Amateur criminologist Richard Wentworth, formerly the masked vigilante, The Spider, brings his former alter ego out of retirement for 15 action-packed chapters to help his old friend, police commissioner Kirk (Kirkpatrick in the pulp novels), battle a dangerous, power-obsessed maniac called The Gargoyle. This mysterious crime lord and his henchmen threaten the world with acts of sabotage and wholesale murder in an effort to wreck the U. S. national defense.
Columbia Pictures used their original serial The Spider's Web as the basic template for many of its early serials: the daring hero and his assistants adopt disguises to battle an exotic, secretive villain and his lawless gang. In The Spider Returns, The Gargoyle wears robes which would not look out of place being worn by Flash Gordon's longtime nemesis Ming the Merciless.
Both serials feature a dramatic wardrobe enhancement to the Spider's original magazine appearance: his simple black cape and head mask are over-printed with a white spider's web pattern and then matched with his usual plain black fedora. This striking addition gave the silver screen Spider an appearance more like that of a traditional superhero, like other pulp and comics heroes being adapted for the era's movie serials; it also made the serial Spider look less like the very popular Street and Smith pulp hero The Shadow, which also had been produced by Columbia and starred Victor Jory.
James W. Horne, who had co-directed the first Spider serial, was in complete charge of the sequel. By this time, Horne was filling his serials with tongue-in-cheek melodramatics, ludicrous fight scenes (in which the hero fights six or more men, and wins), as well as ridiculous-looking machines. For this reason, action fans often dismissed The Spider Returns as an inferior serial; but others consider it one of Horne's best, and a worthy sequel. While The Spider does take on half-a-dozen henchmen at a time, he doesn't always come off the clear winner. Horne keeps the action fairly straight until the last chapter, when he inserts some obvious humor (two henchmen, exhausted from their fist-fight, haphazardly swing at each other and then collapse).
The action-filled screenplay employs a typical serial formula of fist-fights, gun battles, explosions, and car chases, not forgetting secret weapons, death traps, and hairbreadth escapes as The Gargoyle tries to steal some top secret plans. The Spider serials are unique in that The Spider is also sought by the police with the same vigor that he is sought by criminals. The one real difference between this and the first serial is the police know Wentworth goes undercover at times in disguise as petty criminal Blinky McQuade; they work with him following the leads he uncovers as McQuade.
Dave O'Brien, who had performed The Spider's acrobatic stunts in The Spider's Web, is now a full-fledged second lead playing the role of Wentworth's assistant. This appearance led to a starring role in Columbia's later serial, Captain Midnight. Only three of the main participants in The Spider's Web (Warren Hull, Kenne Duncan, and Dave O'Brien) are on hand for this sequel.Chuck Hamilton
Dale Van Sickel
Although the serial was not released in the UK, a feature version of about 80 minutes running time did appear there in 1943.