Jamil Scalese: I once declared Secret Six the comic that I would one day marry. Well, I found my mistress.
I bring this up not because DOMA was struck down and anything can marry anything now, but because The Superior Foes of Spider-Man dropped into stores last week and it's the closest thing to Gail Simone's pinnacle work that one can get without plagiarism. I'm completely aware that comparison has been made like 9,000 times already, but it's extremely apt, so deal with it.
I recently lamented the loss of Dark Avengers (previously Thunderbolts), a book that swam in the same waters as this title. Low-level, non-maniacal supervillains are simply irresistible. This particular sub-genre started in Ostrander's Suicide Squad and has carried a proud tradition ever since.
Nick Spencer requested a comic like this when he first sat down with Marvel, and his script is excellent even if it lacks high drama, but the credit goes to Steve Lieber who nails every aspect of the story and then some. The acting, expression and aesthetic matter a lot in a title like this, and from pet store robberies to beers at the local dive it all looks superior (ha!) to anything I could have expected.
So, Tyler, what's your take? Am I too hyped?
Tyler Gross: You have every right to be DJ Jazzy Jamil about this issue, and I'll be your Fresh Prince. I am equally jazzed about all the things here that are happening.
I haven't read Secret Six because I'm an idiot, but this also reminds me a lot of that issue Brian Bendis did with the Leapfrog all those years ago at the start of his Daredevil run. These dudes make you want to root for them. You want them to succeed in their petty supervillain adventures, no matter how lewd or malevolent, because you want these guys to matter. And even though most people have never abducted a puppy from a child, everyone knows what it's like not to matter, to be forgotten, and there's few things worse. This Sinister Six is just a gang of idiots who want to be more and that is pretty rad.
Jamil: Dude, that last page spoke to me in volumes. The longing for success, the defiance towards one past, the pesky routine, the false camaraderie among peers, all there on a single piece of paper. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Marvel ties this nicely into the great work they're doing in the Spider-Family titles but on the real The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1 is an awesome read even if you aren't into the mainstream at all. In fact, with Boomerang's release from jail, and the appearance of a retro villain near the end, it actually doesn't even fit neatly into the current status quo.
Fred Myers — yup, that's Boomer's real name — is the point of focus, a career criminal recently smacked around by the Superior Spider-Man. A mainstay in Marvel's catalogue of bumbling rogues the marksman has received little respect until his recent appearances in Thunderbolts. While always a roguish thief he was portrayed as mildly brave and consistently energetic, a microcosm for the group as a whole. Definitely my favorite character in a title chock full of good ones.
Spencer's take isn't Jeff Parker's version but it's a welcomed evolution. As you pointed to, giving dimension to these figures originally designed to have little to no depth has a lot of storytelling potential.
Tyler: Fred Myers was indeed the big focus here, but not at the expense of the other characters. All are well-introduced, though not fully just yet. From the way the Boomerang was fleshed out as a great multidimensional character, I've absolute faith that soon the others will be given other dimensions beyond "Shocker is the cowardly one."
Most of the story is set up through Boomerang's narration, which I'll admit is full of necessary exposition, but at times it comes off a bit heavy handed. This is kind of a thing that seems to happen often with Nick Spencer comics. They're too tell-y. But after the first page, he moves past most of the exposition and gets in some solid character work.
Jamil, you were talking about this book fitting in the main "Spider-Man Universe" and I have to agree that it does a pretty good job of existing separately. You gotta give it up for Stephen Wacker. It's incredible the way he has expanded the Spider-Man line into a true family of books with this one, Venom, Scarlet Spider, and more. Spider-Man had lots of books in the '90s, but they were all focused on him, whereas now we have this great web (you know I intended this pun so let it go) of periphery characters. And so far we've been able to steer clear of any massive crossovers, although, I admit my heart yearns for just one super-mega-Spider-crossover.
Jamil: You're right, let's give credit where it's due. The Spider-Man books are collectively better than they've ever been. Spidey used to mean Peter Parker and that's it. Now the line doesn't even feature Parker at all and bolsters more vigor and ingenuity than it has in decades. The incoming event/crossover (probably centered on Parker's return) will be much welcomed, I think.
The point made about the narration also holds a lot of merit. Caption boxes are one of the best parts of comics but they're used so often that they've become a crutch for passive writing. Luckily, for Spencer his collaborator picks up the artistic slack and inserts a lot of creativity and emotion into the panels. Although we're in Fred's head we do get general ideas of the other's makeup just from how Lieber depicts them. You get that Speed Demon is a guy who think he's the world's gift by the incessant smile across his face; it's obvious that Shocker is candidly embarrassed in the pet story scene by his body posture and the way his mask tilts. Even when the creators are at the top their game comics with that type of synergy are rare.
Tyler: Lieber's pencils here are reminiscent of Kevin Maguire's incredible work on Justice League International all those years ago. Facial expressions are rendered beautifully, especially to sink home punch lines. I'm not sure how many times I literally LOLed while reading this issue, but it was a bunch. And I don't mean LOL like in the way that people use it to just lazily punctuate text messages. I mean like real laughter, with my abdomen and stuff.
Peter Parker is gone! And I really think the Spider-books are thriving. I don't want him gone forever. I said in a review I did of Superior that this is as much Ock's story of redemption as it is the ultimate superhero rebirth, the story of how Peter makes it back. So I'm waiting. But right now we have things like Superior Foes and that is pretty goddamn cool. Keep it coming, Marvel.
Anything final to add? Wait, one more thing to address. Where is the emphasis in the title of this book? Are the Foes Superior to Spider-Man? Or are they more Superior than the other Foes? It gets weirder now considering that Spider-Man himself is kind of a foe. That is a weird word.
Jamil: Well, we've sat here and commended Marvel for creating a Spider-Man brand that works beyond one man but there are certainly downfalls, like the clunky title. It's a play on two previous cult-favorite comics, The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man and it's sequel, The Lethal Foes of Spider-Man, two series that included Boomerang, Shocker, Speed Demon and a female version of Beetle (named Hardshell). One thing you can't deny about Marvel, they love their history and nostalgia almost as much as their fans do.
I don't throw out many perfect scores but I have crowned this first issue with a highly honorable FIVE STAR distinction. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a work of art, one of the best things I've ever had the chance to review, and while it might never have superb sales or be at the center of what's happening of the MU I will guarantee that as long as the creative team has stories to tell this comic will perform. Don't be a dummy, give into your seedy side and read this book.
Tyler: Well said. I couldn't agree more. For every person that reads this review, but doesn't buy the book, Jamil and I will steal one puppy. You have been warned.