Pulp Corner: The Spider – Claws Of The Golden Dragon
I couldn’t stay away. After the last time I needed a bit of a breather, but I came back for more of The Spider. I should have known what I was getting myself into.
As the story begins our hero, Richard Wentworth is tipped off that something is afoot in Chinatown. When him and his fiancé Nita go to investigate as civilians the daughter of an old friend, Fu-Chang approaches them to ask for help. Before we know it, she has been killed by a poison blood orchid whose touch causes flowering from inside the lungs. Moments later Wentworth and his lady love are miles below the streets in a series of underground tunnels host to trap doors, false staircases and lined with deadly menaces. There’s one part in particular where the floor beneath them all of a sudden slants in one direction and a heavy controlled wind is blowing them towards a series of spikes in the wall…and that’s only the beginning! It makes me wonder if the author devises a series of problems and traps prior to starting and then writes a story around being able to use them.
The evil genius in this particular case is referred to only as the Dragon, very much of the “yellow peril” period in pulp writing. He uses opium dust to brainwash victims and the blood orchids to kill them. Ultimately, his goal is to ravage America’s finances create a mindless slave army and use it to help him take over Asia. In most cases throughout the book, his voice is amplified from different locations without him ever being present. Beneath Chinatown he is symbolized with a large bejeweled skeleton that sits upon a throne and speaks. In fact, most of the book alternates between the Chinatown underground labyrinth and the streets of NYC giving it a real dark and claustrophobic feel. Nita also plays a big role here and takes some sweet sweet street justice into her own hands as she often does which is a refreshing change of pace of the damsel in distress roles women often portrayed in this era.
I’m not sure why but mind control plays a big role in many of The Spider’s stories. It seems to work good enough as a mcguffin for this type of two fisted pulp romp. The villains always are attempting such intense and wide spread plans, ravaging New York City and turning the streets into a morgue. Yet like an 1980’s cartoon everything nicely resets afterward with no mention of these atrocities or the death count and/or infrastructure damage. It was the 1930’s after all and no one cared about continuity, these were sold at drugstores so people could have something to read while they wait for the bus. The writing style is great; it still has a bit of the classic refinement that infused all writers back in that time but it’s also wild, kinetic and almost frantic with an exclamation point appearing at least once per paragraph. Take a look at some of the chapter titles:
Kowtow or Die!
The Death Shower!
One Hour To Live!
It’s like they are just pairing up random menacing nouns.
I’ve actually been wondering whether the titles of the books were created in the same way and then told to the artist before the story is written. The cover art for this particular book works well enough since it ends up being pretty generic. But in my previous review for Death’s Crimson Juggernaut, if you read the book it’s obvious the title is metaphorical but the cover depicts some kind of rolling red tank like vehicle running over and crushing bodies driven by this weird vaguely Asian looking outer space alien dressed in all red. Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself.
In terms of comic books I like to think of The Spider as Moon Knight and The Shadow as Batman beyond the obvious that The Shadow was a clear influence on the creation of Batman. In comic book terms Batman is significantly well regarded almost as an elder statesman of the medium. The character as well as the writing is refined with more sophistication and polish and the mystery and detective work is important, it’s engaging to the reader but it also defines the character. Moon Knight on the other hand is an obvious rip off Batman, but weirder…way weirder. He may not get into as many insane balls to the wall type scenarios as The Spider but he actually is batshit crazy and a lot of his situations spin out of that. The actual detective aspect is significantly less important as well as the end reveal, it’s more about the fun of getting there.
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