The Spider: Master of Men!
During the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction, three publications ranked as the most popular: the Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Spider.
The great pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s produced a number of heroes, but none as action-oriented as the Spider. For almost exactly a decade, from October 1933 to December 1943, the Spider was the scourge of the Underworld, doling out his own particular brand of justice and imprinting his dreaded red Spider seal on the foreheads of those he has killed for the good of mankind.
The Spider followed the established pulp pattern of a wealthy man-about-town, Richard Wentworth III, master of disguise, dilettante of the arts, in perfect physical condition, and completely devoted to the pursuit of justice for the down-trodden, no matter what the cost to himself or loved ones. Secretly donning a decrepit black hat, a tattered black cape, a false hunch to his shoulders, a lank wig of stringy hair, an application of sinister face makeup and a pair of .45 automatics, Wentworth prowls the streets of New York as his alter-ego the Spider, chasing down criminal masterminds bent on enslaving or destroying humanity. Much of the action takes place in the tenements and slums, the poor and lower classes victimized as readily as the rich.
One of the things that sets the Spider apart from other hero characters is magnitude; the villains commit acts of destruction on a grand scale, sinking whole ocean liners, toppling entire buildings, wiping out entire towns with germ warfare. The evil masterminds are in truth more terrorists than criminals, their villainy often more for its own sake than any concrete plan for profit.
While the Spider borrowed his black slouch hat and cloak from the already thriving Shadow, the rest of the character was significantly different. The Spider stories are all about action, emotional intensity, and pacing. Wentworth himself is strongly emotional, plumbing the thrills of victory as readily, and as deeply, as the depths of despair during his escapades. His long-suffering fiancée, Nita van Sloan, is a worthy character in her own right, though frequently relegated to the traditional role of hostage-bait. As additional exotic spice, Wentworth maintains a Sikh manservant/warrior companion, Ram Singh, as well as chauffeur Ronald Jackson, the sergeant from his old army days. Rounding out the cast of characters is Commissioner of Police Stanley Kirkpatrick, Wentworth’s staunch friend and the Spider’s greatest adversary; Kirkpatrick himself lives in a state of constant angst for fear that duty will one day force him to send his friend to the electric chair as punishment for the Spider’s crimes. And indeed, that fear nearly becomes fact on several occasions.
The stories plunge along head-first aboard an emotional roller-coaster, with scarcely a moment’s pause for respite. Oriental death-traps, treacherously alluring women, and rabid, machine-gun toting gangsters are all part of a typical day for the hero; Wentworth is frequently suspected of being the dreaded Spider, his home is periodically destroyed, his servants and friends tortured. His fiancée, at one point, even faces horrible death at the hands of an amorous orangutan!