Real Name: Richard Wentworth
Identity/Class: Normal human
Affiliations: Ram Singh, Professor Brownlee, Jenkyns, Ronald Jackson
Base of Operations: New York City, 1930s.
First Appearance: The Spider Strikes (October, 1933).
Powers/Abilities: None - just a master of disguise and insanely vicious when it comes to his pursuit of justice.
History: "The skin was shallow, shining where it drew tightly over cheek bones, his mouth a lipless gash, the nose a predatory beak. He wore a wig of lanky black hair. About his twisted, deformed shoulders, a billowing black cape, and beneath the wide brim of a black hat long fangs gleamed in a horrid, sharp-toothed mouth."
In the first adventure we are introduced to Richard Wentworth, who is returning to America from Europe aboard a cruise ship, along with his Hindu servant Ram Singh. To help out a suicidal young man he finds himself obliged to kill Blunton, a card-sharp connected to the mysterious villain that Wentworth has been tracking for months. Wentworth beats him to the draw and leaves on his forehead the seal of The Spider, an already notorious killer of criminals. With lordly disdain towards self incrimination he telegraphs ahead to New York that The Spider is on board and has killed again.
Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick, a long time friend, already suspects Wentworth of being the infamous Spider. Nita Van Sloan, the love of Richard Wentworth's life is decoyed to his apartment on the pretext of removing evidence. She brings Apollo, the massive Great Dane that Wentworth gave her for protection, and sees what appears to be a malevolent Wentworth leaving the apartment - and then discovers a dead police detective! Kirkpatrick arrives and informs her that the villain is a master of disguise, which relives her momentarily, for he is on to something of greater import. He has reasoned that Wentworth conceals The Spider's seal in his cigarette lighter, and intends to force Nita to help entrap him when he arrives. She manages to outwit the Commissioner, who is then shot through the window - most likely mistaken for Wentworth!
Kirkpatrick is only wounded, but he is confined to Wentworth's apartment, which is a great inconvenience. Shortly we meet Professor Brownlee, who makes airguns and other useful devices, such as the lighters, for Wentworth. We are also briefly introduced to Jenkyns, Wentworth's aged and faithful butler.
The plot takes off from there, with Wentworth receiving a desperate plea for help from the fiancée of one of the innocent men the master criminal has framed. He meets Sparks, a young reporter who will acquit himself nobly in the course of the story. He discovers Madame Pompe, the sexy and dangerous moll of the villain, who appears - masked, to try and do away with our hero. Eventually he is revealed as an evil doctor with grandiose plans, and is dispatched by Wentworth, who improvises a scarecrow-like disguise before essentially executing the man.
At first The Spider is simply a name Wentworth uses to isolate himself from prosecution for his often lethal vigilante crusade. He is purely a convenient label with no face, no real existence save in the pages of the tabloids. In the second novel, The Wheel of Death (November, 1933) we meet Ronald Jackson, Wentworth's chauffeur, and Wentworth dons a number of disguises. But The Spider is absent, without even a token appearance at the end this time.
Wings of the Black Death (December, 1933) was the next Spider, and in it the series began to truly take shape. The Spider starts to become a real figure - a masked crimefighter, Wentworth's other self. We see that Richard Wentworth, that urbane killer of criminal fiends, is not The Spider because he enjoys the chase; he is dedicated - driven by a sense of duty almost beyond reason. This sense of duty is shared by his aides, and by Kirkpatrick - who will find himself torn between his devotion to law and the bonds of love, friendship, and even his own common sense.
By the fourth story The Spider wears a wide-brimmed hat and cape, and a "curtained" mask that hides his entire face. The Citadel of Hell (March 1934), features a development that will mark the character for the rest of the series. Wentworth - on the run as usual - is forced to assume the guise of a hunchbacked street corner violinist named Tito Caliepi. This face, taut and lined, with a sharp hawk-like nose, will become the face of The Spider. To further unnerve his criminal opponents he adds a macabre finishing touch: a pair of large vampire's fangs!
Comments: The Spider was the brain child of Popular Publications Henry Steeger, who was allegedly inspired by seeing a large spider while playing tennis. The company needed a mysterious crime-fighter to compete with Street & Smith's enormously successful Shadow character.
The first two novels were written by the then well-known author R.T.M. Scott. Scott had created the Secret Service Smith character, which had enjoyed success in print and on radio. When he departed Norvell Page was chosen by Popular Publications to write The Spider, due to his prolific volume of writing and speed of composition. It was decided that Page would write under the "house name" of Grant Stockbridge. This was a standard practice for pulp publishers of the day. It was a kind of insurance that they could keep the product flowing, replacing writers if need be, without upsetting the readers. It also discouraged authors from making too many demands for more money.
Moonstone Publishing recently released an all new Spider short story collection.
Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.
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