Does anyone know if Deadly Foes of Spider-Man still holds up? I loved that mini-series from the early 1990’s, but I worry that it will have aged poorly if I try to go back to it. If I recall it correctly, it had some aspects that absolutely should have survived as good story-telling (a humanizing portrayal of Boomerang, a kick-ass female character in Leila Davis, and a heartbreaking finale that saw—and I hope I remember this right—Rhino get freed from his exoskeleton prison just to basically immediately have to put it back on to save people he cared about), but still… I worry. I really want to re-read that book, but I almost can’t bear the thought of picking it up and find out it was drek all along.
Apparently Leila was killed years later, which is a shame. Got crushed to death while wearing the Beetle armor. Man, those Beetles were always the bane of her existence.
TITLE: Superior Foes of Spider-Man
Writer and Artist: Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber
Protagonists: Boomerang, Beetle, Speed Demon, Overdrive, Shocker
Antagonists: Chameleon, Hammerhead, Silvermane, Mr. Negative
Was… was Abner Jenkins (originally the villain The Beetle) always black? He’s black in this book, and I don’t recall that at all from the comics of my youth. Now I absolutely need to re-read Deadly Foes.
Yes, that was the first thought I had to open with. And yes, I also considered opening with “This book, right?” (an obvious callback to how pretty much every issues of this series opens with a splash page of a character and Boomerang’s narration of “This guy, right?”), but even I’m not THAT cliche.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man is the story of some of the Marvelous Wall-Crawler’s more unthreatening rogues as they band together to form a new Sinister Six (with a various amount of members, but never actually six) and hit the big score they need to set themselves up for the long haul. Led by Boomerang as the book’s anchor and focal point (and to call him an unreliable narrator would be a marked understatement) as he guides them from mishap to mishap, the group steals a puppy, the disembodied head of a Maggia leader, a painting… and the readers’ imaginations. Spencer does a good job at setting up false start after false start, and every time you think you know what’s going on—what the “REAL” plot is—it pulls a new swerve.
Fred Myers is the star of the show, but everyone else is characterized properly by Spencer, too. The newest iteration of the Beetle is a law school graduate… and the daughter of Tombstone. Against her father’s wishes, she is trying to prove she can make it in the super villain gang… but she isn’t too ashamed to call him in when she needs help. Overdrive, a nothing villain from the “Brand New Day” era Spidey books, is a geek who still secretly hopes to someday get to pull a babyface turn and become a superhero. Speed Demon is an oblivious, skirt-chasing dimwit with a soft spot for the Corgi he swipes from a girl in a pet store. Rounding out the group is Shocker. Following in the characterization given him in the aforementioned Deadly Foes book, Shocker is a coward whose inability to avoid terrible situations is matched only by his uncanny ability to fall into lucky ones.
Even the support characters are gold here. If you are a big fan of Abner Jenkins as a serious character growing past who he used to be, you may not love the joke he is turned into here, but it really works for him, and it fits his desires to be a hero to atone for his past. His earnestness in the face of Boomerang’s incessantly duplicitous nature is great. There is a repeated humorous sequence of his trying to leave rooms with his wings spread, and that somehow doesn’t get old. Silvermane is so crotchety and bullying, and his relationship with Shocker when they are stuck together is delightful. The Owl and Chameleon are both portrayed as threats that the Sinister Six should rightly dread being caught by. Head-to-toe, everybody in this book feels like they belong in the universe that Spencer is establishing.
The book itself is a delightful, and it’s impossible to consider I may have gone through any single issue without at least one solid laugh; the whole series just packs them in with abandon. Next to Fraction’s Hawkeye (which I reviewed weeks ago) and one other book I have not reviewed yet, this was one of the three best Marvel books I’ve read in the last 5 years or so (Being cryptic is no fun… the other is Tom King’s twelve issue Vision series). The humor comes fast, the story is complex without ever getting to be too convoluted, and the art? The art is great. I don’t know that I’d enjoy this art on a Batman or Avengers book, but for this type of arc, it is splendidly on point. If you enjoyed the character of Impulse in the 1990’s-2000’s, you may reminder that often his internal monologue was just pictures, such as “thinking” a picture of a screw and ball instead of just the words when someone said something harebrained. Steve Lieber and Nick Spencer do a lot of that here, showing what is on everyone’s mind in such a simple matter than is both minimal and instantly obvious. It’s a great touch.
This book is a great big ball of wax pulled forth from the ear of all the fun in the world. It’s got laughs for days, earnest characters that you simultaneously love and despise, and a story that will keep you guessing until the very end. Tremendous stuff.