We drop into the middle of a Spider adventure. The Thunder King has unleashed a torrent of rain on 1930s New York. Enter the Spider. In Operator 5, Sloan Mather, the Nazi silver shirt, controls the minds of some down on their luck gentlemen to suicide bomb a protest by black people.
What can a little rain do? Pittsburgh experienced a flash flood that killed four people. I was in it. I inadvertently drove my car into shallow water and quickly U-turned the hell out of there; the excursion ruined my brakes but at least I got out. So, rain is no mean threat, and the never-ending downpour is perfectly in keeping with the Spider’s other foes. The Spider’s enemies don’t simply commit crimes, they bring misery to the innocent. The Thunder King deserves the Spider.
Powell’s pulpy imitation is the sincerest form of flattery to Norvell Page, fevered writer of the Spider adventures. His description of the rain in particular enhances the moody atmosphere by Hannibal King and the stark coloring of Jay Piscapo.
The story opens with Commissioner Kirkpatrick calling upon Richard Wentworth’s paramour Nita Van Sloan. Kirkpatrick knows Wentworth and the Spider are one, but he cannot prove it. He attempts to wheedle the information out Nita, but she provides him with Dick’s alibi instead, ingeniously tied into weather relief aid.
On her way back, Nita finds herself swamped by the Thunder King’s climate control. Powell however recognizes the equality of the pulp heroines. Nita Van Sloan was just as nuts and a champion like her crazy fiancee. Upon seeing folks in trouble, she discards her ensemble and takes a swim. Though the Spider wasn’t exactly a spicy pulp, Page had no issue with showing Nita Van Sloan out of dress. So, the eroticism of her damp clothing tastefully rendered by Hannibal King is perfectly in keeping with her appearances in the Spider.
The Thunder King has, like so many of the Spider’s enemies, deduced the Master of Men’s secret identity. You might imagine that this means the Thunder King will be dispatched, and you’re probably correct, but what you may not understand is that no foe of the Spider ever survives him. Many of the Spider’s nemeses command armies of criminals. The Thunder King is no different. They capture Nita Van Sloan as well as Ram Singh and Jackson. King acquits himself well when rendering Ram Singh. The real surprise however is how he designs Jackson with a more grizzled look that recalls the unlovely countenance of Willie Garvin from Modesty Blaise. This actually better suits the envisioned pretty boy from the Spider pulps.
Powell recalls that the Spider’s team was just as deadly as their leader. The Thunder King’s army finds out too late that what they have done is capture two able-bodied killers. With the hostage situation resolved, the Spider carries out what he does best terror. Highlighted by Piscapo’s violent reds the Spider confronts the surviving soldier and puts the fear of hell into him. This leads to a startling confrontation against the Thunder King, who we discover is less of a King and more of an agent. The twisters have come to New York. How will the Spider fight these natural monsters? Pick up the next issue to find out.
The Reverend Sloan Mather intends to suicide bomb a protest mistreatment of the black man by staging a mass exodus to motherland Africa. Sloan Mather is a Nazi, but he’s not the only wolf in sheep’s clothing. James Christopher a.k.a. Operator 5 shifts among those brainwashed.
When last we saw Operator 5, a hot little Helga intended to give our hero a new outlook on life, but Jimmy pulled a fast one, and instead seeks out Sloan Mather’s zeppelin from he will launch his human bombs and destroys the criminal.
It’s a simple and elegant plot, but there’s a lot more here than mere pulpy goodness. Writer Gary Phillips puts an end to the cliché of shooting bad guys in a hydrogen blimp. He furthermore shows a similarity in the Spider and Operator 5 I just haven’t seen before: the Spider will do anything to protect his New York, Operator 5 will do anything to protect the Nation. The mature relationship between Jimmy Christopher and Diane Elliott sterling reporter also parallels the Nita Van Sloan/Spider dynamic. Although, Dick has already put an engagement ring on his intended.
Pablo Marcos contributed the art for the first part of the Operator 5 story in issue one, but the substitution by Roberto Castro changes nothing. We get a strong illustrated pulp that’s in many ways reminiscent of a Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoon, albeit with a little rougher linework.
Ray Tate’s first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, “Spider Without a Web,” published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he’s young at heart. Of course, we all know better.