Interview: Writer David Liss on Bringing ‘The Spider’ To Dynamite

Armed with a pair of twin pistols and a massive fortune, war hero and billionaire Richard Wentworth, who goes by the nom de crime fighting “The Spider” returns from the pulp ether thanks to Dynamite with the debut of The Spider #1. Hitting shelves in May, the book features the art of Colton Worley (Complete Dracula) with scripts by Black Panther: The Man Without Fear writer David Liss. Liss, who characterizes the Spider as “one of the greatest pulp characters of all time” in a recent e-mail exchange, will bring the gun-toting hero into the 21st century in the new century. In our conversation, Liss articulates how the character has evolved in his new setting, the insanity of his fictional New York (complete with sinister mass hypnosis and city-wide destruction), and what makes the new series work alongside the rest of Dynamite’s new pulp lineup.

MTV Geek: So why the Spider? Why now?

David Liss: The Spider is one of the greatest pulp characters of all time, one who is certainly far more influential than is generally recognized, so it always seems like a good time for The Spider. Plus, with Dynamite putting together such a first-tier list of pulp titles, The Spider fits in perfectly.

Geek: He shares some similarities with other “mystery men” from that era like the Shadow, for instance. What sets the Spider apart?

Liss: There are certainly similarities to The Shadow, but the Spider is most definitely an original creation. Unlike the Shadow, he doesn’t possess any kind of telepathic powers. He’s simply an extraordinary man who recognizes he has the means and the skills and the determination to stand against terrible forces, and knowing that he can, he feels that he must. One of the things that characterized the Spider pulps was insane, over-the-top proto-comic-book villains, and the stories often boil down to the Spider standing against evil and destruction on a massive scale. He’s also, in my opinion, a much more emotional character than the Shadow. He feels the suffering of others deeply, and his own personal life is basically destroyed because of his commitment to fighting crime. As a character, he’s deep and interesting and complex.

Geek: In your conversations with Dynamite, do you have a sense of what appeals to them about some of these heroes from bygone eras like the Green Hornet or the Shadow? What about for yourself?

Liss: When we’ve talked about the Spider, the guys at Dyanamite and I agreed that the Spider is a great character and a great fit for comics, though we didn’t really dissect why. For me, the Spider—like so many of the pulp characters—gets at a very primal kind of story that works so well in pulps and comics alike—a guy with a small network of helpers who stands against impossible odds and is forced to do some totally bad-ass things in order to make things right.

Geek: Tell us about your take on the character.

Liss: The Spider is a guy who sees what’s right and what’s wrong about as clearly and accurately as anyone can, and he acts on that knowledge. As a result, he does some fairly over-the-top things: he has no problem killing bad guys, and in order to spread a healthy amount of terror, he brands their foreheads with his emblem. I love how in his quest for justice he comes close to crossing the sanity line himself, but he always hangs on.

Geek: What about his street identity, industrialist Richard Wentworth?

Liss: In the pulps, Wentworth was somethigng of a wealthy socialite, and I’ve tried to keep much of that intact, though what it means to be a wealthy man today is different than it was in the 1930s. The culture of wealth has changed, and the culture of cool has changed. Like the original version, our Wentworth is a guy who feels he needs to dedicate his resources to protecting the innocent. His decisions keep him from being with the woman he loves, but it also brings into his orbit loyal friends who will stand with him. Wentworth is absolutely dedicated, but that kind of dedication comes with a price.

Geek: The solicitation has the line, “How far will a sane man go to restore order to an insane world?” Could you elaborate on that—how’s the world gone insane?

Liss: Like I mentioned above, one of the things that characterized the Spider pulps was destruction on a massive scale—whole city blocks being destroyed, thousands killed or hypnotized or enslaved or turned into rat monsters or what have out. The world of the Spider is really a world that teeters over the abyss. In our version we’ve taken contemporary New York and inserted that kind of danger into it. Insane people have the upper hand, so it’s up to the Spider to stand up to them.

Geek: What were some major changes to the character bringing him into the present day?

Liss: For the Spider’s/Wentworth’s personality, his friends and his relationships, I wanted to find contemporary equivalents for what made all of those things distinctive in the 1930s. For example, when Wentworth felt the pain of human suffering in the pulps, he would often work out his frustrations by playing his Stradivarius. That just doesn’t work today. Instead, I gave him more contemporary outlets for his unhappiness. The original Wentworth could not marry his beloved Nita van Sloan because he didn’t want to risk making her a widow. That felt too patriarchal and old school to me, so the logical choice was to have Nita be married to someone else. The original Spider was assisted by Wentwroth’s manservant Ram Singh, who was something of a stereotype. I kept Singh in the story, but made him more of a real character than a cookie cutter character type.

Geek: Tell us about working with artist Colton Worley. What kinds of conversations were you having about the look of the character and design of his world?

Liss: We both wanted the city to have a contemporary and retro feel simultaneously. This is contemporary New York, but we still wanted the look to invoke the era of the pulps, and I feel Colton has nailed it. His art is moody and evocative, but also incredibly detailed and precise. This is an amazing-looking book.

The Spider will be available in May.