Story: Donne Avenell
Art: Giorgio Trevisan
Original Printing: Fleetway Super Library - Stupendous Series #4 1967

Having spent something like £25 on the decidedly underwhelming Fantastic Series #2, I'm not really sure why I parted with £27 for Stupendous Series #4. Maybe it was that I really, really like the Spider, and am really a completist underneath it all. Maybe it's the cute digest format. Maybe I just wanted to own a comic with the word 'Stupendous' in the title. Who knows? Thankfully, my foolish, feet-first purchase did yield better results this time round, with "Crime Unlimited".

For one, Jerry Siegel's not writing it. Nothing against Jerry, his weekly serial work for the character is excellent, but the quality (and density) of the script from "The Professor of Power" clearly showed he would be stretched a bit thin over both books. Instead, Donne Avenell takes over writing duties. This was probably scripted ahead of the weekly adventure "The Spider versus the Exterminator", which saw the criminal turn crime fighter in the final episode, as the first page is a simple explanation that this story is from his days on the other side of the law. Art duties again fall to one of the bevy of Italians subcontracted by Fleetway, with Giorgio Trevisan getting the gig. He's much better than the unimpressive Aldo Marculetta, with much fewer corners cut in terms of backgrounds - his framing is also a lot better, so when we do have a frame taking place on a plain white backdrop, we at least have the frame filled by larger renderings of characters. His work is angular, and reminds me a little of Rick Leonardi's Uncanny X-Men stuff. It's not as sharp and striking as Reg Bunn's, sadly, largely because the inks are very heavy, making everyone look wrinkled at times.

The plot is pretty straightforward, and bluntly fails to carry the whole book. It's the usual set-up - another criminal with unusual resources tries to muscle in on the Spider's self-ordained territory. This time it's businessman Mr. Mass, who's invented a magnet that can attract a wide variety of substances, such as gold and jewels. Leaving aside both the scientific and narrative implausibility of this (early scenes show necklaces floating away from society ladies' necks - surely, if you could get a jewellery magnet to work, it'd just tear them off in a straight line?), it's rather good fun in a sharp first chapter when The Spider hitches a lift to Mass' ship in a gold-plated car, and sets the magnet to 'uranium', meaning the thing's sunk by a nuclear missile…

The second chapter, featuring the Spider hunting down the escaped Mass, is also great fun, even if Mass' ability to clone himself leads to a wince-inducing pun from Roy Ordini. It's worth mentioning at this point that Bob Gilmore and Pete Trask are back on board, but barely, as they don't really do much beyond get outwitted at regular intervals. Even the duo of "ace detectives" seem to realise they're pretty rubbish by this point… The third chapter sees things drag a little, as Mass prepares to attack New York, first using an unspecified gas to make everyone act like kids. This is a pretty irritating sequence, which makes it grate more than diamond magnets and gold-plated cars. There is a bit of fun to be had, though, as the Spider single-handedly stops Mass' attempts to loot the chaotic city, largely out of spite to protect his reputation as the King of Crime.

The conclusion is a little overlong as well, largely being a confrontation between the Spider and Mass, in which the latter resorts to an array of devices to prevent his defeat, ultimately unsuccessfully. It is redeemed a little by The Spider's impeccable cool when the law arrive with a captive Ordini and Pelham, and the trio still manage to escape from the bumbling detectives, who again seem to admit than a master-criminal is better at policing than they are… Overall, it's quite a fun read. Hardly an essential story, especially considering the ~£30 price-bracket, but certainly worth a look for Spider devotees. It certainly went a long way to restoring my faith in the digest series' ability to tell respectable stories, and it feels a lot less cheap and disposable than "The Professor of Power". "Crime Unlimited" is far from perfect, but at least some real effort's gone into it.