Art: Reg Bunn
Original Printing: Lion Annual 1969
Reprints: King of Crooks 2005
This was the first Spider strip I ever read, in 2002 fresh from buying the 1969 Lion Annual (a complicated purchase, having come via the Captain Britain "Jasper's Warp" TPB and International Hero ), and it didn't disappoint. The plot is, like all good Spider, ever so slightly outlandish, but believable on its' own terms. In this case, a Luftwaffe reject and his airship just appear, hover over New York and threaten to lay waste to the place if their demands aren't met. However, New York is the Spider's patch, and he sets out to protect his reputation, reasoning the world will fear him less if the Red Baron scores a win at his doorstep.
Truth be told, the Red Baron isn't a terrific villain - who exactly he is isn't something that's made clear, and beyond his airship he isn't much of a threat. Where he does work well is as a foil for the Spider - the Baron's a bit thick, which allows the Spider to run through his full repertoire of villain-humiliating tricks. There's never a moment you're unsure of who will be the victor. Of course, the fun is in watching the Spider swiftly dismantle the threat, without even having to drop his wonderfully smug attitude. Personally, I find the character all the more entertaining and complex when he's reformed, as there has to be a better excuse for his actions than a gold or diamonds heist, and the writers (like all the annual stories, this carries no credit, though Reg Bunn contributes beautifully dynamic, detailed pencils) usually rose to the challenge, without straining credibility.
The pace is even more frantic than the breathless weekly serial pages, due to the need to cram set-up, action and wrap-up into eight pages, meaning a page or so, but this means a sharp, centred plot, rather than a need for various diversions along the way - also making the Spider look incredibly competent, which fits the character like a glove. Enemy pops up, tries to be a big time Charlie on the Spider's patch, enemy gets taken apart swiftly by the Spider. Excellent. The result is a superb primer for the Spider, including a bit of excitement, a bit of bizarreness (who exactly is the Red Baron? Some mad leftover Nazi, or someone with an odd taste for military surplus uniforms?), a bit of pulp, a bit of the gadgetry, all topped off with the trademark loftiness of the Spider himself.