Blog: Commentary from the den of a pulp super-fan

Meet the first Spider

Posted by at 10:00 am Monday, December 11, 2017 in Johnston McCulley, Pulps, Villain Pulps
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Meet the first Spider
'Detective Story Magazine' (Oct. 22, 1918)

Detective Story Magazine (Oct. 22, 1918)

Mention the name The Spider and most pulp fans will recall the popular and long-running hero pulp published by Popular Publications. But while the most popular character in the pulps to use the name, he is not the first.

That honor goes to Johnston McCulley‘s early pulp villain who appeared over a year in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine in 1918-19. He is McCulley’s second serial character, following Black Star, also a villain, and soon followed by the pickpocket Thubway Tham.

After that McCulley would go with heroes as serial characters, either “vengeance heroes” (going after a group of villains who have done wrong to the hero) or Robin Hood-like “bent heroes” (who steal from bad guys and give to others).

His Spider was so named because he hearkened to the term of a “spider sitting in his web.” He is the head of a vast criminal network (like Black Star). Prior to World War I, he was in Paris, where he headed a similar group, but in a betrayal, he was injured, so he never leaves his office, “The Spider’s Den.”

In America after the war, he rebuilds his network, but in secret such that his niece, who lives with him, has no idea of his criminal activities. He is an immense, fat man. His niece, Silvia Rodney, is your typical naive girl. She has no inkling of who The Spider really is, thinking him an agent for a foreign power and all the strange people who visit their home are just doing good work.

'Detective Story Magazine' (Nov. 12, 1918)

‘Detective Story Magazine’ (Nov. 12, 1918)

The main character of the stories is not The Spider, but actually John Warwick, who is part of The Spider’s network. He, along with his man Togo, does most of the action in the stories. He’s actually in the mode of many of McCulley heroes: the rich, bored man with manservant. However, Warwick is summoned to The Spider’s Den in the first story to learn that his “friends” have swindled him and he has just $5,000 to his name. To survive, he works for The Spider now, to avoid losing his position in society. He soon falls in love with Silvia and wishes to marry her, but cannot as long as he works for The Spider and could be caught for his criminal actions.

And strangely, not much crime is actually committed. It seems The Spider spends most of his time dealing with traitors or thwarting other criminals.

Sadly, no one has done a complete reprint of the series. Chelsea House, the hardback line of Street & Smith reprinted most of the series in three volumes (The Spider’s Den, The Spider’s Fury, and The Spider’s Debt). Others have reprinted some of these as well.

The series consists of:

  • “The Spider’s Den,” April 16, 1918 (reprinted in Den)
  • “The Spider’s Sign,” May 21, 1918 (reprinted in Den)
  • “Into The Spider’s Jaws,” July 2, 1918 (reprinted in Den)
  • “The Shekel of Shame,” July 23, 1918 (reprinted in Debt)
  • “The Turquoise Elephant,” Aug. 13, 1918 (reprinted in Debt)
  • “The Spider’s Venom,” Sept. 10, 1918
  • “The Spider’s Debt,” Sept. 24, 1918 (reprinted in Debt)
  • “The Spider’s Wrath,” Oct. 22, 1918 (reprinted in Fury)
  • “The House of Horror,” Nov. 12, 1918 (reprinted in Fury)
  • “The Spider’s Command,” Dec. 17, 1918 (reprinted in Fury)
  • “The Spider’s Strain,” April 8, 1919
  • “The Spider’s Reward,” April 29, 1919

Murania Press plans on reprinting the first three stories as The Spider Spins His Web, but this has yet to appear.

Also reprinted by some is “The Spider’s Strain,” a novella instead of a short story. I do wish someone (Altus Press or maybe Murania?) would do a complete reprint of this series.

What do you think?