A blood-red mailed fist crashed into the shadowy dens of New York’s underworld, dangling the promise of vast loot for alliance, and a threat of stark horror for betrayal. The answer came swiftly in an orgy of killing and rapine—the Red Hand ruled all crimeland! Richard Wentworth, hastening to set the Spider’s might against the new terror, was trapped in a murder net with Nita van Sloan, branded a policeman’s slayer in the Red Hand’s grip! Only the Spider could hope to win through this criminal army to the devil-brain behind that fist. And the Spider must battle alone, against time—and a foe who coldly put a price on wholesale, ruthless slaughter!
“The Man Who Ruled in Hell” is the 46th Spider novel and was originally published in July 1937. It represents the return of Norvell Page after Emile C. Tepperman has substituted as the Spider author for the last eight issues. For a bit, Page will alternate writing duties with Wayne Rogers, initially every other issue in 1937 but with Rogers’ contributions dwindling and then ending in 1939. Page would be the sole author of the magazine in 1941–1943, assuming that Will Murray is correct about the author of the last published Spider, with Tepperman again providing relief for Page in 1940.
Page starts by eliminating Ben Laskar, a Tepperman addition. Laskar was the appointed contact for the Spider in the underworld; logically Laskar’s job would have been an extremely dangerous one since the underworld could use him to put pressure on the Spider. So, Page has the obvious excuse of the underworld ending in ending Laslar’s life.
The new Page addition is Blinky McQuade, another alter ego for Richard Wentworth and the Spider. Blinky is a safe cracker who had his eyes compromised in an explosion. He has his own shabby apartment in a seedier part of the city. He is the “eyes” of the Spider into the underworld. In this novel, Blinky’s part is as large as that of the Spider or Wentworth.
The Red Hand is the leader of organized crime in New York City having amalgamated all criminals under his banner, a theme that has often been used by Page. The Red Hand has an acid-wielding glove whose touch eats through the skin to the bone. He leave his “red hand” mark much as the Spider leaves his red Spider mark. The first recipient of the Red Hand is poor Laskar.
Using many of the same techniques displayed in earlier novels, the Spider, now in all three of his guises, takes on the new crook and disposes of him after a titanic battle… and yes, Nita is kidnapped once more. There is little in this novel that is new, except for Blinky and the red-hand mark, but it does represent Page back into form, the emotional Spider overcome super odds to bring home the victory.
Overall, I would rate this as an average Spider novel. Although if you have read these novels in order, the return of Page makes a spectacular impact on the reader. No more Tepperman’s generally good but duller Spider! Also, Page seemed to me to emotional exhausted in many of his novels before his departure. Now he seems invigorated once more.
As such, it is easy to recommend this novel.
One comment on the title. Page probably wanted the reader to think first of the Red Hand as the title character. However, as the story unfolds, the Spider starts to turn back Red Hand and eventually wins total victory to show that he is the true ruler of the underworld. He must go through “hell” once again… so the title also seems to characterize his journeys of hardship as he overcomes hell, not just in this story, but in all of Page’s additions, to show that he is its true ruler. Finally, the title can also refer to Page himself since he shows that he is the master of the Spider’s ride through hell.