Art: Aldo Marculetta
Original Printing: Fleetway Super Library - Fantastic Series #2 (1967)
Fleetway had been making Super Library comics, primarily war-themed, for years, and as the Spider took off, he was seconded into their new Fantastic Series library line, which would mean thirteen 132-page digest-sized epics from early 1967 to early 1968. For just the opening Spider feature, Fleetway managed to get Jerry Siegel in on the act, although Reg Bunn's packed schedule meant Aldo Marculetta took over the art. 132 pages sounds like a lot, but many of these have only one or two frames on the digest-sized pages - taking an average of 8 frames per page in the serialisations, you can see that this really is quite a short story - it reads quicker than the first three serials, at least.
The tight schedule means the art is rather sparse - Marculetta seems very capable, with his work nice and dynamic, and he captures the Spider's body language well, but the backgrounds tend to be very Spartan, sometimes being no more than a bit of crosshatching. It's all understandable, and you can tell Marculetta has talent, but the end product just isn't superb. The plot itself is a little generic. Professor Aldo Cummings is experimenting with a machine designed to pacify living beings, but in a scene that launched a hundred 'Steel Claw' stories (well, okay, the first two...), the machine goes wrong and turns him into an evil monster. In fact, it is very similar to the Claw's second adventure, "Dr. Deutz", right down to a similar-looking villain. Siegel produces some diabolical dialogue, my favourite line being the Professor's rationalisation of dressing like a supervillain with the immortal line "This costume will dramatise the difference between myself and ordinary humans!"... Sure, mate, whatever you need to tell yourself...
There are also a few stock scenes killing time at the start - the ever-reliable 'Ordini mouths off and gets punished' routine, most notably. However, where there is a bit of a change is that the Spider is regularly outflanked by the Professor - only the Exterminator ever had him this worried, and it's a different angle. Though, while he regularly loses, it's great that what gets him down is being shown up, rather than fear of physical harm - he's not worried that the Professor could probably kill him, but that he chooses to humiliate him publicly instead, even briefly helping the police imprison him. This leads to one of those sequences that seems part-genius, part-nonsense, as the Spider meditates inside his cell, managing to activate a machine at his headquarters with the power of his mind...
The Spider is on his back foot for the whole of the first two chapters (not simply biding his time, as he was against the Mirror Man). The confrontation between the two fizzles a little, and Siegel then randomly hurls Mole-Man into the mix. Whoops, sorry, not Mole-Man, but the warriors of Zarzz, who take up all of two pages. The Professor then forms an alliance with a group of Trans-dimensional beings, the Entitoids, who then also promptly get defeated by the Spider (but only after making people act like Bizarros... Siegel wasn't exactly stretching himself for originality on this one...). The word here is padding, and it leads to a rather underwhelming conclusion, as the Professor is whisked away by another Trans-dimensional race, the Mutantorgs, because he looks like them, and they free the Spider out of gratitude... Riiiight. Siegel clearly struggles with such an unusual narrative format, and the second half, as you can see, is a misguided, disorganised mess. A failure, then, but one with a certain amount of hokey charm to it.
|Fantastic Series #2 - The Spider in "The Professor of Power"|