In a hundred thousand homes, families sat down together at the supper table. A few hours later, those persons were dead—killed by poison in canned foods! Thousands of women used cosmetics, and acid made their faces forever hideously scarred. A master criminal, daring and clever, was ruthlessly slaughtering Americans to win immense illicit profits for himself. Only one man was powerful enough and wise enough to stop this wholesale murder—Richard Wentworth, champion of oppressed humanity, better known as the Spider. And the Spider was engaged in the bitterest battle of his career, fighting the Avenger, a false, wily crusader who was determined to destroy him!
“The Pain Emperor” is the seventeenth Spider novel, published in February 1935. The enemy is the Avenger. He purports to be a good vigilante, bringing bad guys to justice that the police cannot handle like the Spider. He has better PR, though, keeping the press informed of his “good” deeds and promising not to kill like our hero. Soon, we see something amiss with this dude when he shoots Jackson and knives Ram Singh, Wentworth’s/Spider’s agents, and tries to frame the Spider. The Avenger performs robberies and actually “captures” those working criminally for him to take the fall, thereby gaining loot and unsuitable newsworthy praise.
As always, the bad guy is really, really bad. This time we see tainted tinned meat and candy, poisoning and killing thousands of children and other who eats it, acidified cosmetics that painfully scar the beauty of hundreds of women disfiguring them for life, and eventually poisoned patented medicines. The bad guys want to set up an inspection service, basically a variant of the age-old criminal protection racket. A money motive, the common theme for many of the crimes thwarted by the Spider!
Jackson “dies” late in the novel from new injuries after being shot at the beginning of the story. Don’t worry, he will return alive in the May 1935 publication entitled “Reign of the Death Fiddler.” Jackson “dies” in the guise of the Spider… so the novel ends with a glorious funeral for Jackson and the Spider where the newspaper all extol the services performed by the Spider to society.
This novel is perhaps a little less compelling than some other Spider novels, and as always we see a bit of illogic in the helter-skelter Norvell Page’s style. If you want a well-developed pulp mystery, read a Walter Gibson Shadow novel. If you want a wild ride, read this story or any of Norvell Page’s Spider crusades.