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Spider Widow (Quality Comics) splash page

Spider Widow


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game
  • Another quite weird and obscure 1940s character, who may turn out to be useful to populate the history of your campaign.
  • This entry sticks with the initial concepts of the series -1940s costumed hero fare with a gimmick or two. In later episodes the gimmick (the spiders) disappears for no reason, and the stories start unconvincingly meandering into other Genre, such as romantic comedy, short weird tale with a twist, and “oh oh aren’t women adorable little childlike pets – good thing there are men around to run things” gender comedy from the Greatest Generation. I’ve just assumed that readers would be more interested in the costumed heroine thing.
  • I couldn’t read every single relevant appearance – just the vast majority.

Miss Dianne Grayton, beautiful and athletic, wages a private war against crime and Unamerican activities, by transforming herself from a wealthy debutante into the Spider Widow, the most horrible dispenser of justice of all times !


Background

  • Real Name: Dianne Grayton
  • Other Aliases: The Grandmother of Terror (at least in the captions)
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: John B. Keller (uncle)
  • Group Affiliation: Partner of the Raven
  • Base Of Operations: Grayton Estate, apparently in the New York State
  • Height: 5’7” Weight: 130 lbs
  • Eyes: Grey Hair: Black. No wait, brown. No, blonde. Oh well. Also red at one point.


Powers and Abilities

The Spider Widow is somewhat athletic (in particular she’s a excellent equestrienne and a good fencer) and has excellent reflexes. She is quite good at improvising under pressure and finding unorthodox solutions that somehow work – having decent HPs for a minor, low-powered character.

She also has a certain presence, though cannot usually use that in a standard social context, being a woman in the 1940s.

The Spider Widow can direct the actions of a number of spiders – apparently psychically, since she doesn’t even have to talk or gesture to send them crawl on somebody. There never was a hint of an explication about that – all we know is that her gardener showed her the black widows.

Perhaps the gardener taught her Strange and Mysterious Secrets from the Orient, as was the style of the day. Or perhaps she was just born with it. In DC Heroes terms, the Pet approach was chosen since it is thematically neutral.

The Spider Widow (Dianne Grayton) splash page

It is possible that she can influence other animals, as she once stared down a lion and is a horse-riding enthusiast. Pheromone-like powers like those of the first Spider-Woman are also a possibility, and would explain her absurd feud with Phantom Lady.

Grayton always carries her costume with her. In later stories she stops carrying or using the spiders and only has the mask and wig of the Spider Widow in her purse.


History

Miss Grayton was a rich, independent and athletic young woman. In 1942, with the war raging on and the very active threat posed by criminals and saboteurs on the US home front (at least on DC Earth), she decided that enough was enough and that she had to fight crime and injustice.

Right at that point, two trigger men of crime boss Jake Lardo ended up on Grayton Estate. Though they had successfully sabotaged a bridge to send a train crashing down a ravine, they had then run out of gas. Forcing the Graytons’s chauffeur to fill their tank up at gunpoint, they did not notice that Dianne grabbed a few things and sneaked into the trunk of their car.

After they drove back to their base, Grayton got out of the trunk and burst in with… a hag mask and wig and some pet spiders. When she left, there was nothing but corpses and a note for the police, reading “Compliments of the Spider Widow !”.

The Spider Widow (Dianne Grayton) paddling in a canoe

The Spider Widow continued to strike and have adventures, weaving a web of justice to trap the insects of corruption (or so we’re told). She tangled with some criminals (including crooked circus performers, of course, since this is the 1940s) and a host of spies and agents from various Axis countries.

Her successes against Axis spies were such that she was targeted for elimination and drawn into a trap. However another masked crimefighter, the Raven, intervened and together they busted up the spies ring and their U-Boat contact. Thanks to the Raven, the Widow was not sent to Europe to be handed over to the Abwehr. In the heat of the moment they shared a romantic interlude, though the darkness prevented them from seeing each other’s unmasked face.

The Spider Widow and the Raven soon teamed up again when a freak coincidence resulted in both of them being on a train full of US military officers that was stopped by fifth columnists. Both heroes escaped and helped the Army in locating the kidnappers’ hideout. Another improbable coincidence (no, really) resulted in the two costumed heroes busting a Japanese spies installation.

Coincidences continued as the pair repeatedly teamed up to foil spies, saboteurs and traitors ; eventually they became lovers and put in place procedures to contact each other. It is mentioned in one story that Grayton was or became an actress during that general era. She also busied herself by raising money for orphanages, presumably among other charitable actions.

The Spider Widow (Dianne Grayton) and the Raven

During an… unusual case to settle an inheritance, the Widow finally learned the Raven’s name – Tony Grey. He learned her actual identity in the same general time frame. Grayton also discovered that Grey occasionally associated with Ms. Sandra Knight, secretly the Phantom Lady.

Initially there was obvious tension since Grayton thought Knight was romantically interested in the Raven, and the two heroines did not get along at all. Their mutual cattiness and hostility even resulted in the escape of a criminal they and the Raven were trying to arrest as they were foiling a conspiracy against Ms. Knight’s father, a senator.

