REVIEW: The Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Marvel Comics has been in an interesting place recently. The big driving force has been, and still is, the event comic.
Marvel Comics has been in an interesting place recently. The big driving force has been, and still is, the event comic. Giant summer blockbuster world changing comics that bring in the whole universe and spawn a ton of tie-in books. But off to the side there is another growing trend that you might not be aware of if you’re not tapped in. Creator driven solo titles that are more character focused. Books like Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Hawkeye. These are the kind of books I would push someone looking to get into comics towards. Because a) they’re great and have interesting artists on them, and b) they’re low cost to entry. These are books where the creative teams are just being allowed to do their thing.
Why did this happen? Well the short answer is Hawkeye. Most comics lose about half their readers after issue 1. Early attrition is generally high, which is why relaunching has become such a big part of the industry. But Hawkeye bucked that by sheer force of awesomeness, gaining readers over the course of its initial issues. Word of mouth was so deservedly positive, it was a huge win for critics and readers. And its success has allowed and encouraged to take more chances and launch more characters focused books, in a market where solo titles about not-Batman had been struggling for a long time.
The other big trend setter in recent years is Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man. Replacing Peter Parker with Doc Ock for an extended period of time could have been a risk, but it was executed so well it really wasn’t. And while Slott and Marvel had to keep on the mask and act like Peter Parker was dead forever, it was clear that they knew how he was going to come back even before the killed him. From issue one Peter Parker is there waiting in the wing for this story to come to its conclusion. That’s the key. Superior Spider-Man is a story about a villain that has a clear ending from jump point. Comics have a reputation for just being an endless string of events, one tied to the next, and while that’s true to an extent, the opportunity is there for creators to tell complete stories. It just has to be given to them.
Even though Superior Spider-Man is about a villain trying to be a better hero, Doc Ock is still a villain. He goes about his business like a super villain, he even gets henchmen. But he still works as the main character despite this. Marvel clearly took notice of how well this worked (and how well the book sold). So along with those character focused hero books we also got a bunch of character focused villain books. Magneto, Loki, and what I’m here to talk about: The Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
There’s an obvious irony to the Superior monicker that Spider-Ock carries and that spills over into this book too. All the villains in this story come off as kind of pathetic. We follow the new Sinister-Six (Although there are only 5 of them), but really this is a book about Boomerang, the theoretical leader of this team. Boomerang is a villain who always kind of fell through the cracks. He’s too silly to be taken seriously, but he’s not pathetic enough to simply be a joke. Shocker, another member of the team, is a character who has had that kind of “Now he’s serious,” make over, where stories have tried to sell him as the baddest dude. For reference the Kangaroo is the kind of pathetic villain that’s just a joke.
Hawkeye as a book is about what Hawkeye does when he’s not with the Avengers. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is following in that same spirit, it’s about what these villains are up to when they’re not fighting Spider-Man. This is the kind of story that leverages the breadth and weirdness of the Marvel Universe to the advantage of what is, at its core, a simple story. This is a heist movie done in 15 comic book issues.
There is a strong tendency in pop culture to make villains cool. The whole anti-hero thing is built around coolness. No one is cool in this book. Everyone is conniving, pathetic, weird, and dumb. That’s what makes them interesting. Seeing these sociopaths play off each other, te crazy situations them put themselves in, waiting for the bottom to fall out of all their carefully crafted plans; it’s all extremely entertaining.
It helps that Spider-Man has a wide cast of villains who are just motivated by greed. These are thieves and gangsters. Their end isn’t murder, world conquering, or even revenge. This gives them common ground to work off of with each other. That crime world idea is one that serves superhero comics really well because it grounds these outlandish characters.
At the center of this whole enterprise is Boomerang. This is his story and he carries it beautifully. He’s just charming enough, just enough of a loser to underestimate. He manages to consistently be one step behind while being five moves ahead. He’s flying by the seat of his pants but he knows where it’s headed.
That’s what makes this comic so good, it feels spontaneous, even though it’s all according to plan.
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man was written by Nick Spencer, with art by Steve Lieber, and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.
The series was 17 issues, but 10 and 11 were filler issues with short stories by various creators. So it’s really a 15 issue story.
The first two trade collections are out now. The third and final volume will be out in February of 2015.