Graphic Novel/Comics Review

King of Crooks

(2005) Ted Cowan, Jerry Siegel and Reg Bunn, Titan Books, 14.99, hdbk, 112pp, ISBN 1-845-76000-X

I had been waiting all year for a volume entitled The Spider to turn up, knowing it was a welcome collection of the strip, The Spider, from British comic Lion, about this character called The Spider who debuted in the 26th June 1965 issue. He was a crook who battled other crooks, a so-called poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Not that he actually stopped being a crook himself, you understand. The collection was supposed to be out earlier this year and, when I initially asked about the dely, I was told that there was a problem with the printing plates. Fair enough, it was forty years later... But when the book did turn up it was mysteriously retitled King of Crooks and the title character's, that's The Spider's, name didn't appear anywhere on the dustjacket, not even the inside flaps. Well, you don't have to be a genius... but why have Titan been so secretive or, at the very least, uncommunicative about what happened? When I called them up for help in pinning the tail on the donkey my contact said, "I didn't have anything to do with that, but I think the problem was in America." I didn't actually expect her to have had anything to do with it but, as a publicist, she should have been told what is going on in order to be able to answer the questions inevitably asked by, well, people like me. And Dez (Comics International) Skinn who, it was reported to me, managed to collar a Titan editor at a convention to ask about this matter and was told (I paraphrase) "Don't really wan't to talk about it." As if the editor in question had been caught doing something embarrassing and slightly shameful. Perhaps chagrin at not having anticipated the problem... The problem being, of course, that there might be another character called The Spider and what with copyright and trademarks and what have you... Well, you get the picture. But why the secrecy? It's not like Titan did anything wrong. Most obvious, but completely wrong candidate would be Marvel Comics "protecting" Spider-Man - it's just that everybody hates Marvel for changing Marvelman to Miracleman and have had it in for them since. More likely would be the pulp character The Spider, originally from 1933-1943, who really seems the only viable candidate. Said character, who was actually very reminiscent of The Shadow, has been revamped and revived and brought out as a comic as recently as the late nineties, and I think the current copyright holder is still Argosy Communications, Inc. So maybe it was them. But nobodies saying. Peculiar, isn't it? Anyway, whatever it's called, this is a nice old strip from a fondly remembered British weekly from the mid-sixties on, sharing shelf-space with The Steel Claw (a volume of which is forthcoming), The Mighty Mytek and Robot Archie (many of whom will be gathered in the also forthcoming Albion plotted, but not scripted by, Alan Moore with covers, but no interior art by, Dave Gibbons... but I digress). The Spider after his initial two adventures, penned by creator Ted Cowan, was taken over by none other than Jerry (Superman) Siegel! Art was provided by Reg Bunn who could always be relied on to give a sinister edge to the pointed-eared 'King of Crooks' with his hi-tech web guns. The real trick, and a lot of the charm, of these old weekly serials was to include the cliff-hanger to get you salivating for the next installment, just like Saturday Morning Pictures' heroic serials. This will probably appeal more to the nostalgia crowd than to modern readers, but I am happy to recommend it to all, no matter what it's called...

Tony Chester

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