Thursday, July 19, 2012

Slaughter, Inc: The Last Spider Novel

In 1943, the publisher of The Spider commissioned from David Cormack to write a Spider novel. However, when the month came that the story would have been published, what hit the stands was a new novel by the series regular writer Norvell Page. There would be only a few more issues of the magazine, all with stories by Page. With the sudden death of his wife, Page would leave the magazine and character behind. The magazine folded and the story by Cormack sat in the drawers.

Several decades later, the story would somehow find itself published only with all the names changed, the Spider becoming Blue Steel, and the story edited to reflect early 1970s. The cover would be one that had been slated for the recently cancelled reprintings of Operator 5.

Moonstone has now published the original story with a new cover. Also included is a foreword by pulp historian that gives background and context to the circumstances that lead to Donald Cormack writing this story.

The production is the chief drawback to the book. The monotone cover is striking but it really doesn't hold a candle to the various pulp covers. Why is the Spider apparently firing his gun into a wall? The book itself is marred by bad line breaks, and typos such as "were" becoming "here" (which honestly may have been in the original text). Just when it looks like the bad line breaks were coming to an end, started seeing a couple of times where the first line of a paragraph has no spaces between the words making the line one long word.

The story is in many ways a good entry into the Spider mythos. The action is non-stop with Wentworth outnumbered and hampered by a wound while his compatriots are compromised. It's missing a little something, that real passion and fire, but for a first attempt at writing a Spider novel it's a fun read. It even works as being the "last" Spider novel.

It never pays to really think too much about Wentworth being suspected by Kirkpatrick but this otherwise capable cop can never get the needed evidence to prove he's the Spider. Here, there's a scene that really stretches that suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Wentworth is accompanying Kirk on a mission to rescue Nita, only on the way there they find the police have cornered a fighting mad Ran Singh on the roof of a nearby building. Somehow, Wentworth slips away, becomes the Spider (though he rode there with Kirkpatrick), rescues his faithful servant.

There seems to be discrepancies in the ages of Richard Wentworth and Nita van Sloan and how long the career of the Spider has been going on. Frequently they are described as being young and treated as if they are in their twenties, despite Wentworth's history includes having been a Major in the War. Near the end of the story, the text actually mentions Kirkpatrick being suspicious of his friend being the Spider for "months"! A bit reminiscent of how the Avenger seemed to get younger in his series, instilling a vast back story of education and experience while still in his twenties. But, as the foreword mentions that the editor at the time was heavily editing the stories by Page, it made me wonder if he likewise edited this story and that was where some of these seeming discrepancies crept in.

The identity of the villain also doesn't work. There's really only one suspect so it's not much of a mystery, until he convincingly disguises himself as Wentworth... because our one suspect is noted as being tall and thin, suggesting a build that would be hard to disguise.

On the other hand, one of the joys of the story is where Jackson actually gets to take center stage and playing a solo hand as he attempts a rescue attempt. He proves to be amazingly effective and capable even when not everything goes according to plan. In this story, Jackson clearly knows Wentworth is the Spider, but I'm not sure if that's always the case in the stories.

Overall, it really is a fun Spider adventure. The writing is crisp and fast paced. I found myself quickly turning the pages, curious as to what was going to happen next.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pulp heroes unite!

Dynamite has recently released information that they will be doing a team-up of the pulp heroes including the Shadow, Spider, Green Hornet & Kato, a Zorro-esque hero, Miss Fury and the Black Bat. The mini-series will be written by Chris Roberson and the artwork for the first issue will at least be done by Alex Ross. 

For once, there are few red flags raised in the interview with Roberson. The biggest one is the lack of commitment on who will be doing the artwork past the first issue. Dynamite has a bad track record art-wise. Many of the pencilers are sub-par and overpowering inking and coloring shore up short-comings. The various mini-series tying into their Kirby: Genesis mini seem to have different art from issue to issue. It's ridiculous that a mini-series cannot have the same creative team from beginning to end. And, come out on time (just don't solicit until it's ready).

When talking about the storyline, Roberson talks about his love for the pulps. In fact, this story is one that continuity buffs like Roy Thomas or Philip Jose Farmer would love. It will be taking a three-part Spider pulp story, where a fascist organization takes over, and the Spider becomes a freedom fighter and different sort of outlaw and then placing the other heroes into that story, what were they doing during this time.

Despite the fact their current series have the Spider in present day, Zorro and the Shadow in their proper though different time periods, and the Green Hornet is in present day, this series takes place in the original time period. When Dynamite launched the Green Hornet, they did so with several different books in different time periods. I don't know if the current series ever acknowledged the gangster era Green Hornet Year One series by Wagner, though Roberson refers that the Hornet seen here will be similar to that. Considering the costumes of the other characters, including Kato are from head to toe in black, the Hornet may stick out like a sore thumb.

The "Zorro" hero is not meant to be the original hero but someone like him. Considering Zorro's original milieu of being a rogue hero, fighting for the common man against an oppressive system, a hero along those lines works. There's actually a long-standing tradition of this in the films as Zorro's legacy would include Don Q, Son of Zorro, the Black Whip, and a Ghost of Zorro (played by pre-Lone Ranger Clayton Moore).

The big departure will be the Spider. himself. The current comic series takes place in modern day and takes so many liberties with the characters as to be a complete departure. The mini will have him in the serial inspired garb, but the interview makes no mention of whether any of the other changes that Liss has hoisted upon the characters will be evident.

This will be the first appearances of the Black Bat and Miss Fury at Dynamite and I'm curious as to how they will be treated. If you look closely, you can see the Bat overhead the other heroes but no Miss Fury.

It's almost a shame that Dynamite couldn't get the rights to the Whisperer as he'd fit right in in this crowd or the Avenger who would make an interesting juxtaposition to the others.

Pulp-wise, just got in Moonstone's Slaughter, Inc, the "last" Spider novel that went unpublished when the series ended in the early 1940s and was printed as a paperback with names changes and the Spider became Blue Steel (and the cover was of the publisher's version of Operator 5). Shaping up to be a fun novel, although could have used an editor to catch some of the typos and bad line breaks.