The Phantom: The Great Web of Spidera

Written by Lee Falk
Illustrated by Sy Barry

The Great Web of Spidera is a Phantom story from 1965. The tale starts with an oil geologist, named Eliot, and his pilot flying over the Bengali jungles when they encounter a severe storm and are blown off course. Flying low to spot landmarks, Elliot spies a lion trapped and struggling in a giant spider’s web. Due to the dense foliage, they cannot land, however, Elliot manages to take a photograph. When they are back in civilisation, Elliot takes the photo to a natural history museum. At the Museum Dr Kavaba, the director, explains that the only web spinners in the world are spiders and to make a web large enough to catch and hold an 800 pound lion, the spider would have to be as big as a human. Mmmmmm!

That night at the Explorers Club, Eliot brags about his find, but the other explorers are sceptical, suggesting his photo is just a trick of the light. The only way to Elliot can prove what he saw is to go back into the jungle. So he mounts an expedition to do just that. Accompanying him on the mission is Lady Priscilla Drew, a well-known explorer herself.

An amphibious aircraft lands on a River and drops Elliot and Lady Priscilla off. Then they head off into the jungle. Within no time our intrepid explorers stumbled into a giant web and are trapped.

Meanwhile the pilot of the amphibious craft, rather than return to civilisation, chooses to return to the river to wait for Elliot and Lady Priscilla. However as he tries to move the plane safely to shore the propeller is broken. Then the plane starts to drift along the river towards a raging waterfall. As the plane gets closer to the waterfall the pilot tries to jump free, but the door is jammed. Trapped, he goes over the edge of the waterfall in the plane.

Luckily for the pilot, The Phantom happens to be passing by, and leaping from Hero (his horse), dives into the raging, foaming, water at the foot of the waterfall. Swimming down, he pries open the door, and drags the pilot to safety.

Later, the pilot rambles incoherently about the expedition, and giant spiders. The Phantom does not know what to make of this. When the pilot has recovered, he explains the story of the giant spider web and Elliot and Lady Priscilla’s attempt to find it. The Phantom rides off on his horse to investigate and possibly assist.

The Phantom picks up the expedition’s trail and follows, and naturally enough, he too gets caught up in a gigantic web. Even the stout heart of the Phantom skips a beat when he sees a giant furry creature moving towards him through the undergrowth.

The Great Web of Spidera is everything a good Phantom adventure should be. All the cliches are intact. We have a doofus explorer – in over his head, a damsel in distress, and some unknown jungle horror for the Phantom to overcome. Is it a giant spider? To say more would constitute a spoiler, so I’ll refrain from outlining more of the plot. But the story contains cannibals, with large cooking pots, and skeleton gods – who must be appeased.

I guess by today’s graphic novel standards, The Phantom comics are a bit crude and simple. But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It is purely story telling from another age – when the world was a simpler place (or at least was portrayed that way in the media). But none-the-less, despite their limitations, the stories still excite and entertain – and that in its own way, is the highest recommendation.

October is the month of the Skeleton Suit! Or Skeletons, Skulls and Bones, and in a month long celebration, The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit is checking out the Skeletons in their closets.

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