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A Brief History of The Spider I:
A Time for Heroes

The stock market crash of 1929 created a big demand for cheap escapist entertainment and the Great Depression saw a boom in Pulp publishing; So much so, that a young editor from Dell Publishing named Harry Steeger, together with Harold Goldsmith of Ace Publications took a chance and pooled $10,000 of borrowed money to start Popular Publications in 1930. With a staff all younger than thirty, that played as hard as they worked, Popular went on to become the dominant publisher of the Pulp era. But not before the creation of The Spider...

In 1931, the more established publisher Street & Smith launched the first single-character Pulp magazine, The Shadow, hoping to recapture some of the lightning they had generated in their "dime novel" days with Nick Carter and Frank Merriwell. The Shadow was originally just a mysterious voice on a radio program promoting Street & Smith's Detective Story magazine on Thursday nights. But when listeners would go to the newsstand asking for the "Shadow" magazine, Street & Smith knew they had to jump on this identity. They hired Walter Gibson, an amateur magician and newspaperman, to flesh out the character.

Gibson started with the classic shadowy-figure of the theater—black cape, black hat, and a sinister laugh. Then he filled in the details using the Pulps' already-established tradition of dual-identity vigilantes: Frank Packard's The Grey Seal, and Johnston McCulley's Zorro.

The Shadow was an instant sales phenomenon, and by the following year other publishers were ready to jump on the bandwagon. First Standard Magazines filled the demand for mystery men with The Phantom Detective, a long-running series about a more cerebral playboy crime fighter. Then Street & Smith followed suit themselves in January of '33, launching Doc Savage—about a genius super-man and his five assistants—and a revival of Nick Carter as a more hard-boiled detective.

Harry Steeger was anxious to put the Popular spin on this new type of magazine. He already had a name: The Spider, inspired by the sighting of a rather large one at a Tennis Court. But he needed a writer. Enter R.T.M. Scott, whose son Robert worked as an associate editor at Popular Publications.

Scott was on the downward slope of his career, but he had hit pay dirt in the Twenties with the Secret Service Smith series and though he wouldn't be up to the grind of authoring a monthly series, his name on the first couple issues would give The Spider some added attention.

Scott's character Aurelius Smith was a skilled detective and master of disguise aided by a Hindu manservant, Langha Doon. Directly from this mold Scott cast Richard Wentworth and Ram Singh. Both Smith and Wentworth were crack shots with a .45, but whereas in the Twenties Smith would shoot to wound—in the violent Thirties Wentworth would shoot to kill.

NEXT: The Spider Strikes

Content by Chris Kalb
Background art by Walter Baumhofer
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