Book Review: The Spider #7 by Grant Stockbridge
When the Shadow kickstarted the pulp hero magazines in the 1930s, it was no surprise that a similar character, the Spider, was featured at a rival publishing house. Written under house name Grant Stockbridge (usually Norvell Page), the Spider was wealthy socialite and amateur criminologist Richard Wentworth. A master of disguise, the Spider was heavily armed and had no compunction about killing criminals outright and branding them with his mark.
The Spider pulps were violent even by the standard of the times; the villains often introduced themselves with a mass murder or mutilation before getting down to their actual business. The stories were fast-paced, with the Spider almost never getting to take full advantage of his arsenal and allies as events quickly stripped him down to his wits, courage and unbelievable ability to function despite crippling wounds.
This volume is from the 1993 reprint series, which was a “best hits” collection. Despite the cover, “The Grey Horde Creeps” is not included. Instead we have two other stories.
“King of the Red Killers” pits the Spider against El Gaucho, a bandit who has gathered a small army of criminals and is wiping out entire communities on the Great Plains. But first, Dick has to prevent the criminal syndicates of the East Coast from making common cause with El Gaucho. El Gaucho himself is something of a disappointment, as he is not in fact a gaucho. He is not even Argentinian! Once the Spider learns the truth about El Gaucho, he notes that the criminal’s master plan won’t work, but will cause so much suffering in the process that El Gaucho still needs to be taken down.
More interesting is Yvonne Musette, a gun moll for one of the New York gangsters. She’s one of the most dangerous foes Dick has ever faced because she has some common sense. She spots the Spider lurking near the gangster rendezvous and realizes that no amount of security can keep him out, isn’t fooled by the Spider’s misdirection, and advocates just killing him once captured, rather than putting the hero in a death trap.
It’s a good thing for the Spider that the gangsters don’t take Yvonne seriously because she’s a woman.
This story climaxes when the Spider attempts to kill someone with his own severed head. Can’t get much more over the top violent than that!
“The Green Globes of Death” is the second Spider story featuring his foe, the Fly. When last seen, Dick had stabbed the Fly all the way through the chest with a sword, and the villain then fell from the top of a tall bridge into the river. Sure, the body was never recovered, but no one in the Spider series has actual super-powers, so the Fly is almost certainly dead. Thus it’s a bit of a surprise when the Fly turns up hale and hearty, and just as lethal as ever.
The Spider suspects an impostor, perhaps the Fly’s nearly identical brother? But the evidence is against it–this Fly seems to know things only the real Fly did, and has an identical fencing style. The eponymous globes turn out to be made of glass, with a green poisonous gas inside.
The true identity of the Fly turns out to have a pretty neat twist, and this is one of the few Spider stories where Dick’s love interest Nita van Sloan gets to take out the villain at the end. (Nita was pretty competent by pulp standards, but often got sidelined by the climax of Spider stories.)
These are pulse-pounding pulp action stories, and you can probably find the Nineties reprints affordable at used book stores.
For a different character also named “the Spider” see this review: http://www.skjam.com/2013/07/12/comic-book-review-king-of-crooks/