There’s something very attractive about the classic pulp heroes. As cool as superpowers can be, there’s a reason that Batman’s the most popular superhero on the planet and a huge part of that is that he’s a (relatively) normal guy. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.
What I find interesting is this entire pulp heritage that he’s heir to. We don’t have time to dig into why Batman’s more popular than Doc Savage, the Shadow, and the Spider, but it would be fascinating to pull that apart and look at it sometime. For now, let’s concentrate on the similarities. There’s this huge catalog of characters that share some extremely close similarities with the Dark Knight (many of whom predate him in creation) and yet we don’t hear much about them anymore.
Moonstone’s trying to change that with their Return of the Originals event and that makes me happy. I’m also happy about DC’s whole First Wave thing (or was until that previous post) that I’m finally going to get to read when the first collection comes out in a couple of months, but Moonstone’s effort is even wider spread. They’re reintroducing a ton of characters to comics that I’ve heard about most of my life, but until now have never read a single adventure of. One of the most intriguing is The Spider.
What I’ve heard about The Spider is that he’s sort of a cross between Batman and the Joker. We’ve all heard the comparisons between those two characters (“I made you?! You made me!”), but The Spider (who beat both of DC’s characters to print by several years) combines them in an interesting way. He puts on a costume and fights crime, but he’s really violent about it and laughs maniacally the entire time. Or so I’ve been told.
The first issue of Martin Powell and Pablo Marcos’ new series is also the first Spider story I’ve ever read, but it certainly reinforces that description. The similarities between The Spider and Batman are huge. The story opens with wealthy playboy Richard Wentworth’s being grilled by his friend Commissioner Kirkpatrick about a subway incident at which witnesses placed both Wentworth and The Spider. Apparently, Kirkpatrick is also a bit of Lois Lane to Wentworth’s Clark Kent in that he suspects the secret identity, but isn’t able to prove it.
Powell doesn’t spend a lot of time on that, but I hope he comes back to it later. I always like Lois and Clark’s relationship best when she was trying to prove that he was Superman, but she was so bad at it (to be fair, the deck was stacked against her) that she was never a real threat. But imagine if Jim Gordon knew – really knew – that Bruce Wayne was Batman and was constantly on his case to prove it. There’s an element of danger there that already makes we want to come back for the next issue.
The real plot of The Spider #1 has to do with the abduction of Wentworth’s girlfriend who does know that he’s The Spider. Even though this is the first issue of an ongoing series, it’s a done-in-one story with a mad scientist and a – well, “army” would be an exaggeration, but certainly a “gang” of undead creatures. Not zombies thankfully. Powell and Marcos’ depiction of them owes more to Mary Shelley than George Romero. They’re not the scariest part of the story though. That would be The Spider himself.
Though Wentworth appears normal enough, when he puts on his wig, mask, cape, and fake fangs he seems to switch personalities. The descriptions of The Spider as violent and maniacal are apt. What’s unclear from this issue is whether that’s an act or a true shift in personality brought on by the change in costume, but I don’t really care to learn the answer to that. Not knowing makes the character more interesting. Just like Kirkpatrick’s investigation of Wentworth, this is something I’d love to see Powell tease out for a long time.
Also in this issue is a back-up story by Gary Phillips and Roberto Castro featuring a character called Operator 5. Unlike the lead story, this one will be continued in the next issue, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Operator 5 is a mysterious agent working for an unseen boss, so there was a lot of potential for him to have been an extremely bland protagonist. That’s not the case though thanks to a couple of things that make him particularly endearing.
First, there’s the way Castro draws him. I love Castro’s work on the whole story, but his depiction of the unnamed hero combines square-jawed toughness with expressive gentleness. There’s no doubt that he’s a capable fighter, but there’s an extremely attractive vulnerability about him too that gets you rooting for him even though you know nothing about him. It’s impressively done and is backed up by Phillips’ script. When the white supremacist that the undercover Operator 5 is investigating asks, “Do you love your country, Joe?” and Operator 5 answers, “That I do, sir. There’s very little I wouldn’t do in that regard,” you know exactly what he’s talking about and you can’t wait for the villain to find out too.