Art: Reg Bunn
Original Printing: Lion 08/02/1969 - 01/03/1969 [4 parts]
Reprints: Lion Annual 1976; Vulcan Annual 1977
When Jerry Siegel left Fleetway for Western Publishing, the character of the Spider was basically on borrowed time. A long-time Lion veteran, Ken Mennell (who had contributed three scripts for the character's Super Library appearances), was drafted onto the strip. His serial debut, "The Death-Master", was to be the penultimate adventure of the character's original run.
Mennell returns to a predictable riff, that of an assassin hired by gangsters (a collective of them, going by the name Crime-Lords Incorporated) to kill the Spider - this basic premise is almost identical to that of a Siegel serial, where another gangster syndicate, Crime Incorporated, hired the Exterminator for the same job. The similarities go still further - the Exterminator came as close as anyone else to defeating the Spider (who had to resort to forming an alliance with his pursuer), while the Death-Master also has him on the back foot for much of the serial.
The story might not be a dazzling feast of originality, but it does chug along nicely enough. There's a great fight-sequence between the Spider and the Death-Master's robot that takes up the second episode, and Mennell's dialogue is a little less clunky that Siegel's. What's really good, though, is that the Spider resorts to his wits more often than improbable devices to escape from the initial attack, then to beat the robot, and finally to beat the Death-Master himself.
On the downside, the Death-Master isn't up to the standard of Siegel's villains - he's basically an old bloke in a suit with a robot and a couple of simple weapons. Unlike the Exterminator, we don't really build up an idea of how dangerous he is, and thus he gives the Spider few worries. However, the script, while simple, is enjoyable, and harks back more to Ted Cowan's work than that of Siegel. Reg Bunn's art is a little inconsistent - the story starts off with some very nicely detailed frames, but by battle in the middle episodes, it's all acted out on very sparse backdrops, which is a shame. A good story, but it feels out of place and ordinary after the more unusual late sixties material.
Fantastic Spider - "The Death-Master"
Reprint version from the Vulcan Annual 1977 (basically minor edits to form a single flowing 11-page story.