Eighty years ago in the summer of 1933, Popular Publications President Harry Steeger and his executive editor, Rogers Terrill, decided to enter the new field of magazines built around a single hero. They enlisted popular aviation hero Robert J. Hogan to help conceive G-8 and his Battle Aces, which debuted late in August.
But they also wanted to publish a crimebuster to rival a famous pulp juggernaut. Steeger frankly admitted in later years, “The reason we started the title The Spider was because of the success of Street & Smith’s The Shadow. At this point in pulp history individual titles became very popular, so we decided to try out a few ourselves.”
The story of how The Spider came to be is covered in cobwebs. Even Steeger wasn't certain of all the details. He did recall that he was playing tennis when inspiration struck. A solitary spider crossing the court gave him the name of his new hero.
The author chosen to pen the first Spider tale was a famous mystery and suspense novelist whose preferred byline was R. T. M. Scott. More than a dozen years before, Scott became famous for his stories and novels featuring Secret Service Smith, a government agent who later became a consulting detective for hire. Aurelius Smith was assisted by his Hindu aide, Langa Doonh, and girlfriend Bernice Asterly.
It's clear that Scott modeled this new hero for the Depression generation after his previous protagonist. While Richard Wentworth did not have a government connection––other than to have served with distinction in the First World War––Scott gave him a Hindu aide named Ram Singh. Fiancee Nita van Sloan provided the distaff ally.
All of that came under the heading of autobiography. The Canadian-born Scott worked in India prior to World War I, subsequently serving with the 21st Canadian Expeditionary Force with the rank of captain. Coming to New York after the Armistice, he became a successful writer.
Beyond personal experience, Scott remade his heroic ideal into a hardboiled hunter of criminals, one who occasionally wore a mask, and invariably imprinted the cold corpses of his enemies with the seal of The Spider, but who was otherwise a faceless phantom.
The big mystery of the origins of The Spider magazine is that they were not one, but two, writers named R. T. M. Scott. The first was the father to the second. Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott was one of the most famous writers of the 1920s. His son, Robert Thomas Maitland Scott, was new to the writing world. In fact, the younger Scott worked on the staff of Popular Publications during the 1930s, and periodically contributed to their magazines under the pen name Maitland Scott. One Maitland Scott story published in Terror Tales featured a sinister character named Ram Singh, further confusing the issue.
Some critics have thought they detected a different style in the second Spider novel, The Wheel of Death, and have posited that the father wrote The Spider Strikes, while the son penned the sequel. Whichever the truth may be, this is a rare instance in which we know the correct byline of an author, but cannot be certain about his true identity.
Be that as it may, The Spider Strikes establishes the essentials of this exciting series. Richard Wentworth is reckless, cold-blooded, and perfectly willing to play dangerous game between the law who seeks his capture and the enemies of the law he is sworn to track down. While his motivations are unclear, his single-minded determination is without question. He is a hunter of criminals, and in his debut novel he becomes a hunter of supercriminals in the form of the mysterious Mr. X.
As Spider fans know, the amazing Norvell W. Page replaced R. T. M. Scott with the third Spider story. And it is Page who is considered the ultimate Spider author. Scott has a flair all his own, and his indelible portrayal of the Master of Men who is both millionaire Richard Wentworth and the dreaded Spider remained unchanged, but was much more deeply explored under Page’s able but fevered pen.
So go now with Richard Wentworth, alias The Spider, as he tackles his first great case and comes face-to-face with the diabolical Mr. X.
This audiobook also features short stories by Leslie T. White, who for many years would write The Web column in The Spider magazine, and a rare early tale by Norvell Page, who would dominate this magazine over the next decade. As always, Nick Santa Maria brings the action to electrifying life. This is how The Spider began.