Jerry Siegel co-created Superman. Everyone knows that. He and Shuster lost their jobs in the late-1940s following legal wranglings over the rights to the Man of Steel. Siegel eventually came back to DC in 1959 to pen further adventures of his signature creation, as well as tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes. A further attempt to regain the rights to Superman finally forced him out of DC, this time for good, in 1964.

At a loose end, Siegel sought work abroad, and ended up scripting stories for one of the weirdest characters ever created in British comics: The Spider.

Created by British comics writer Ted Cowan, the Spider was the self-styled ‘King of Crooks’. Dressed head to toe in a shiny black outfit, with gas canisters on his back, the pointy-eared criminal cut quite a dash. His weaponry enabled him to shower his foes with webs, or knock them out with gas. He seemingly had the ability to climb walls, but that was never terribly clear.

The first adventure, appearing in the weekly comic Lion in 1965, told the story of the Spider’s daring and successful attempt to break two accomplices out of a penitentiary (the series was set in the US, unusual for a British comic) to help him pull off a million dollar heist. One of his friends is a crooked professor who designs and builds the Spider’s impressive array of gadgets, including the unique Heli-car, which is a kind of cross between a helicopter and a hovercraft.

Siegel took over scripting from the third story, and instantly brought his decades of experience to the character. Things got decidedly wild under his sure hand, and the Spider himself soon had a change of heart and began fighting on the side of the angels.

The strip proved to be one of the most popular ever to appear in Lion, and ran until 1969. Jerry Siegel scripted the majority of the run. The art throughout was by the brilliant Reg Bunn, and his eerie stylings still impress today.

Titan Books have published King of Crooks, the first volume of a series reprinting the Spider’s adventures for a new audience. It’s a handsome tome and collects the first three stories in full, ie. the two Ted Cowan tales, and Siegel’s first. A Spider short story from the 1969 Lion Annual pads out the book.

I heartily recommend this book, both as a window onto a bygone age, but also as a showcase for an all-but forgotten aspect of Jerry Siegel’s career.