Richard Wentworth was playing the most dangerous game in the world—a man-hunter outside the law; a righteous lone-wolf avenger of the weak; a scourge of the evil, the wicked and the corrupt! Loathed by the organized armies of the underworld, hunted ruthlessly by the forces of the law, he was ever between two raking cross-fires… Seldom, however, had the Spider, Master of men, faced the odds which challenged him when the man called Aronk Dong summoned all the underworld to serve him in the most ghastly campaign of rampant crime and wholesale slaughter this country had ever experienced. Armed with a weapon which struck through stone walls at victims sleeping peacefully in their beds, it was small wonder that criminals everywhere hailed the new leader—and flocked in evil glee to his dark banner!
An invasion from Mars in 1935! Orson Welles did not do his famous radio broadcast until 1938.
“The Flame Master” is the eighteenth Spider novel and was originally published in March 1935. At the end of the last novel, “The Pain Emperor,” we saw Ronald Jackson, Wentworth’s aid/chauffeur, apparently giving his life guised as the Spider. NY City actually has a huge funeral honoring the Spider for all his deeds. At the beginning of this story, Wentworth has not appeared as the Spider for a month; thinking that the Spider is no more, the underworld has been invigorated. Now a new arch villain appears to bring together these criminals under his hegemony.
This head villain is Aronk Dong the Lion-Man (see cover picture), and he purports being from Mars, being a member of a race of beings descended from lions rather than apes. He is able to create lightning artificially in order to force his desires on others, being able to direct it to kill even when someone is hunkered inside otherwise seemingly safe buildings. Early on, Wentworth/Spider realize that the Martian connection is only a charade, but this does not relieve the tension in the plot or the fear-induced by the Lion-Man
Aronk starts by using his lightning to destroy banks so that he can rob them so that he use the money to fund his greater goal for world conquest. While his plan for this goal do not really get underway in this story, he hopes to destroy reservoirs and other infrastructure to terrorize people and governments to accede to his will.
The story becomes more complex than most Spider novels as an evil French guy enters the picture apparently wanting to steal the secret of man-made lightning so that his country can use it, targeting both the Spider and the Aronk to meet his end goal. The actual inventor of this artificial lightning also becomes heavily involved and targeted by the police as the perpetrator of the Lion-Man’s deeds. The Spider is captured more times in this story than perhaps any other.
Despite the dead toll being lower in this one, only in the hundreds versus the normal thousands or tens of thousands, all the bad guys are dead by the end, and peace has once again been restored.
This actually an excellent story… so it is a little surprising that there have been so few paper reprints of it. Perhaps it is because of the lesser death toll or the more complex story.