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Master of Men!
The Spider was created as a Follow the Leader of The Shadow when Popular Publications decided to compete head-to-head with Street & Smith with their own solo hero Pulp Magazine. The first story, published in October 1933, was written by R.T.M. Scott. In it, Rich Idiot With No Day Job Richard Wentworth used the false identity of "the Spider" to cover his ruthless vigilante activities. When introduced, the Spider is already notorious as a killer of criminals. He even brands his victims with the mark of the Spider on their foreheads, so no one else will be blamed for the deaths.
Starting with the third story, "Wings of the Black Death," the Spider was usually written by Norvell Page under the "house name" of Grant Stockbridge. Page pumped up the action and scale of the stories. Richard Wentworth now was the Spider, the criminals he fought were larger than life, and the stories were charged with emotion. Already a Master of Disguise, the Spider soon added a particulary fearsome appearance to his bag of tricks, making himself appear to be a hunchback with a sharp nose and vampiric fangs.
The Spider's love interest and primary sidekick was Nita Van Sloane, his fiancee. While not quite up to modern Action Girl standards, Nita was no shrinking violet, but a dead shot, and quite capable of impersonating the Spider in times of need.
Wentworth's bodyguard was Ram Singh, a Proud Warrior Race Guy (initially Hindu, later Sikh) who served the Spider out of personal admiration. Also helping the Spider were his chauffeur Ronald Jackson (who'd served under him in World War One), his butler Harold Jenkyns, and Professor Ezra Brownlee, who early on supplied the Spider with many of his gadgets and scientific knowledge.
Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick was one of Wentworth's closest friends, but also extremely dangerous to him. For if Kirkpatrick ever had definite proof that Wentworth was in fact the Spider, he would have to arrest the man for the many cold-blooded murders he'd committed.
The Spider magazine ran until December 1943. There were also two movie serials, a Comic Book adaptation by Tim Truman in the 1980s (which had a curious setting update to an alternate version of the 1990s), and a recent short story anthology.
Tropes seen in The Spider include:
- Animal-Themed Superbeing
- Back From the Dead: Several characters, sometimes with an explanation.
- Complete Monster: The villains in Spider stories tended to do things like destroy inhabited skyscrapers or mutilate hundreds of women just to say hello.
- The Commissioner Gordon: Stanley Kirkpatrick
- Costume Copycat: Both by good guys and criminals; at one point, Richard Wentworth leads an entire army dressed as the Spider.
- Covers Always Lie: The pulp covers usually showed a much less scary Spider than the vampiric fellow in the text.
- Eagle Land: The very patriotic Spider definitely belongs to the type 1 variety.
- Femme Fatale: Nita could fake this role when necessary, and several female villains took this route.
- Follow the Leader: Years after the Spider hit the stands, a little company called Marvel Comics decided that it also wanted a spider-based hero. Similarities end there, however.
- Actually, two years after a certain pulp hero named The Shadow hit the stands, Popular Publications decided it also needs a slouch-hatted millionaire crime-fighter.
- Fridge Logic: Like most pulps Fridge Logic can tear these stories to pieces. Witness the beginning of Corpse Cargo where the author cannot make up his mind about how light out it is. Said chapter also features a silenced revolver.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: The Spider's ruthless methods meant that the police and much of the public considered him as much a criminal as the scum he killed.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Rosa Sleen, the Cannibal Queen, from "Burning Lead for the Walking Dead".
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Richard Wentworth felt he couldn't marry Nita as long as he was the Spider, since the underworld would then target her. (Made a bit silly by the many times Dick and Nita were menaced by criminals without the crooks having discovered the Spider connection. It didn't help that Wentworth was a notorious crimebuster in his own right.)
- Killed Off for Real: Professor Brownlee.
- Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Regardless of their day job (Corrupt Corporate Executive, Mad Scientist, President Evil, etc.), the master villains could build a nationwide criminal organization in just the month since the Spider smashed the last one without alerting any law enforcement agencies.
- The Reveal: Most of the stories ended with the Secret Identity of the master criminal revealed, usually right after the Spider killed them.
- Vigilante Man: The Spider did what he did because there were just some criminals the legal methods couldn't handle.
- White Anglo Saxon Protestant: Richard Wentworth is the epitome of the trope.
- Would Not Shoot a Good Guy
- Zorro Mark: The Spider's Seal.