|SPIDER >> CAST >> RICHARD WENTWORTH|
Background art by John Fleming Gould
The Spider TM & © Argosy Communications, Inc.
alias The Spider
Richard Wentworth is a wealthy playboy who sometimes aids the police as an amateur criminologist, but more often than not works outside the law meting out lethal justice as the shaggy, fanged hunchback The Spider -- and is himself a hunted criminal for his trouble.
Besides his frightening disguise and vicious methods, what really sets Wentworth appart from his playboy-slash-crimefighter brethren is the seamlessness of his two identities. The Spider isn't so much a costume as an iron-willed, death-dealing state of mind, and Wentworth takes on all comers as much out of costume as in. As Wentworth, he is never one to act meek to throw off suspicion; In fact, he's usually leading the police into battle against The Cholera King or the Hordes of the Red Butcher.
It's pretty much an open secret that he is, in fact, The Spider. Villains are always blasting apart his penthouse apartments because of it. Yet Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick, who has sworn to bring down The Spider by any means necessary(!), won't lock away his trusted friend Dick Wentworth until there is incontrovertible proof. In some stories there is, but it always manages to get contoverted by the novel's last paragraph.
The disgracing hand of the Law is only one of the many trials hurled monthly at Richard Wentworth. I don't think there is any hero in fiction that had it this bad, with this much frequency. Throughout his ten-year career he was regularly riddled with bullets, drugged, paralyzed, infected with rabies, blinded, or comatose for six weeks while New York falls to fascists. But he overcomes it all to serve mankind. And what's great about The Spider stories is this suffering has an emotional impact on Richard Wentworth -- especially those times he's framed, betrayed, disgraced, or faced with impossible sacrifices. A hero who truly feels was rare on the pulp racks.
Throughout the series, there are glimpses and allusions to what made Richard Wentworth such a righteous servant of Justice. Over ten years, none of it is consistent, but a rough outline does take shape -- of his path to becoming The Spider of 1933.
It was while he was still in college that Wentworth was first gripped with the urge to take the law into his own hands. Accounts vary (as with all of Wentworth's history, and in this case there are TWO versions in the SAME issue), but basically, Wentworth killed a truly vile criminal who was preying on his dear friend and teacher Professor Brownlee to save him from disgrace and imprisonment. Around the bullet wound in the man's forehead Wentworth improvised the figure of a spider in blood, as a warning to other criminals. As Rogers Terrill wrote in that first WEB column "Gone from that moment on was the Richard Wentworth of classroom and football field. Gone were the dreams and plans he'd made for the future....And in their place stood the SPIDER, a legendary figure of justice swift and terrible."
But The Spider part of Richard Wentworth would not manifest itself again for many years. After graduation, he channelled his higher ideals and sense of duty into the French air corps in the early days of World War I. Then, when the United States joined the fray, he became a Lieutenant in the Army. He garnered many medals for his combat bravery -- and the lifelong devotion of Ronald Jackson, his Sergeant.
Returning to New York City after the war, he quickly became bored with the playboy existence that was expected of him. He enrolled in law school and showed much promise, but as he feared, the Law was not an adequate expression of the justice he sought in the world. He looked to different teachings and found himself drawn to India where he was told of the teacher Mar-lar-delan, and set out for Tibet to find him. After making his way across the Punjabi plains, he saved a Sikh chieftan and his son from massacre. The younger Sikh, Ram Singh, felt beholden to Wentworth and warily travelled with him through the Himalayas to Mar-lar-delan's retreat, eventually gaining respect for the white man, and finally, belief in his cause.
Wentworth studied under Mar-lar-delan for three years, learning how to bend his body to the mind's will. Then, having learned all he could, with Ram Singh at his side, he returned to New York City, now in the throes of Prohibition. This lawless chaos cried out for justice -- and The Spider Returned! Gangsters and corrupt politicians alike were soon found dead with a spider on their forehead. And, during the day, Richard Wentworth was busy as well, studying criminology and helping the police, even gaining the confidence of the Commissioner.
He travelled abroad, studying and aiding the law enforcement agencies of Germany, France and England as well (becoming an Honorary Inspector of Scotland Yard). Then on the fateful cruise back from Europe, he met and fell in love with Nita Van Sloan -- a worthy mate, with courage and ideals beyond her station. Then, back in New York, Wentworth set up his old friend Professor Brownlee in a huge loft in the center of town to devise equipment and weapons for his war on crime.
All the pieces were now in place. The stage is set. Richard Wentworth would chase a master of disguise through Europe for six months, and then -- The Spider Strikes!