Saturday, October 3, 2009

Before Spider-Man: The Spider! Your Hero's So Ugly That...

Credited by Stan Lee as one of the inspirations for Spider-Man, The Spider spun a web of non-stop death-dealing mayhem through 118 pulp magazine stories and a pair of fifteen chapter movie serials during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Millionaire playboy by day, crime fighter by night, Richard (The Spider) Wentworth was one of the most violent, and strangely sexual superheroes in history. No boy wonder sidekick for him! The Spider's main ally in his war against the underworld was the incredibly sexy and equally twisted heiress Nita Van Sloan. Unlike most superhero and girlfriend relationships in the pulps, it was clear that the unmarried duo was as active in the bedroom as in battling crime, and that the excesses of the Spider were a potent aphrodisiac for Wentworth and Van Sloan.

With the stories' strange blend of eroticism and action it was obvious that when captured by The Spider's foes, Nita was not only facing death itself  but torture and the oft-discussed "fate worse than death". Whether mad scientist, corrupt politician, crime lord, or even in one case a semi-sentient gorilla, the series' uniformly insane villains left no doubt that Nita Van Sloan was lusted after by madmen other than her lover, Wentworth. This constant fear of defilement gives The Spider's tales a shot of pure adrenaline totally lacking in the more chaste adventures of Doc Savage, and justifies a level of brutality undreamed of by the other pulp heroes.

The Spider also has the distinction of being so weird that his editors felt compelled to hide his true appearance from their readers! During the course of his long magazine run and motion picture career, the Spider was shown to look as described in the text on only four magazine covers!

Generally, The Spider was portrayed as a handsome man wearing a long cloak and a simple mask. The serials elaborated on this look, giving The Spider a cowl with a web pattern not unlike the one on the as-yet- unborn Spider-Man’s costume. But here’s how The Spider really looked, per a description from one of his pulp adventures:

“... in the entrance stood the twisted, ugly, caped figure that many of them recalled from having seen before. An awed whisper went up from those men in the room, ‘The Spider!’”

Mask? No thank you!

The pulp version of The Spider used grotesque make up, a set of fangs, and a flowing white wig to conceal his identity -- not to mention the artificial hump he wore on his back beneath his black cloak.

Though he often used a long silk rope, referred to as his "web", to swing from one building to another, or to tie up his foes, The Spider didn’t bother with non-lethal web shooters like Spider-Man. When he shot, he shot hot lead from a pair of blazing 45’s. With guns blasting and without remorse, the self proclaimed ‘Master of Men’ would mow down dozens of criminals every few pages during his crazed forays against evil.

The Spider’s wild adventures made even the most outrageous tales of his pulp magazine superhero contemporaries like The Phantom Detective, The
Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Avenger seem tame by comparison. For a taste of the violence-enriched flavor, just look at these sensationalistic stories: Death Reign Of The Vampire King, Master Of The Flaming Horde, The Pain Emperor, and Death’s Crimson Juggernaut.

Just how whacked out were the Spider’s adventures? I refer you to one final story title, my favorite: Hell’s Sales Manager!

Let’s see that Arachnid-come-lately, Spider-Man, Top that!

The Spider is copyright 2009 by his current rightsholders. Spider-Man is copyright 2009 by Marvel. The Masked Mayhem, logo, graphics and text are copyright 2009 Will Meugniot

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