King of Crooks
By Jerry Siegel, Ted Cowan & Reg Bunn (Titan Books)
REG BUNN (1905-1971) IS 2007 INDUCTEE INTO THE CCG HALL OF FAME
and a winner of a Comics Creators Guild Award for Outstanding Achievement.
I find myself in a genuine quandary here. When you set up to review something you need to always keep a weather eye on your critical criteria. The biggest danger when looking at comic collections is to make sure that the guy typing isn’t looking through the nostalgia-tinted spectacles of the excitable, uncritical scruffy little kid who adored and devoured the source material every week after – and often during – those long, dreary school days.
However, after thoroughly scrutinising myself, I can hand-on-heart, honestly say that not only are the adventures of the macabre and malevolent Spider as engrossing and enjoyable as I remember but also will provide the newest and most contemporary reader with a huge hit of superb artwork, compelling caper-style cops ‘n’ robbers fantasy and thrill-a-minute adventure. After all, the strip usually ran two pages per episode so a lot had to happen in pretty short order.
What’s it all about? The Spider is a mysterious super-scientist whose goal is to be the greatest criminal in the world. As conceived by Ted Cowan (who also created the much-revered Robot Archie strip – and kudos to Titan and Comic Historian Steve Holland for finally laying to rest the 40 year confusion that often gave that credit for the Spider’s creation to Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in the lavish historical section of this grand hardback album) he begins his public career by gathering a small team of crime specialists before attempting a massive gem-theft from a thinly veiled New York’s World Fair. It also introduces Gilmore and Trask, the two crack detectives cursed with the task of capturing the arachnid arch-villain.
The second adventure, “The Return of the Spider”, also scripted by Cowan, sets the tone for the rest of the strip’s run as the unbelievably colossal vanity of the Spider is assaulted by a pretender to his title. The Mirror Man is a super-criminal who uses optical illusions to carry out his crimes, and the Spider has to crush him to keep the number one most wanted spot – and to satisfy his own vanity. The pitifully outmatched Gilmore and Trask return to chase the Spider but settle for his defeated rival.
“Dr. Mysterioso” is the first adventure by Jerry Siegel, who was forced to look elsewhere for work after an infamous falling out with DC Comics over the rights to Superman. The aforementioned criminal scientist was another contender for the Spider’s crown and their extended battle is a retro/camp masterpiece of arcane dialogue, insane devices and rollercoaster antics that showed again and again that although crime does not pay, it certainly provides a huge amount of white-knuckle fun.
The book concludes with a short reprint from the 1969 Lion Annual, entitled “The Red Baron”. Whilst not up to the standards of the regular strip the accent on straight action provides a welcome change to the Machiavellian skulduggery and cliff-hanger narrative.
A major factor in the strip’s success and reason for the reverence with which it is held is the captivating, not to say downright creepy, artwork of William Reginald Bunn. His strongly hatched line-work is perfect for the towering establishing shots and chases, and nobody ever drew moodier webbing. Bunn was an absolute master of black and white art whose work in comics was much beloved. Once the industry found him he was never without work. He died on the job in 1971 and is still much missed.
The Spider is back and should find a home in every kid’s heart and mind, no matter how young they might be, or threaten to remain.
© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.