The PopCult Comix Bookshelf
The Spider: Crime Unlimited
written by Jerry Siegel, Donne Avenell
art by Aldo Marculeta. Giorgio Trevisan
ISBN-13 : 978-1786184658
Last year I raved about a British comic book that revived a slew of 1960s Fleetway Comics characters. Among them was the criminal mastermind and anti-hero, The Spider.
The Spider was the most accomplished criminal in the world, to the point where he got bored hanging out with other criminal masterminds and started fighting crime alongside the police. Because he was the smartest man in the world, nobody every really trusted him, but when it came to foiling epic plots to dominate the Earth, he was the go-to savior of the planet.
As they say in the publisher’s blurb:
The Spider is the uncrowned king of the New York underworld, so elusive to the police that he even manages to taunt the Police Commissioner at his retirement party. But Professor Aldo Cummings, a famous but ill-tempered scientist, determined to stop the schemes of the Spider once and for all, invents a ray-machine which will eliminate the evil from a person’s personality. But a tragic miscalculation will turn Professor Cummings into the Professor of Power, and he will seek a more direct confrontation with the Spider.
The character is a bit sinister-looking. He had a large nose, pointed ears and a widow’s peak. That he usually wore a black bodysuit makes him bear an uncanny resemblance to the Golden Age depiction of Captain Marvel’s strongest foe, Black Adam. However he didn’t have that kind of superpowers. He was sort of like a Bond villain who would switch sides and help the good guys. It’s also worth noting that while The Spider’s adventures span the globe, he is based in New York City, which was a bit unusual for a British comic of the day.
This hardcover reprint volume collects two long adventures of The Spider from 1967, and there’s a lot of note here. The first story is written by none other than Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, who found himself begging for work after DC Comics (then National Periodical Publications) blacklisted him for trying to reclaim ownership of his creation. Somehow he found himself writing for the top publisher of comics in Britain, and his work here is among his best.
Although the pacing and structure of the comic book is very much in line with UK comics aimed at kids, the ideas at work here are more subtle and sophisticated than one might expect. The dialogue is state-of-the-art 1960’s spy/action jargon, but the plot of this story, which opens with The Spider robbing a retirement trophy from the police commissioner, veers into the morality of mind control as a professor attempts to create a ray that will turn evil people good, and that experiment backfires, turning the professor evil instead, while giving him super powers.
This may be the first story where The Spider turns good to fight a greater evil. Eventually the character became predominantly a good guy, but here he’s still clearly on the fence. It’s a great introduction to The Spider, and leaves the reader wanting more.
The art on the first story, “The Professor of Power” is by Aldo Marculeta, and it serves the story well, with large panels and an art style clearly in the school of European spy comics of the time. Both stories are printed in black and white, the way they were originally published.
The second story, written by Donne Avenell with art by Giorgio Trevisan, is not quite as impressive, but it’s still loads of fun, and establishes a few more bits of character development that are important to The Spider in later stories.
Neither of these stories has been reprinted before, and hardly any stories of The Spider have shown up in the US, so this is a real treat for the Anglophiles among us.
The Spider: Crime Unlimited is a great introduction to one of the more unusual British comic book characters of the 1960s. I highly recommend it for fans of the period, fans of the spy/crime genre or just anybody who likes good comics. You ought to be able to order it from your favorite comic book shop or bookseller, or through Amazon.
A PopCult Note: Marathon week continues on our sister internet radio station, The AIR. Tuesday is filled with episodes of Radio Free Charleston. At midnight, we switch over to Mel Larch’s Musical Theater showcase, Curtain Call. Check out the player elsewhere on this page.