King of Crooks
Medium: comic
Year: 1965
Writer: Edward Cowan, Jerry Siegel
Artist: Reg Bunn
Format: 112 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 12 February 2021
This is a 2005 Titan collection of the Spider's first three comics serials from 1965-66. "Arguably the greatest villain in British comics," says Dave Gibbons on the cover and it's not a silly statement.
What's great about him is that he's a megalomaniac crook. British boys' adventure comics of this period were pretty shallow, but they could still be memorable if they had a distinctive hero. The Spider is that in spades. He says things like this:
"I need you to help me build an empire of crime... crime on a scale of which no man ever dreamed!"
"Anyone who dares to stand between me and my mission to become the mightiest of all criminals must DIE!"
He's not kidding, either. He's the protagonist of an adventure serial, with regular deathtraps, foes, blood-curdling escapes, etc. What's different is that he's trying to commit mega-robberies, kill cops (occasionally and unsuccessfully) and/or take down some other master criminal who's dared to question his status as the greatest mastermind of all time. This stands out. It's memorable. It's far more entertaining to see the Spider dodge a massive police operation than it would have been to see some blandly anonymous goodie-goodie escape similarly from baddies.
Early in his career, he was an outright villain protagonist. Later, he became semi-heroic (although equally ego-driven), having decided that defeating other criminals was fun.
This is great. Theoretically, his adventures are just adventure nonsense, but having a criminal hero in the Spider makes them a laugh. He's also pretty impressive. Not many criminal kingpins do all this hard work themselves, instead sending their henchmen to break into castles, fight bears, etc. (The Spider has henchmen too, mind you, although he's capable of spraying their faces with deforming plastic if they question his genius.)
Even his face is weird. Spock's ears before Star Trek existed, a nose you could use as an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean and significant doubt about whether he's even human. (This is inconsistent and varies by artist.)
The art's excellent. Black-and-white, but in UK newsstand format (like 2000 AD) and so detailed that you'll almost wish that this graphic novel had been printed larger than actual size. As for the writers, the character was created by Edward "Ted" Cowan, who also created Robot Archie (the Jungle Robot). He was soon inherited, though, by no other than Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, getting work in the UK after his final separation from DC Comics.
In summary, it's cool. In his first adventure, he blows up ships in a naval base as a diversion. It's no deeper than other UK boys' adventure comics of its vintage, but its anti-hero is so vibrant that that doesn't matter. Incidentally, the character's since been resurrected by Mark Millar for a 2000 AD Action Special in 1992, by Paul Grist for Jack Staff (2000+) and by Alan Moore and others for Albion in 2005. I'm tempted to go looking for more.