Introducing the best crime-fighting comic on the shelves right now: The Spider. No, not that Spider, but this one from Dynamite Entertainment that you quite possibly haven’t been reading. But fear not! The first trade collection has just been released, making this a handy time to catch up and enjoy the first 6 issues in one delicious meal.
Some background then, for who is this arachnidian titular hero and why has he chosen Peter Parker’s favourite pet as his totem? The Spider is in fact a pulp hero from the 1930s who has very little in common with the friendly neighbourhood young upstart other than a taste for webbed patterns in his fashion choices. Featuring in over a hundred novels, and a couple of early film serials, The Spider was the non-powered alter ego of millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth, fighting crime with extreme prejudice and enthusiastic violence. The body count alone would make the Punisher wince and Batman blush.
Make no mistake, The Spider was a big deal in his time, and the main competition for The Shadow at a rival publisher - you know, the guy who Batman was originally patterned on back when he liked killing people, and who coincidentally also now lives at Dynamite. The two film serials of The Spider, in ’38 and ’41 respectively, starred heart-throb Warren Hull (fresh from his role in the original The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff), and effortlessly outsold all other serials in those years – the second allegedly written by L Ron Hubbard though his name does not appear on the credits.
Of course, you need know none of that to enjoy this comic, but ain’t history fun?
Fellow Spider-fans will know that the new series from Dynamite is not the first comics appearance for the character – Eclipse Comics and Moonstone Books have both taken a crack over the years (the former taking an extreme schlocky approach that is well worth checking out for fun). Neither of these attempts though had an experienced thriller writer at the helm, nor an artist with such a distinct hand.
David Liss is a name I was already familiar with from my other life as a bookseller (A Conspiracy of Paper remains a frequent request), while Marvel fans may know the writer from his Black Panther run a couple of years ago. This is Liss’ own take on the character to be sure, but all the key elements are still there, from Richard being a millionaire, to the strong supporting cast, and that gorgeous pulp feel.
Plunging straight into the action for example, we are occasionally referenced to adventures of the past, despite them not being covered by the comic, which gives you an immediate sense of the history of the character and what he gets up to in the dark of night (old time villains The Bat Man and The Iron Man are perhaps unlikely to resurface). There is no “Issue Zero”, no babystepping through the origins, just a rush into the fray and a blunt explanation of the ridiculousness of upholding to a no-kill code in a hive of scum and villainy. Parts of Richard’s past seep through: the complicated situation with his ex and confidant Nita, his history with best friend Ram Singh (now a lawyer as opposed to the, um, manservant of the pulp past), and the tortuous friendship with the Police Commissioner who happens to be Nita’s partner. The exposition though is subtle, woven into the story.
Richard himself is thankfully far from annoying for a millionaire, turning up the cynicism in his appraisal of human nature but stopping short of Spider Jerusalem level misanthropy. Some people are just shitbags it seems, undeserving of a second chance. Freely admitting that nobody gave him the authority to be an executioner in his fun times, the police nonetheless are unwilling to chase him down. Given that he, y’know, is killing murderers and rapists rather than locking them up in an asylum with a revolving door. Interestingly enough, not being part of a larger shared comics universe gives the character a huge amount of freedom. The Spider may have been around the block longer than most, but this feels high energy and shiny new.
And the art. Oh the art. Colton Worley – as far as I know – has only been in professional comics for a few years, and is probably best known for Jai Nitz’s Kato Origins or Moore and Reppion’s The Complete Dracula. The latter saw him pencilling, inking and colouring in his fully painted realistic style, resulting in a ridiculously beautiful book (and yes, those amazing Kato covers). That was three years ago and the difference is startling. The artistic technique has been turned up to eleven, and his storytelling skills are immense: action flows as easily as the conversations, the shadows caressing the page. Web structure is playfully used for panels – though never overdone – and even the most conventional looking pages are deceptively unique. Think JH Williams III meets Alex Ross.
Terror of the Zombie Queen is, obviously, a terrific title. A woman claiming the Egyptian goddess name of Anput is unleashing biological terror upon the city, while The Spider mounts his own vendetta on the criminals at large - illustrating the fine line between vigilante and terrorist, without actually referencing it directly. The pulp origins are clear, but we’ve moved right up to present day New York rather than the more tempting ’30s, and that dose of modern day realism heightens the contrast between this book and many of his younger competitors. The Spider acknowledges as much himself early on stating, “In the movies, in the comic books and tv shows, the guys in masks live by a code. You don’t take a life. You don’t cross the line. It’s too late for that.”
As a long time Batfan who has been screaming for the Joker to just be killed already for years, this is a fantastic break from the world of reoccurring immortal villains. The Spider drinks, he smokes, he kills and he fucks (up). Batman he is not. This book is – wait for it – quite possibly the best crime fighting title on the shelves right now. Yeah. I went there. I dare you not to.
The Spider Vol 1 – Terror of the Zombie Queen
Writer: David Liss
Artist: Colton Worley
Colourist: Colton Worley
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
Letters: Simon Bowland
Editor: Joseph Rybandts
If you like, try: The Shadow, Fatale