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The Spider's Web © Columbia Pictures Corp.
The Spider TM & © Argosy Communications, Inc.

A Brief History of The Spider V
The Serials

In late 1938 The Spider magazine trumpeted the arrival of The Spider's Web, an exciting 15 episode chapter-play from Columbia Picture's fledgling serial unit.

Warren Hull, Kenneth Duncan, and Iris Meredith are everything a Spider reader could hope for. The direction by Ray Taylor and James Horne is brisk, and the body count would make Grant Stockbridge proud. The villian of Web is pure Pulp: "The Octopus" wears a white hood, he's bent on destroying the nation's transportation system, and -- most importantly -- an extra arm will emerge from his robes to shoot anyone that fails him!

The biggest change is in The Spider's disguise. Here, Hollywood, for once, hit on something more distinctive than the original -- and, well, much more spider-related; Rather than the fanged wildman of the stories or generic black mask of the Pulp covers, the costume department at Columbia outfitted The Spider in a full black face mask and long flowing cape covered in a white web pattern. And, in early 1938, they didn't even have Action Comics #1 yet to inspire this "superhero" getup. His distinctive costume actually makes The Spider the first masked urban crimefighter of the serials -- beating radio's Green Hornet to the movie houses by more than a year, and appearing 6 months before Bat-Man would even hit the newsstands.

The filmmakers clearly have a lot of respect for the source material, and some of the dialog sounds like pure Norvell Page. Whether the team at Popular had any real input is unknown, but when asked later about it Harry Steeger did recall drafts of the scripts circulating around the office.

(Even so, the appearance of a Popular Pulp called The Octopus while The Spider's Web was still playing in theaters is pure coincidence. Harry Steeger remembers thinking up the title himself while in the shower. Sales lagged, and the second issue was rewritten only slightly to feature a villian named The Scorpion. Both stories were written by Norvell Page.)

The Spider's Web was popular enough to inspire a sequel, and The Spider Returns hit theaters in 1941. Warren Hull and Kenneth Duncan returned as Wentworth and Ram Singh, providing reason enough to watch. Unfortunately James Horne's solo direction leans toward the comedic, and the story is nothing more than a wartime retread of the original. Worst of all, Mary Ainslee plays Nita as a shrill harpy, forever after Wentworth to settle down.

NEXT: Death and The Spider