A case where the Raven arranged for the Spider-Widow to rescue the Phantom Lady led to a smoother working relationship for a time, but a level of cattiness and feuding soon resumed.

Some local criminals had figured that this might be an angle to take out the crime fighters, however, and used two forged documents to escalate the feud and drive the two into a fencing duel. The criminals also ensured that the Raven would be present to judge the duel.

They laid an ambush, starting by shooting the Raven as they assumed that he was the most dangerous crime-fighter on the scene. Despite their tactical advantage, the Raven’s wounds and the low-key feud between the two women, the gangsters were defeated and the Raven hospitalised, making a quick recovery.

There were not further appearances of the Spider Widow.


Description

See illustrations.


Personality

Grayton is a steel-tempered, no-nonsense, patriotic take-charge woman. She has little time for corruption, superstition, the Axis and whatever threatens her version of the American Way of Life. Like many 1940s heroes, her adventures tend to either be reacting to stuff she reads in the paper, or coincidentally stumbling upon the plot.

She particularly likes the outdoors and horse-riding. Dianne is irrationally jealous of other women spending time with the Raven.


Quotes

“These men must be responsible for that train wreck ! This is my chance to do something ! All I need is this rubber mask and those pets the gardener showed me !”

“He ! Hee ! They call me the Spider Widow ! How do you like my pets ? He ! He !”

Spider-Widow: “They call me the Spider Widow ! Look at your hands, Mr. Darblin !”
Evil clown: “Wha… SPIDERS !!”

“A secret opening ! Maybe I can get out of here yet !”

“Don’t reach for that heater – because I’m cooling you off !”


DC Universe History

As a Quality Comics character, the Widow became a DCU character – for instance she associated with the Phantom Lady, who has a well-known presence and legacy in the DCU. At the very least, she existed in the pre-Crisis DCU, and there’s no reason to suppose that she wasn’t a minor post-Crisis character.

Like this profile, a post-Crisis version of the character would likely have stayed much closer to its roots as a crime-fighter with gimmicks.

The Spider Widow (Dianne Grayton) in her civvies on the phone

It is possible that obscure modern-day villain the Prairie Witch was inspired by he Spider-Widow.

Another possible tie, that one meant to explain her powers, would be that the Widow was trained by Dr. Roy Tam, one of the allies of the Shadow. This hypothesis explains where she gained her abilities (perhaps the spiders are purely an illusion, and the Widow sort of cloud men’s mind) and ties her with another famous pulp crimefighters. Maybe Grayton was an agent of the Shadow all along ! That would be cool.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

The Spider Widow, Grandmother of Terror !

Dex: 04 Str: 02 Bod: 04 Motivation: Justice
Int: 05 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Idle rich miss
Inf: 05 Aur: 04 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 008
Init: 016 HP: 030

Skills:
Acrobatics (Dodging): 06, Animals handling (Horses): 05, Animals handling (Spiders): 06, Artist (Actress): 04, Charisma (Intimidation): 05, Thief (Stealth): 05, Weaponry (Fencing weapons)*: 04

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • No, Animals handling (Spiders) doesn’t have a Ride Subskill, you wisenheimers. Well, as far as we can tell.
  • Charisma (Intimidation) can be applied toward animals without any penalty

Advantages:
Attractive (not useable whilst in disguise), Headquarters (Expansive – the Grayton Estate), Lightning Reflexes, Pets (see below), Schtick (Group Control)

Connections:
High Society (Low), the Raven (High), Phantom Lady (Low)

Drawbacks:
Secret ID


Spiderbait

The Spider Widow’s Pets are unusual – she has a swarm of widder spiders… hidden in her witch costume. She has an exceptional rapport with those – she can fling them for several meters and they will land and bite, and if somebody tries to Grapple the Widow all spiders still in her costume will surge out and attack.

From the distinctive markings, these are black widow spiders (Latrodectus genus). Of course, black widow spiders are known for their very potent neurotoxin.

In practice, the spiders don’t quite need stats. What they actually do is the equivalent of Broadcast Empath: 04, limited to inducing panic – most people will react hysterically when extremely venomous and rather large spiders emerge from the Spider Widow’s clothing.

Reactions have included people jumping into water (even if they didn’t know how to swim !) or knocking themselves unconscious by running away in a panic. People who are actually arachnophobic will receive large penalties to their OV/RV, and it is worthwhile to note that this is the most common phobia around.

The potency of the venomous bite varies according to the number of spiders biting – a single one would be Poison touch: 04, a full swarm could reach 08. Of course, targets with one or more AP of applicable Skin Armor, a RV above 07, in sealed clothing, etc. will not be affected by the bites in the first place.

The toxin acts very quickly, potentially resulting in paralysis and eventual death (in game terms, the paralysis is caused by the person’s BODY being brought to zero by the Poison touch’s first attack roll).

The spiders do not get used past the first few stories, but the schtick is memorable enough to have the Spider Widow use them aplenty in your games, even if that doesn’t quite match the later material.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Quality comics in the early 1940s (mostly in Feature Comics) by Frank Borth

Helper(s): Darci, Peter Piispanen

Writeup completed on the 11th of April, 2010.

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