Tarantula | Spider Queen
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Ace-Deuce (1941). Writer: Mort Weisinger. Art: Harold Sharp. Tarantula, the masked crime fighting identity of mystery writer John Law, uses his spider-like powers to fight gang leader Ace-Deuce. The origin of Tarantula. Richly plotted story, with one of the most inventively powered of the crime fighters of the Golden Age.
Tarantula's powers strongly anticipate those of Spider-Man in the 1960's. He can walk on walls and ceilings, due to suction cups on his gloves and boots, and he can shoot out web strands from a gun, which he uses both for capturing villains and swinging from building to building. He is even called "Spider Man" by a radio commentator in this tale, although he himself prefers his own name of Tarantula, as the dialogue points out. Tarantula does lack anything similar to Spider-Man's Spidey senses, which warn him of danger. Tarantula differs from Spider-Man in that his powers are not biological, or rooted in his body: they derive entirely from mechanical devices that Tarantula has invented. In this sense, Tarantula is closer to Batman, and other masked, costumed crime fighters with secret identities but no super powers. Batman himself spends a lot of time clambering over buildings, and can swing from his Batarang cables. Both Batman and Tarantula are inspired by animals, bats and spiders respectively, and both are gifted detectives who use a lot of mechanical devices they have invented.
John Law's profession of mystery novelist gives him a background in the media, like Weisinger's other hero, Johnny Quick. John Law is extremely refined and dignified, the way authors were always depicted in all media of the day. Being a writer was a prestigious, highly respected job in the 1940's. Writers were seen as gifted intellectuals, and people worthy of admiration.
John Law is far more middle class than Batman's secret identity of Bruce Wayne. He works hard for a living, has a modest if pleasant house, and is definitely not a playboy. Tarantula's devices seem to be on a more modest financial scale than Batman's, as well. Tarantula has no equivalent of the Batmobile or Batcave, for example. His crime fighting devices depend more on his ingenuity than on money. John Law is also lacking in the obsessive or grotesque qualities than make Batman a distinctive character. John Law seem utterly normal, a regular middle class person. He shares something of the normalcy and business like competence of Weisinger's other crime fighting hero, Green Arrow. Both Tarantula and Green Arrow are strong on ingenious crime fighting technology.
Several times in the Tarantula saga, Johnny Law has to change into the Tarantula after a hard day's work. The effect is very much like a middle class person who has two jobs. The story made me wonder while reading it, what I would feel like if I had to go out and fight crime after working all day on my regular job. The series has a quality of quiet realism in evoking Johnny Law's personal life.
DC Comics used the named Johnny Law for two different series of detective characters, one in 1937-1939, the second in 1951-1953; the article on Johnny Law discusses both. The current Tarantula Johnny Law shares a name with these two other heroes, but little else.
The story takes place in a slightly transformed version of New York City. Real places are given new names by Weisinger, that wittily mirror their actual designations.
COSTUME COLORS. Harold Sharp has given Tarantula a nice costume. Its purple and yellow are strongly contrasting colors: complementary colors on the color wheel. "The Menace of Bandana Bardon" (#6, March 1942) refers to its as Tarantula's "distinctive purple and gold costume". While gold might be the official name, the yellow sections of the costume do not have the shiny quality often attributed to gold objects in the comics. They just look like a pleasant bright yellow. Tarantula's tights and chest are yellow; his gloves, shorts, cape and hood mask are deep purple. Please see my list of purple-and-yellow costumes in comic books.
Other features of Tarantula's costume:
Harold Sharp does a nice job with Johnny's shipboard outfit, a sophisticated looking combination of yellow sweater, white shirt, tie and white slacks. This is still an outfit that suggests refinement and festive cheer. The sweater is yellow, like his Tarantula costume, giving him a consistent color coding. Sharp also does a good job with the dressy uniforms of the ship's officers, which include uniform caps with huge visors.
The Blade (1942). Writer: ?. Art: Harold Sharp. Gangsters try to kidnap the visiting President Gomez of the Latin American country Torono. Entertaining adventure story that shows off Tarantula's powers at their best. The tale also has some good wisecracking dialogue.
The story is notable for its dignified, non-stereotyped depiction of Latin Americans. This was the Good Neighbor era, which emphasized alliances between the United States and Latin America.
There is a nice comic exchange about Providence. We also learn that Tarantula's silk is faster than bullets.
COSTUME COLORS. Sharp opens the tale with Johnny Law in nice evening clothes at a party. He is in a gray double-breasted tuxedo; he also wears a gray top coat over it. The light gray colors of his clothes make him look well dressed, without quite making him look like an upper class playboy. He looks more like the intellectual, sophisticated New Yorkers who attend theater and publishing parties in the mystery novels by the Lockridges.
Gray tuxedos are not that common. Tony Orlando wore a sharp one on an episode of his 1974 TV series.
See my list of Tuxedos in comic books, for more characters in evening wear.
The Menace of Bandana Bardon (#6, March 1942). Writer: ?. Art: Harold Sharp. A crooked rodeo promoter comes to New York. Minor tale with a few good features. Tarantula shoots out his web, and rescues a falling man, a nice stunt.
Tarantula works closely with the police for the first time in this story. In earlier tales he always kept his distance, running away when the cops showed up. Sharp does a good job with the police uniforms, traditional looking navy blue outfits with double rows of V arranged buttons (p5).
Neither Spider Queen or Tarantula are super-powered, unlike the later 1960's character Spider-Man. Instead, they are technology-assisted crime fighters, in the tradition of Batman.
Spider Queen debuted in Eagle #2 (September 1941), and lasted two more issues, before Eagle collapsed with issue #4 (January 1942). She could shoot strands of fine steel threads from containers on her wrists. These sticky, unbreakable threads would tie up bad guys helplessly. The stories are signed by Elsa Lisau. Spider Queen's secret identity is Shannon Kane; she dates cocky, wise guy private eye Mike O'Bell, a blond who favors pinstripe suits. This is much like the Black Canary will also have a private eye boy-friend later.