Superhero books can be funny, dammit.
You know how much I’ve read in cape-and-cowl-land recently that’s just so dour, bleak and straight-faced when it’s not being entirely disappointing? Might be the odd quip here and there, maybe an ape of a line Joss Whedon once wrote with funnier context, but on the whole it just gets so serious, you guys.
To that end, I loved the absolute basmeezus out of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Because goddamn is it funny.
Ok, no more italics. You get the emphasis.
I’m not preambling much more than has already been done: Superior Foes was awesome. It’s a refreshing breath of brevity that you should all go out and read now. You should doubly read it if you’re into villain protagonist stories, coz this might be the best since my personally-lauded favourite, Dark Avengers.
Yes, it is that good.
Superior Foes borrows heavily from an excellent episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Lower Decks”. Both narratives focus on lower-level members of both casts, with Starfleet cadets far beneath the command-level protagonists in the latter, and washed-up wannabe villains who are very poor at their jobs in the former.
After realising they suck at fighting the new and improved Spider-Man, a team of nemeses led by Aussie criminal Boomerang (not to be confused with Aussie criminal and Flash villain Captain Boomerang, coz he’s a Captain, see) set off to make a name for themselves as the titular Superior Foes. Problem is, every Foe hates each other almost as much as they hate one’s favourite neighbourhood webslinger. This’d normally be the part where they eventually get over their individual animosities and gang up to splatter that spider. Instead, they’d rather just keep on hating each other.
Let me tell you, it is delicious to watch each supervillain try to screw the others over. Schadenfreude it may be, but I don’t care.
The team come across as less Superior Foes and more Whingy Kids Who Hate Each Other (though that’d be a much harder title to fit on a business card). The comedic value stems from shenanigans between the five main characters whilst trying to do actual villainous things, like robbing a convenience store or breaking into a hideout, with a distinct Road Runner/Wile E Coyote feel. Primary jerk-ass awarding goes to principle character Boomerang, who manages to pull nice fast ones on the reader by appearing to slowly reform himself through character development when in reality he’s still a jerk-ass. Old habits, right?
Whether you engage enough with the anti-heroic (at best) protagonists will rely, at least in part, on your familiarity with Marvel canon. Both the villains themselves and a vast supporting cast are plumbed from the D-List depths of Marvel’s merry misfits, though the book does a great job at both brevitous introductions and fitting both categories into context. Coming from someone who only knew one character (being Shocker) before reading this story, Superior Foes does a masterful job of providing reasons to care for these characters most of us haven’t met in a remarkably short space of time. That’s a feat in and of itself.
Also, sing hallelujah and pickpocket each other in thanks – the book barely relies on the Superior grumpyface it’s named after. I don’t think Spidey-Ock himself actually makes an appearance besides a brief flashback at the start and the odd infrequent mention from characters throughout. I was worried this’d kinda be like the current runs of Nightwing and Batgirl, where satellite characters with their own interesting narratives exist mainly to be roped into a story for the bigger heroes and villains that follow on from. Besides, I need more Superior Spidey like I need a kidney infection.
Tying into Nick Spencer’s excellent story is artwork by Steve Lieber. It’s exactly the kind of stripped-down (I’d almost go so far as to say ‘acoustic’, but that’s not a comicky word) affair the book needs, with pretty illustrations but not so pretty that they detract attention from the story. Kinda reminds me of David Aja of Hawkeye fame a little bit, which is never a bad comparison. This isn’t a narrative requiring a lot of visual depth or intricacy, and Lieber does the best work possible for said amount of deep-ness. At times the maskless facial expressions of characters can look a bit samey, and having illustrations not reliant on lots of detail might leave you a little bored at times, but on the whole it does the job well.
Scripting is excellent. As I said, the only character I was even partly familiar with before this book was Shocker, and I remember him being a whole lot more psychotic and crazy than the reserved, human character the book presents (or maybe I’m mixing him up with Electro again). I mention this because I’m not sure if the protagonists were like this before Spencer got his hands on them, but they’re definitely written here in a way that feels deeply entrenched in a clear writerly vision of feel and characterisation. It’s pretty obvious Spencer’s taken a lot of time to flesh them out properly and make their alternating personalities work effortlessly for character dynamics, and this is done without any of the protagonists feeling one-note or token (though Beetle could probably do with a bit more variance when Volume 2 rolls around – there’s only so much the social-media-addicted, devil-may-care attitude works consistently).
At the end of all that rambling, you’ve got a book that’s funny, warm (when needed) and a welcome relief from the endless cavalcade of cape-fare that’s deep, dark and depressing. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man was excellent almost without trying, and a damn sight better than the mothership book it orbits.
Now that I’ve rediscovered what it means to have fun again, let me go smell some daisies before the gritty storytelling returns.
PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “Not many women out there can resist the old Myers charm. Not with my Damon-esque boyish looks, Jackman-esque physique and Fassbender-esque…fashion sense.” – Boomerang