Friday, March 16, 2012

Recent read! The Spider!

This was my first foray into the manic styling of The Spider!  You would not believe the sheer number of exclamation points in the first story!  It must be exciting, right?  Right!

Um, actually, no.

This book was painful to slug through.  Frankly, this is the kind of shlock that give pulp a bad name.

This Baen collection features two Spider stories, "Satan's Murder Machines" and "Death Reign of the Vampire King."  The third tale, "The Octopus," isn't even a Spider story.

Rather than a standard foreword, this collection starts with a touch of fiction that reveals "Satan's Murder Machines" was liberally borrowed for the Superman comic, which in turn, became the famous Fleischer cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters."  For that historical point, the story is worth reading - once.

The plot just doesn't make a lot of sense.  A few set pieces of city destruction by giant robots are bookended to meet the word count.  Along the way, we get crazy chases, imposible escapes.  The Spider is the alter ego of playboy Richard Wentworth.   For some reason, plenty of criminals know his secret identity but not the police.  I think, at times, even Page forgets which ego he is writing about.

The criminal master plot makes no sense, either.

You've built an army of giant robots, you plan to attack the city and extort the police and city government.  So, the first thing you do with your giant robots is  - have them commit burglary?  Wouldn't it be kind of obvious?

And the illogic just keeps on from there.

The second story follows the same formula.  In this case, vampire bats are laced with poison and attack!   What starts as a mobster attack on rivals (why wouldn't they just pull out the tommy guns?) soon becomes city-wide carnage.  Even the third tale, which doesn't feature the Spider, but rather the Skull Killer, is much the same.  The Skull Killer's identity is evident to the criminals, the supervillain plot mutates people all over the city so that the criminals... can extort medical insurance fraud?

If I can find anything positive to say about this gonzo storytelling, it is that these tales almost seem to harbinger the wild comic book plots of supervillains that would come later.  The problem is using these villainous plans as a backdrop to a criminal thriller series.  They're just too big, to be shoehorned into the run-of-the-mill, pistol blazing, vehicle chasing, Spider stories.

Side note: Funny, this is my third book in a row dealing with robots.  Well, in this case, one story features 'robots' that are revealed to be men in giant armor suits.  Sorry, bit a of a spoiler there.

If you want deeper reviews and background, I direct you to Ryan Harvey's in-depth Black Gate reviews.

Robot Titans of Gotham, City of Doom and The Spider vs. The Empire State.

I admit I still hold out some hope for the Empire State Trilogy (also because I wonder if any of it had any influence whatsoever on Adam Christopher's Empire State, though I tend to doubt it.  Similar cover stylings, though.)  But, it has fallen much further down my wishlist at this point.


  1. I remember watching that Superman vs. The Mechanical Monsters (when I was 10 or so) and wondering why didn't Nikola Tesla...whoops, (who in no way inspired the mad scientist) just use his robots to get rich through manufacturing etc.

  2. I've got this volume and one other Spider compilation on the shelf. I think they'll stay there a while longer. You've answered my question regarding if I should try to fit them into the TBR schedule.

  3. I liked this collection more than you did, outside of the Octupus story, which was pretty lame. I liked the high level action. I did realize you can only read these a little bit at a time, though. Read more than one and the sameness gets rather crushing.

  4. David; yeah, crazy villain plans usually don't hold up to scrutiny, but that's why the writer is supposed to suspend the reader's disbelief.

    Keith; it's probably worth reading one story for the pulp resume, but I wouldn't spend time reading the entire collection.

    Charles; Agreed. As stand-alone moments, I did find the action scenes to be breakneck and headlong. But sewn together as a narrative, it all felt very messy. You definitely need to be in the mood and/or know what to expect before you even start reading these, I think, to get any enjoyment at all from them.