Graphic Novel Reviews

The King of Crooks

(2005) Jerry Siegel, Ted Cowan and Reg Bunn, Titan, 14.99 / US$19.95, hrdbk, pp unnumbered, ISBN 1-845-76000-X

OK. You have heard of the comic character 'Spiderman' that throws webs, well back in 1965 there was the British Spider that appeared in the comic Lion. It came hot on the heels of the US 'Spiderman' character that first saw light of day a couple of years earlier in 1963. This point is worth emphasising as King of Crooks advance publicity, and indeed the inside cover page, reveals that this collection's original title was to be The Spider: King of Crooks. This begs the question as to why publishers Titan made the change dropping the character's name? 'Spider' is not the same as 'Spiderman' so copyright confusion here (should this have been the motive?) does not apply either in practicality or legality... (As a former academic book publisher I know a little about copyright law.) Tony in his review gives you some other background on what may have been going on. This review concentrates more on the character and the adventures collected in this volume.

The 'Spider' himself is an odd looking guy. His being thin and wearing a form-hugging, black cat suit is nothing compared to his decidedly Spock-like ears and swept-back black hair. He definitely was not normal. Was he a mutant? (or Vulcan?) His origins are never explained. Unlike the US Spiderman, the Spider had no super powers as such but, similar to Batman, had hi-tech gadgets to help him out. These included a web gun and a peculiar helicopter (helicar).

He first appears in an adventure in which he gathers a couple of accomplices to help him achieve his ambition to become the King of the Underworld. He even has some of the regal trappings, which include a Scottish castle he had transported to the US stone by stone. This ambition is not only big one he endeavours to realise with a certain ruthlessness, demanding strict and unswerving loyalty from his accomplices. It also brings him up against other master crooks that are themselves almost suitable to appear in a James Bond film. One criminal rival, operating from a huge base, uses technology to create illusions that foil the police and, initially, the Spider. All the while the police are after him, especially two detectives: Bob Gilmore and Pete Trask. These two are willing to go to some lengths to get the Spider including to dress up as the Spider to play to his vanity. And so at one stage we have a Spider vs. Spider battle.

Though the adventures were originally written for 10-13 year olds, they are sufficiently dark to be enjoyed by a slightly older readership of genre buffs. Indeed, this Spider volume is ideal for collectors and features both an introduction to the character, as well as its creators, and has a thorough bibliography of Spider appearances. A must for anyone into the history of SF in British comics, not to mention those of a certain age wishing a nostalgia trip. Gratitude needs to go to Titan for a very welcome rerun the best part of half a century on. Pity though they had not stuck with the original title.

By the way, Alan Moore has just resurrected The Spider (along with other old cult British comic characters, The Steel Claw and Robot Archie) in the short-run comic series Albion. This itself will probably be compiled into a graphic novel sometime in 2007/8.

Jonathan Cowie

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