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Background art by Rafael DeSoto
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A Brief History of The Spider IV
Enter The Spider

In the early stories "The Spider" is merely a symbol on the forehead of dead crooks. Occasionally, Wentworth would obscure his identity with a black mask. But in the March 1934 issue, "Citadel of Hell," Wentworth finally takes on an alternate personality. A look -- and a lethal, mocking attitude -- that becomes "The Spider" for the remainder of the ten-year run.

"Rapidly then he went to work on a disguise and, at the end of ten minutes more, stared at himself fixedly in the mirror. Long black hair, parted in the middle, fell below his ears. His skin was sallow, and his nose was long and pointed. As he stared at himself, Wentworth bent slowly forward, stooping his broad, muscular shoulders and hunching one so that the smooth fit of the black tweeds to which he had changed was completely disarranged. He was an emaciated, hunchbacked man now, with the anemic face and the quick, frightened eyes of a cripple. He pulled a large black felt down over his hair, threw a cape about his shoulders, and ... left."

Later in the novel this new character clearly identifies himself:

   "Did you ever hear," asked Wentworth softly, "of the Spider?"
   The gunman's eyes stared fascinatedly into Wentworth's. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes!"
   "I am the Spider!" Wentworth allowed his thin lips to part into a smile that was horrible to see. And the man on the floor screamed. For he saw white teeth and the canines on either side were long and pointed. Wentworth had fitted celluloid points over his own teeth.
   "Those," said Wentworth, "are the fangs of the Spider. You wouldn't force me to use them, would you?" He leaned even closer to the man, baring those pointed white teeth again. "Talk, fool!"

Here Page, possibly with some editorial guidance, really did lift some ideas from The Shadow -- or the classic "mystery figure" that inspired him -- while adding his own oddball touches.

But the lank-haired, fanged, hunched figure of The Spider was not just feared by the underworld; The editors of the magazine were too scared to put him on the cover! Except for a seven-month stint in 1940, cover illustrators John Newton Howitt and later Raphael DeSoto were instructed to depict The Spider as a dashing figure in a traditional black mask. Only interior artist J. Fleming Gould got to show The Spider in all his chilling glory month in and month out.

The Spider Ring

Though it had been featured prominently on the covers since the first issue -- probably as a nod to The Shadow's signature ring -- the Spider Ring was not mentioned in the novels until that sixth issue, "Citadel of Hell." Not coincidentally, this is the first issue that offers readers the opportunity to order their own replica of the Spider Ring -- for 25 cents in coin or stamp, and the promise to curtail crime in their neighborhood.

(The only other premium offered by the magazine would be a Spider Pencil, with the spider seal where the eraser would be. In 1941 Wentworth ditched the cigarette lighter as a spider-branding device to hawk this mechanical pencil, which today is scarcer than the Spider Ring, but in less demand.)

NEXT: The Serials