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Spider (I). The Spider (I) was created by Johnston McCulley (The Avenging Twins, Bat (II), Black Star, Jim Bodney, Crimson Clown, Captain Goodwin, Green Ghost, Richard Hughes, Man in Purple, Mongoose, Peter Noggins, Peanut Pete, Thubway Tham, Thunderbolt (I), Terry Trimble, Whirlwind, Zorro) and appeared in eleven stories and three novels and collections from 1918 to 1930, beginning with “The Spider’s Den” (Detective Story Magazine, Apr. 16, 1918).

The Spider (I) is one of the most physically unappealing characters since the Skin O' My Tooth, but beneath his nasty exterior lies a matchless criminal mind. He is unpleasant to look at:

He was squat, wonderously fat. His head was gigantic, his neck thick. He had a mass of white hair that was unkempt. His eyes were tiny and black and piercing. His thick lips twitched continually. His cheeks were flabby and white, ghastly looking. His fat, wrinkled hands were spread on the desk before him and his fingers seemed never to be still.

The Spider was crippled by fire when he was younger and is confined to his wheelchair. But his mind knows no hindrances, and it is his mind which leads him to complete mastery of an international crime ring. In his office, the Spider’s Den, he receives a constant flow of men, bringing information and carrying out orders, all to enrich the Spider and to punish those he chooses as his enemies. In his youth, in Paris, he was the leader of a gang of spies, but one of his men betrayed him to the police. A firefight followed, with the Spider caught in a flaming building. He was rescued, but only after his legs were permanently damaged. He went with his men to America, where he recovered and rebuilt his organization. He moved into a mansion with his niece Sylvia, a beautiful (if naive) twenty-year-old who does not, initially, realize that her uncle is a crook.

The Spider is opposed by John Warwick, a wealthy young adventurer in his mid-thirties who has been everywhere and done everything and longs for a little excitement. He is helped by his valet, Togo, who admires Warwick despite his master calling him "my gentleman Jap." Warwick and Togo begin as members of the Spider's gang. Warwick and Sylvia fall in love, and Warwick works well for the Spider, rising to become his right-hand man. But Warwick decides he wants to leave the Spider’s gang and go straight–Sylvia can't marry him while he is a criminal, and he can't marry her while he might be arrested at any second. He agrees to do a couple more jobs for the Spider, who will then free him from the gang. Warwick carries out the last job for the Spider, and after various complications the man who betrayed the Spider, back in his youth in Paris, is dead, Warwick is free to marry, and the Spider decides to retire.

* I'm including the Spider (I) stories and novels in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because they are fun to read. Johnston McCulley turned out some clunkers in his time--any writer as prolific as he was bound to. But the Spider (I) stories and novels are not clunkers, but instead inspired work that rivals the Zorro stories for enjoyment. The Spider (I) is a great concept--the fat crime lord who would usually be portrayed as the hero's nemesis, but who instead is the actual hero of the stories. John Warwick is the Spider (I)'s opponent, but Warwick isn't the hero, the Spider (I) is. McCulley plots the stories well, makes the Spider (I) as superbly competent, makes his true enemies appropriately contemptible, and in general writes tight stories about characters we are rooting for despite ourselves. Recommended. 

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