“The Spider” is a pulp character dating back nearly eighty years who has been in some state of publishing ever since. That’s what you call longevity; it’s impressive especially because most people don’t know about the character. The same can be said of the back up in this comic, “Operator #5.” If you read all the Jess Nevins back matter essays in “Incognito,” then you’ll be clued up on these characters and you’ll probably want to read this comic. It might not be a perfect relaunch but it does honor much of the spirit of these underground sensations.
The Spider goes up against a Frankenstein Legion in this issue. The lifeless creatures are a perfect way to show the lethal force he’s willing to employ to save his lady love. In a standalone story, you get enough to understand the character and how he works in his world. He’s a bunch of gun-toting fun and the case is just the right blend of supernatural and crazy to delight. It’s devious in resolution, even if far too easy for everyone involved.
This comic doesn’t take a new approach to writing the character. It stays true to the heart of the matter. The style on display here feels very much like the old ways brought us these tales, but that means all the old flaws are still evident. The plot turn comes out of nowhere and lacks any punch whatsoever. This almost feels like a radio play script committed to paper with images, which isn’t as bad as it might sound.
The art is inconsistent throughout and the coloring tries its best to cover that up. Backgrounds are lacking in many places, robbing the action of some flow. However, at other times, Marcos brings a perfect pulp vibe to the shuffling masses and our heroic lead. Certain scenes have a very EC or Bernie Wrightson vibe, and that’s exactly what is needed. In those moments, the coloring really works to great effect to make the panel seem to travel right out of the 30s.
The back-up tale of Operator #5 severely takes its time to set up the last three pages. This could have been streamlined, and so comes off feeling a little amateur, even compared to the opening tale. There’s a good idea there, but it’s struggling to come through.
Massive praise goes to Dan Brereton’s cover. It’s a shame when the cover is the best part of a comic, but it’s also not quite a surprise when Brereton is involved. He was born to do these sorts of pin ups.
The idea of having two tales with two characters jammed into one title is a great idea, so long as both tales stand up to their own scrutiny. They are put on a shorter narrative form and need to be able to deliver. “The Spider” is decent fun, though it wraps up too easily. It’s a surprisingly violent tale that harkens back to an era of comics wiped out in their time. “Operator #5” ends on a high note but didn’t do much to get there. There are certainly places to go with this comic but it has some work to do to get there. For now, this is a pulpy delight that earns a spot in the canon of these characters. A shame it doesn’t then manage to update and improve on what has come before.