Sunday, January 12, 2014

IF IT AIN'T BROKE...

Having been born in 1956, I came along too late to experience the Golden Age of Pulps (the 1930s and 1940s). But, being a child of the '60s, I did get to enjoy the First Age of Pulp Reprints. I've read dozens of Doc Savage novels, several Shadow adventures and a few Spider adventures. Heck, I've even got an original SPIDER pulp magazine in my collection.

I'm far from an expert on pulp fiction but I do know my way around the field to a fair degree. I've read enough of this material to know what I like and what I don't like. What I don't like are attempts to modernize classic pulp characters and bring them into the "present day", whenever it is that said "present day" is taking place. For me, characters like Doc, the Shadow and The Spider, are products of their specific places and times. They belong to the era in which they were originally created and conceived, the roaring heart of the crucible of 1930s pulp fiction.

Dynamite Comics recently launched a revival/updating of The Spider and I just finished reading Volume One, TERROR OF THE ZOMBIE QUEEN. In the story, written by David Liss and illustrated by Colton Worley, The Spider operates in a version of modern day New York City that isn't really our New York City (there are zeppelins in the skies above the city in the first panel on the first page but these magnificent airships never appear again throughout the subsequent six issues collected here in this trade paperback). The Spider is still Richard Wentworth and he still wages a war against crime but there are several major changes to the character.

To begin with the most obvious, his costume is a redo of what was seen in the 1938 serial, THE SPIDER,  produced by Columbia Pictures.





This is an okay costume but it's the movie Spider, not the pulp Spider. In the pulps, Wentworth donned a fright wig, fangs and a cloak and dispensed bloody justice with two .45 caliber automatics. The pulp Spider became a monster to fight monstrous foes. In this new version, he's just a guy in a webbed mask and cape. He's not The Spider that I've come to know and love.

Wentworth's best friend and trusted aide, Ram Singh, knows that Wentworth is The Spider. That much is still the same in the new series but here Singh is an attorney and the slightly racist undertones of "master and foreign manservant" have been done away with. An improvement in the characters and their relationship? Perhaps but only slightly.

Nita Van Sloan also knows Wentworth's secret and Nita and Richard are still in love in this new iteration.  The trouble is, Nita is now married to Police Commissioner Stanley Kirkpatrick, who is also a very good friend of Wentworth's who also suspects he may be The Spider. This is a major change in the dynamics of these three characters.

In the new version, Wentworth is a former U.S, soldier who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and uses his military experience and knowledge to aid the NYPD on criminal cases that are beyond the ordinary. This gives Wentworth access to crime scenes and police labs. Oh, and there's a crooked cop, Joe Hilt, who is determined to prove that Wentworth and The Spider are one and the same, come hell or high water.

TERROR OF THE ZOMBIE QUEEN isn't the new Spider's first adventure. We're told that he's previously battled The Cholera King, The Silver Falcon and The Terror and His Legions (among others). In this new adventure, he's up against a woman and her muscleman aide who dress as ancient Egyptian gods in order to turn New York citizens into flesh-eating zombies through the use of a chemical weapon manufactured by the company owned by Wentworth's father.

Much of the action in the book occurs at night and in the rain making the pages very dark. More than once I had to look very hard and long at the art to determine what I was seeing and I wasn't always successful in doing so. Artist Colton Worley  is a competent enough penciller but in many of his layouts and page designs, he eschews hard, distinct panel borders, which makes the art "bleed" from one scene to the next. This makes for some confusing pages in which it's hard to determine the sequence in which word balloons and captions should be read and even just what exactly it is that we're looking at.

I understand that it's now 2014 and the vast majority of comic book readers most likely don't want to read a series set in the 1930s. That's ancient history to them. Updating, modernizing and changing The Spider for today's audience makes sense from a commercial stand point and I can understand why this series was done this way.

But I don't have to like it and I sure as hell don't.

Here's the real Spider. 




It just doesn't get any better than this.
 

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