Master of pulp fiction? It’s The Spider, man!
O.K. If this is a review, it’s of The Spider Chronicles, published by Moonstone Books, released this week, and written by all kinds of wonderful people including Steve Englehart, John Jakes, Ann Nocenti and Robert Weinberg – all under a nifty introduction by ComicMix columnist and gadfly-about-town Dennis O’Neil.
Having a full-time job right here at ComicMix, I’ve only had time to read half the stories thus far, but all were worthy of the task: translating into short story form the most bizarre and over-the-top hero of all time, period.
The concept can be barely contained in the novelette-length stories of the 1930s. In case you’re not familiar, let me ramble off some of my favorite story titles: King of the Red Killers. Slaves of the Murder Syndicate. The City That Dared Not Eat. Machine Guns Over The White House. Hell’s Sales Manager (I think I had that job once.) And my all-time favorite, The Mayor of Hell.
How can you beat titles like that? Only with execution that make those titles seem lame.
There’s usually one madman who pretty much looks like Charles Lane. We may or may not know who he is at the outset, but within several chapters he’s managed to paralyze the city (usually New York or Washington or both), if not indeed the whole quadrant of the nation, if not indeed the entire nation itself. By chapter six, the death count is enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the brim.
Only three people stand in the madman’s way: Nita Van Sloan, a woman as tough and clever as they come; Ran Singh, loyal, faithful assistant to The Spider and an ace at cutlery; and finally, wealthy playboy Richard Wentworth who likes to play the violin, not take advantage of the adoring Nita, and dress up in a variety of disguises – most notably in the monstrous visage of The Spider.
Wentworth’s the one who does the heavy lifting. He doesn’t mind killing each and every person he and he alone deems worthy of killing.
If you could hook your hybrid into a Spider story, the energy would drive you coast-to-coast and back again. Imagine the Kree / Skrull War with all the Kree and all the Skrulls on one side, three people on the other side, and all the battles taking place in an area no bigger than your bedroom.
There have been any number of Spider reprint projects going on, most notably the double-story ventures similar to Anthony Tolin’s Shadow and Doc Savage reprints (see Dennis O’Neil’s column here at ComicMix this week) as published by Girasol Collectibles (www.girasolcollectables.com/). They’re worth checking out.
But our friends at Moonstone have boldly ventured where no one’s gone for quite a while by commissioning these short stories by such famous authors. Given their length they might be sedate by “Grant Stockbridge” standards (the pseudonym under which all but the first novels were written). Pick up The Spider Chronicles. It’s the heroic ideal taken to its most bizarre limit.