TARANTULAMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Mort Weisinger (writer) and Harold Sharp (artist)
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In the modern American comic book industry, nobody but Marvel is likely to give a superhero a name that reminds readers of spiders, for fear of giving free publicity to their competitor's Spider-Man. But in the 1940s, there was no such market-dominating
spider-themed character, so other publishers had no qualms about using arachnid names. Thus, when Quality Comics (Blackhawk) named one of its early heroes The Spider, that didn't prevent Fox (The Blue Beetle) using the name Spider Queen, or Harry "A" Chesler (The Black Dwarf) calling a superhero Spider Woman (no relation). And DC Comics could call one of its inside-pages stars Tarantula, without fear of inadvertently promoting a competitor.
Tarantula was John Law (no relation), whose original interest in the costumed hero phenomenon was purely an intellectual one. He was researching them with the aim of writing a book on the subject. Eventually, he decided that to understand crime-fighting "mystery men" more fully, he would have to become one. He took his theme from a tarantula he kept as a pet. Accordingly, he outfitted himself with suction cups on his feet, so he could climb up walls like a spider. He also invented a gun-like device that would shoot a substance similar to spiderwebs. Thus equipped (and with the athletic abilities he already had), he sallied forth to battle crime and/or evil, revealing his secret only to his housekeeper, Olga.
His costume was yellow and purple, which may seem ususual for a guy who has no reason to want to stand out from surrounding objects. But it was the same one used by The Sandman after retiring his original gasmask look. A later retcon explained Tarantula had gotten it from the same source, Dian Belmont, whom he'd interviewed for his book because he'd identified her as a close Sandman associate.
Tarantula made his first appearance in Star Spangled Comics #1 (October, 1941). He gave an impression of having been made just as filler, the title itself being mostly a vehicle for The Star-Spangled Kid & Stripesy, who occupied the cover as well as the first and last interior stories. Tarantula's story in that issue was written by Mort Weisinger, later editor of DC's Superman line, who also co-created Aquaman, Johnny Quick and The Seven Soldiers of Victory. The artist was Harold Sharp, whose relatively sparse credtis also include having co-created Mr. Terrific over on the All-American side of DC's aisle. Sharp (sometimes spelled "Sharpe") stuck with Tarantula through most of his run.
Tarantula stayed in the Star Spangled back pages while Robotman, The Newsboy Legion and TNT & Dan the Dyna-Mite were added to the lineup, but was dropped after #19 (April, 1943. That left only the Kid himself from the original cast. His replacement was Liberrty Belle. He was never brought back, unless you count an occasional appearance in All-Star Squadron, and practically every DC-owned superhero of the '40s made at least a couple of those.