If you read this blog regularly (well, as regularly as I post to it anyway, these days), you may have noticed I love old school pulp adventure. Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer, that sort of thing.
It’ll also be obvious to anyone who takes a peek at my book Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, first in my series of pulp adventure novels from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, suitable for all ages, incredibly well-reviewed, buy it now. ;)
Anyway. One of my favorite pulp heroes is The Spider. I subscribe to Girasol Collectibles’ quarterly reprints, each of which contains two of the Depression-era Spider novels, most of which were written by Norvell Page under the publisher’s house name of Grant Stockbridge. I also have other paperback Spider reprints, including one of those currently in print from Baen Books.
The blog entry I linked to in the first paragraph gives some basic info on the pulps, and sources for pulp books including The Spider. In it I also wrote, “The Spider started as a Shadow rip-off, but evolved swiftly into something much more demented. The Spider tales are more violent, more epic in scale, and far weirder than usual, even for pulp. At the same time, The Spider is a more human and realistic hero than either of his more famous brethren, showing genuine emotion and even involved in a fully committed, intense, passionately romantic relationship.”
Now, Age of Aces Books has released a volume of three interconnected Spider novels called The Spider Vs. The Empire State: The Complete Black Police Trilogy. My copy arrived from Amazon yesterday, and it’s a gorgeous book, all lurid red and black with the feel of a fascist propaganda poster.
Credit for the cover art and book design is to maestro Chris Kalb, who also produced this poster for the recent Pulpfest convention:
(And if Age of Aces or anyone else out there has a copy of this poster they’d be willing to donate to a poor modern pulp author, please let me know).
Gotta love that tag-line. They said it couldn’t happen here. Then they said one man couldn’t stop it.
Inside, the book is wonderfully illustrated with full-page images by John Fleming Gould and John Newton Howitt from the original pulp magazines. There’s also an insightful foreward, “Black Shirts on Broadway” by Thomas Krabacher of California State University, which gives some background about the events and politics of the era these stories were written, and about the creators’ impetus for producing them:
In 1938 the world was changing, and it changed The Spider. Up until that year The Spider magazine–one of the most imaginative and popular pulp fiction magazines of the 1930s–was offering its readers fast-paced action fantasies that featured its title character, The Spider, waging a clandestine war against more or less traditional criminal masterminds and their exotic menaces. The storylines, always melodramatic and often bizarre, provided readers an escape from the uncomfortably real worries of daily life in depression-era America.
But, in 1938 with the September to November issues…the magazine does a dramatic about-face and confronts some of the central political anxieties of its era. These stories…offer an allegory for the totalitarianism that was then occurring abroad and a cautionary tale for what many feared could happen here…
I haven’t read the book yet (but will soon, and a review will occur), but I’m drooling to. Not only does it sound like great Spidery adventure, but it seems downright topical after a decade of off-the-book prison camps, torture, illegal wiretapping of American citizens, and silencing of dissent, as well as in these weeks of shrieking dullards and right wing zealots bringing loaded guns to political events.
For some free Spidery fun, Baen Books has the entire contents of their collection The Spider: Robot Titans of Gotham to be read free online. The main page, with links to various file formats, is here. One caveat though is that the book opens with a story by Joel Frieman about Norvell Page, the author of The Spider. You may or may not find that interesting, but it’s not reflective of Page’s work, which actually begins with Satan’s Murder Machines. You can find that story in HTML format here.
For a fun read, Ryan Harvey’s reviews of the two Baen Books Spider volumes will give you a fair idea of just how crazy and wonderful these stories really are: