The Spider: Robot Titans of Gotham
by Norvell Page
Cover Artist: Steranko
Review by Drew Bittner
Baen Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416521273
Date: 05 June 2007 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
If you're looking for "the new noir," well, this may not be for you. This is old school, the real thing, the honest-to-gosh pulp adventures of a nearly forgotten hero: The Spider.
Created in 1933 to compete with The Shadow, The Spider was featured in 118 stories in pulp magazines published by Popular Publications. Most of the adventures ended with the unmasking of the (dead) villain, after a story full of fast-paced, relentless action.
This volume assembles three classic short novels, two of which actually feature The Spider. The first is Satan's Murder Machines, source of the "Robot Titans" in the book's subtitle. In a storyline that would be familiar to fans of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Spider is pitted against a legion of mechanical terrors and the secret mastermind behind them.
In Death Reign of the Vampire King, The Spider fights to clear his name after he's framed for attacks by a villain controlling swarms of poison-fanged bats. Helped by his tough-as-nails girlfriend Nita, The Spider has his hands full with the double jeopardy of a brilliant enemy and a howling mad public demanding his head.
And lastly, The Octopus: The City Condemned to Hell, features a new crimefighter who calls himself Dr. Skull. A young doctor drawn into a web of crime, Dr. Skull takes on criminal mastermind The Octopus, who transforms innocent victims into monstrous accomplices. It's inclusion in this volume is a little odd, in that it doesn't involve The Spider, but it is an interesting example of Page's work with another vigilante character.
The storytelling is classic pulp fiction, jumping into the middle of the action with barely any pause for explanation, back story or even characterization. Characters are what they do, not what they think, and the directness of the story crafting is almost brutal.
Page was not the creator of the character or the first writer of The Spider, but he took over the character after the second issue of his magazine and stayed through the end, creating the definitive version of The Spider for generations of pulp fans. Like many of his contemporaries, Page explored several different genres with The Spider; although crime fighting was his main occupation, stories like Machines (above) show that Page was not afraid to venture into territory that would later be exclusive to science fiction and horror.
Fans of characters like Batman and The Punisher might find these stories especially appealing, as Batman grew directly out of the pulp storytelling of the 1930s--not the burgeoning world of science fiction, like his comrade Superman.
With a cover and interior art by Jim Steranko, one of the best comics artists going, the book is a treasure of this lost world, one that serious readers of mass market crime fiction will savor over and over again.