There was no clue to the kidnapping of wealthy, powerful men and beautiful, talented women—until the Man Who Dealt in Death broke into Richard Wentworth’s stroll in the moonlight with the wanton wounding of his own lookout. From that stricken gangster Wentworth obtained the first hint of the devil-brain that was using science and surgery, death and torture and extortion, to enslave the city’s great. And Wentworth, better known as the Spider, answered the challenge of the Laboratory of the Lost—gambling life and more against weird dangers that no man had ever faced before!
“Satan’s Workshop” is the 42nd Spider novel and was originally published in March 1937.
In “The Mill Town Massacres,” it was noted that Tepperman oddly seems to be making the Spider a duplicate of The Shadow (or the Phantom Detective). Earlier in his stint as relief for Norvell Page, it was noted that Tepperman’s Spider was halfway between Page’s Spider and Gibson’s Shadow. As the exaggerated name of this novel suggests, Tepperman seems to return to the tone of his earlier novels, rather than his last one. The writing is clearly in his style, but his Spider is better oriented toward Page’s Spider.
The biggest surprise in the novel begins with the first word in the second paragraph of the story: “Apollo.” Apollo the dog has returned, somehow returning to life after having died in “The Laboratory of the Damned” because he ate tainted food. No explanation is given for this resurrection. He will appear again next issue before disappearing again (for a bit).
In addition to the return of Apollo, we have other changes as well. Ben Laskar and Mike Fogarty are introduced…Ben reminds us of Rutledge Mann, the Shadow’s investment banker (although Page will have Ben killed in the first issue of his return). Mike is a PI who does investigations for Wentworth; in many ways, he reminds me of Detective Joe Cardona.
Also, Wentworth has a new dwelling; he has built a new house near Central Park constructed more like a “fort” than a house.
The plot: Doctor Kersten is kidnapping the elite of NYC who have great abilities. He hangs them by the arms in his sanatorium for long periods of time, to punish them, but also to display them. He is running a flimflam where he sells the unique abilities of great people to those who are vile enough to want to have these abilities “transferred” to them and rich enough to afford the evil doctor’s price. He performs plastic surgery on those duped by his scheme so that they will look more like the person from whom abilities are being “transferred.”
In an interesting twist, Wentworth/Spider acts as a leading man in a Broadway production. He does this to protect the leading lady. When a couple of theater attenders attempt to murder her with machine guns, the Spider dumps the show’s costume in which he is clad, revealing himself in his Spider guise, guns blazing taking out the bad guys. A wonderful two-page drawing does a good job of displaying this action.
Despite a significant gaffe with Apollo, the story is very good… again, not Page’s style, less than average Page death tolls (although there is a lot of action and death), and with still some aspects of the Shadow integrated. However, the story is better plotted than most of Page’s novels. It is easy to recommend this one to a pulp fan willing to read a Spider tale not of Page’s writing.
If Tepperman thought that he was going to continue to “own” the Spider for more than another three months, this one might have been intended to be the story where he starts the transition of the Spider to being a Tepperman character.