Pulp Corner: The Spider – Death’s Crimson Juggernaut
If you’re interested in the heroes of the pulp genre, The Shadow stands head and shoulders above the rest. He was one of the first and definitely one of the most successful. In the wake of his popularity many other companies clamored to put out their own type of Shadow like character to capitalize on his fame. One of these who has gained his own cult following is The Spider.
The concept was created in 1933 by Harry Steeger. The first two books were written by Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott (which by the way is a hell of a name) but were rather slow and mundane. Scott was then replaced by Norvell Page writing under the company’s house name, Grant Stockbridge for the majority of The Spider’s 118 issue run.
The Spider of course was playboy millionaire, Richard Wentworth who struck out on his own as a vigilante to serve up justice his way. The covers of the book depict him donning a costume very similar to The Shadow, black slouch hat, black cape and black domino mask. His actual outfit was deemed too strange to be shown on the covers which included a hunchback, vampiric fangs and makeup.
1934’s issue #11, Death’s Crimson Juggernaut was my first exposure to The Spider. The over the top cover reflects literally nothing from the story itself. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect going into it, but the writing felt like a less refined Shadow scribe. The story itself resembled The Shadow in basic idea and plot structure but that is where our comparisons end. The Spider is more of an adrenaline rush then finely crafted. It’s bizarre but engaging and ultra violent. In a Shadow novel a few people may be killed through the course of it, but The Shadow strives to deliver criminals to the police alive so that they can serve their sentence. Within the first 10 or 15 pages of this book the death count was in the hundreds. If that’s not intense enough for you, everyone that The Spider personally kills he marks their forehead with a red spider he has on his ring.
The book starts with a series of strange killings in New York City, people are being crucified inside their tenement apartments. After saving a girl whom is in the process of being crucified by three thugs, The Spider kills two and lets the last one escape so he can follow him. The Spider soon finds out those other thugs were expendable and this was a ploy to lead him into a trap. The Murder Master (the name The Spider gives to the brains behind all this) had a contingency plan which he knew The Spider would become involved.
With quick thinking and even faster action, The Spider is able to escape but when he returns home as Richard Wentworth he has a surprise waiting for him. More of the Murder Master’s men are in his home and have figured out his identity. I kid you not, there is a scene where he doesn’t know the men are there yet, the elevator door in his estate opens, gun fire is exchanged, then the men toss a grenade at him and Wentworth is able to kick it back into the elevator door as its closing and explodes. That’s pretty badass for the 1930’s. Wentworth’s personal assistants who sometimes aid him during his adventures as The Spider have been injured as a result of the break in. To make matters worse someone is out posing as The Spider and the crucifixions are being pinned on him.
It’s an adrenaline fueled violent jaunt as the labyrinth of mystery gets denser and denser and the corpses start piling up. There’s even a portion of the book where The Spider is temporarily blinded but continues to be involved which was strangely appealing to the Daredevil fan inside me.
There’s an explosive finale that takes place on a boat and by the time it wraps up you wonder to yourself how did we even get to this point? Honestly, where or why don’t really matter when it comes to The Spider. It’s the ride, the journey that’s the best part. It’s like they took the elegance of The Shadow pulps and anything that may have worked, boiled it down to the lowest common denominator and let it loose. On the same token I may not want to read the tales of The Spider as often as The Shadow but in certain moods I can’t imagine anything better.
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