Originally this was supposed to be a simple #tbt focus on a specific book but really, it wound up being kind of a love note to the pulps.
I got into The Spider because of The Shadow.
I have about fifty episodes of the original radio drama (starting in 1937) in my Audible library. Mostly because you can get 5 episodes for about $3.50 and every so often the price drops to half off and I went a little wild during one of the big sales.
Now after I had my fill of the radio drama, I went looking for the original pulps for The Shadow. Unfortunately, my google-fu sucks. I wound up on RadioArchives.com and immediately fell for The Spider. Issue #11 (the first issue I bought) which has the full-length story “Prince of the Red Looters” is free for the kindle on Amazon.
Created by Harry Steeger in 1933 as a direct competition to the Shadow’s incredible success as a pulp hero, the Spider shares so much in common with the Shadow that I’m wondering why I couldn’t find any reports of injunctions or lawsuits going out from Street & Smith Publication. (You know, the way that National Publications did over Will Eisner’s Superman knockoff, Wonder Man in 1939.)
As The Spider, millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth puts the fear of god and crime into criminals. He’s this secretive figure whom no one has ever clearly seen and who leaves a spider-shaped mark on the forehead of every villain that he kills. And boy does he kill.
The violence of the pulps might actually be my favorite thing in the world. It’s weird, I know but I get the most intense thrill from our pulp heroes dealing death to villains. That’s probably because I’m one of those people that needs villains to be put down for good. The pulps give you that feeling of closure with your villains. The heroes, be they Spiders or Shadows, take down their foes swiftly and permanently.
In Prince of the Red Looters, the Spider comes up against a villain calling himself the Fly. He’s supposed to be the Spider’s foil and maybe even fancies himself as the Spider’s nemesis. Full of himself and creepy as heck, you can see where the Fly probably inspired some of our later villains the way that the Shadow and Spider inspired the creation of heroes like Batman (especially Batman because there are way too many things in common between Lamont Cranston and Bruce Wayne to be entirely accidental).
So you have the Spider running around New York with his support network (primarily his fiance Nita and his manservant Ram Singh) and trying to unravel the Fly’s plot. Aside from the old-timey technology, dated references, and period typical racism/sexism, the story stands up pretty well.
One of the things that I don’t like but have to accept when reading pulps or listening to radio shows from the 30s is that most of the ones I listen to are considered “liberal” in how women and people of color are treated. The Spider and Shadow both work with people of color almost as often as they come up against them as villains. (Now are characters like Ram Singh treated perfectly in the narrative… Eh…)
In the series women are mainly damsels in distress or villains with only the lead character’s love interest occasionally breaking out of the mold to help shed light on a case.
I mean, they’re definitely products of their time and my inner history major is always looking at older media and analyzing the heck out of it so something that absolutely shouldn’t appeal to me actually eats up a significant amount of my audiobook budget. Hm.
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