way, a correction is in order: The paperback version of “Prince Of The Red Looters” was, in fact, called “Prince Of Evil”… ALSO a very over-used pulp title.

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