Or – “I’d Say The Pulps Are Back, But They Never Really Went Away…”
The Major Spoilers podcast crew each has our specialties and expertise, which serves us well in our nattering about the vagaries of various universes and the denizens thereof. But once in a while, it’s fun to switch it up and play in each other’s sandboxes. Though I’m nowhere near the pulp fiction connoisseur that Stephen is, I know the big names, and was intrigued to see how Dynamite Entertainment would put their stamp on the fedora-and-cloak wearing mystery man known as The Spider: Master Of Men!
THE SPIDER #1
Writer: David Liss
Artist: David Worley
Cover Artist(s): Alex Ross/John Cassaday/Francesco Francavilla/Ron Lesser
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Editor: Joe Rybandt
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously, in The Spider: Richard Wentworth was very lucky during the Great Depression, as his own business interests continued to flourish, making him one of the wealthiest men in New York. As often happens with millionaire playboys, though, Richard found himself lacking direction, and only found his calling after putting on a cloak, hat and vampire-inspired stage makeup, taking to the streets to terrorize the underworld and punish the guilty. He struck back against racketeers, criminals and those who would poison my brothers with the pulp heroes most formidable weapon, swift and blinding violence, and left his bright red web imprinted in the faces of those whose criminal tendencies he corrected (usually fatally.) He knows what evil lurks… Wait, that’s the other guy… Um… He is aware of the darkness that hides in the souls of people? Either way, he’ll kick some 1930’s butt.
“THE SPIDER STRIKES!”
There is, in my experience, a problem with pulp heroes in practice. Taken out of their Depression/WWII-era purview, they sometimes lose their potency. On the other hand, many times a period piece ends up getting written off as antique fan fiction, leaving anyone wanting to revive them with a double-edged sword in a room full of helium balloons. Dynamite chooses the first tack with The Spider, showing us a modern New York in the very first panel, albeit one that seems almost futuristic, with floating airships and a tangible sense of grime and degeneracy. For a comparison, one might consider the film version of The Crow, and artist Worley really delivers in his rendition of the city gone to seed. A traditional first-person narrative is in place here, as The Spider explains his motivations and his brutal intentions, gunning down a couple of criminals before they can assault a young girl and sell her into slavery. “What gives me the right to decide who lives and dies?” he asks. “Not a damn thing.” With that single sentence, David Liss has put The Spider on my pull list before I have even completed the first half of the first issue.
“THE ULTIMATE ANSWER TO EVIL!”
Though the venue has changed a bit, The Spider is still a merciless vigilante, branding the guilty with his Spider’s Mark calling card, wearing a version of his traditional togs (although this one is strongly influenced by the web-covered-cape that was developed in his movie serial days) and engaging in a nuanced ally/enemy relationship with Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick, who trusts Wentworth but wants the murderous Spider behind bars. Love interest Nita Von Sloan is in evidence (with a modern twist put on their relationship) as well as The Spider’s manservant/aide-de-camp Ram Singh, who gets the line of the issue, telling a racist cop who threatens to deport him, “I was born in Teaneck.” Heh. The modern setting still has a very pulp vibe (all the police officers wear stylish hats) and the introduction of our villain/macguffin is extremely well handled, with a phone call to the crime scene telling us everything we need to know about the unseen mastermind. “People are going to die,” she tells a roomful of police, “and what you do next will determine who and how many.” It’s a chilling moment, made all the more impressive by the excellence of art and coloring throughout the issue. The creators manage to make the entire city dark and foreboding without ever looking muddy or unclear, a very difficult feat, and the muted color palette still has striking red, gold and white moments with add contrast and really make certain panels pop.
THE VERDICT: OKAY, DYNAMITE… I’M IN.
This issue is a great introduction to The Spider for new readers (or dilettantes like me), setting our stage, giving us his methods, his history and his fascinating world-view in the space of a single issue. It’s not a traditionalist take on the character, but it seems to be a faithful update of the pulp hero, setting him firmly in the present and making him work in that setting. The art is beautiful throughout the issue, and The Spider himself looks phenomenal in action. I was worried about some of the cover images, as the red/black web motif made me worry that the creators were taking a bit too much from Wentworth’s cultural offspring, Spider-Man, but the balance of this issue is just right. The Spider #1 hits all the right notes, and makes the rare jump straight into my pull list, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall, and serves as a perfect example of relaunch done right…