The Spider: The City That Paid to Die! (The Black Police Trilogy Volume 1): written by Norvell Page under the pseudonym Grant Stockbridge (1938): Pulp-action-hero The Spider’s crime-fighting disguise was so bizarre that it was only depicted on two of the covers of his 1930’s and 1940’s magazine. Basically, he dressed up to look like a hideous vampire. Most of the time, the cover artists depicted him as a generic masked crime-fighter, similar to The Phantom and a legion of others.
The Spider’s adventures were no worse than the second-most apocalyptic pulp-hero sagas in history (Operator 5 may have been moreso, but it was set in a vague near-future America under siege by a host of foreign powers both real and imagined, which is to say both the Japanese military and The Purple Emperor laid waste to North America). The death toll was often in the millions, with New York often being depopulated in every issue by building-destroying death rays, plague-carrying vampire bats, and endless armies of criminals, madmen, and enemy fifth-columnists.
The City That Paid to Die! is the first part of what’s now known as the Black Police Trilogy. In this first novel, fascist criminal forces basically trick New York’s population into voting for their political proxies. That done, the forces of evil — led by a mysterious Master — enact legislation that allows them to terrorize and enslave the population of New York State. Even the federal government is helpless, we’re told, because everything is legal and above-board!
Enter Richard Wentworth, The Spider, unmasked and forced to fight with his secret identity in shreds, his property and weapons seized, his friends and allies in perpetual mortal danger. But his ties to the benevolent inhabitants of Chinatown allow him to escape New York City just ahead of the forces of The Black Police (their uniform colours, not a racial bit, by the way).
In the wilderness of upstate New York, the Spider must build an army from those he’s rescued from the murderous clutches of the New New York Order. But the Black Police number 100,000 or more dangerous criminals made legal by the machinations of their Master. Can the Spider prevail? Can he even survive? Two more novels tell the story. Recommended.