The Superior Foes of Spider-Man 2

Today, Taylor and Shelby are discussing The Superior Foes of Spider-Man 2, originally released August 7th, 2013.

Taylor: Comics inherently are a silly thing. Now, before you haul off and yell at me about how comics are a legitimate art form, cool your Rocketeer jets and let it be known I agree with you. But just hear me out.  The fact that comics primarily deal with people in goofy costumes running around fighting crime can’t be ignored. That in and of itself is pretty damning evidence that comics are a little bit absurd. However, this is but one element of what goes into the makings of a comic book, and as with so many other things, comics are more than the sum of their parts. Still, reducing comics down to some of their most basic elements can have comedic results, just as reducing a basketball game to the idea of giant men throwing around a sphere for an hour or so makes it seem especially silly. While comedic gold can result from the acknowledgment of the pulpy origins of comic books, there remains the question of how lasting this humor can be. Can it go on for an entire series? The Superior Foes of Spider-man has you covered.

Boomerang, aka Fred Meyers, is out of jail on bail and he’s quick to get back into the swing of villainy things. He calls a meeting with the Sinister Six (which only has five members) to plan their next heist and argue about the value of having five members in their team instead of the named six. However, being out on bail means that Fred has to meet with his lawyer to discuss the legal ramifications of being a villain. Frustration ensues for Boomerang and against his lawyer’s warnings he plans a heist of an upscale New York restaurant. Things are going well for the Sinister Six when the Punisher shows up. Everyone flees the scene except Fred and therefore he’s the only one to realize that the Punisher is actually the Chameleon in disguise. Fred is in debt to this guy so he agrees to bring him the head of Silvio Silvermane. The next day Fred is back in court and after a moving testimony, Mach VII is assigned to him as his parole officer.

In case it wasn’t clear from the first issue, this series isn’t going to be taking itself too seriously. After all, with a lead protagonist like Boomerang, it’s nearly impossible to place too much gravitas on any given situation since the character has trouble taking anything seriously, even meetings with his lawyer about his legal troubles:

Who Hasn't Visualized This

However, from the start of this issue Nick Spencer wants to make it clear that Bommerang and company don’t exist apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe. They are integrated into it and while they are a running commentary on its characters, they still have to live with being villains and being beat up by Spider-man. Of course this commentary is set up by the juxtaposition between the Sinister Six and other, more intense, Marvel characters they share their world with. While Spider-man is a good foil to the Sinister Six, perhaps no Marvel character stands in starker contrast to them than the Punisher, whose mantra of revenge as justice couldn’t be more at odds with the lazy villainy of Boomerang and company.

Punished for Humor

This seeming non-sequitur to begin the issue creates a contrast in our minds that is hard to ignore and it also serves as reminder of sorts. It’s asking us to remember that while there are comics which are grave in tone, there are also comics which are more jovial in their presentation. Again, it’s pretty clear what type of comic Spencer is writing here. Also, it’s fun to see Boomerang go through the laundry list of how steeped in bad-assery the Punisher is and the segue into the Sinister Six meeting, the worst part of his job, is pulled off with excellence. This further reinforces the difference between Superior Foes and other serious-minded titles.

Overall, Spencer does a good job of creating a light and comedic tone in this issue. The sequences where Fred has to visit his lawyer are filled with a banality that we never think of comic book villains as having to undergo. Usually such mundane actions are reserved for schlubs like you and me. However, by recognizing the silliness of a man dressing up in a boomerang costume and robbing restaurants, Spencer is able to create absurd scenes where this same man has to face the legal ramification of his actions. It’s a light touch, but it’s super effective.

Also working to create a comedic tone in this issue is the artwork of Steve Lieber, which I found impressive. It’s not an easy task to pull off sight gags in comic form; for some reason it’s just hard to convey the buoyancy of joke in panel form. Lieber, however, pulls it off and such scenes as the one below add to the overall joviality of this issue:

Fast Eater

These six panels are simple, yet satisfying and  they let us know just what type of character Speed Demon is.  The use of the onomatopoeia “pew” when he enters and leaves the scene is not only cartoonishly appropriate, but it translates his fear of the Punisher, and his subsequent cowardliness, to the reader quite well.

Shelby! Did you find this issue funny at all or do you think it’s a bit tired? Do you need more character development from our hero-villains or are you happy with them being kind of shallow jerks? Also, do you think we’ll ever see Spidey actually make an appearance?

Shelby: Funny or tired: that is actually exactly how I would describe this title. I understand perfectly what Spencer and Lieber are going for, and I think sometimes they land something really cute, like the panels above of Speed Demon coming back for his doggy bag. At the same time, though, sometimes it feels like they are trying awfully hard to convey that tounge-in-cheek meta commentary on the life of a Marvel villain, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen a lot of these tricks before. Mostly in FF and Hawkeye. In fact, Boomerang reminds me a lot of Clint Barton, except where Clint is bumbling and accidentally charming, Boomerang is bumbling and trying to be accidentally charming. While some of the visual jokes end up cute, a lot of them, too, feel like something I’ve seen before; the cartoony inner dialogue and the sassy newspaper title page are good examples. This book comes off as trying to be one of the self-aware and somewhat irreverant titles that exist in Marvel’s universe right now. The fact that I feel it’s trying to be that makes this book a little bit of an eye-roller for me.

There is some character development of these villains, but because Spencer is also trying to stay in the shallow jerks arena, what development there is is pretty…uh, shallow. Everyone has a role to play: Boomerang is the selfish leader, trying to be important; Speed Demon is the asshole; Shocker is the wimp; Overdrive is the car guy (he hasn’t really been fleshed out yet); and Beetle is the newbie trying to make her big break. And honestly, keeping things shallow might not be bad for a book that aims to be light-hearted and comical. The problem is keeping the reader interested. If I’m going to follow a villain’s POV, I want it to be a villain with some substance. “I steal things because I’m an asshole,” is only going to get a title so far. I’m surrounded by assholes every day, I’m going to need a slightly more captivating motivation for the characters I read about in my spare time.  Honestly, I feel the same about heroes; Superman stories rarely impress me because he’s not an especially complex character. “I fight crime because I’m a good guy,” is just as uninteresting to me.

That’s not to say this title doesn’t have some things going for it. I love seeing super-anyones having to deal with mundane, everyday living. Seeing Boomerang having to deal with his crappy lawyer, or visiting his shitty apartment like we did last issue is a delightful way to add complexity to these characters. Spencer is adding complexity through mundanity, if that makes any sense. Suddenly, instead of super-powered villains, we see these characters are just people trying to get by. There’s a saying that everyone is one paycheck away from homelessness. I think that Superior Foes… shows us that everyone is one life-mistake away from super-villainy. We might like to think of ourselves as the hero, with the unwavering moral compass, but dealing with everyday bullshit like work, bills, rent, etc., makes for a pretty strong case for bad guy-ness. Looking behind the curtains at these villains’ lives almost makes me feel sorry for them, and that’s the complexity I’m looking for when reading a villain story. Now if only Boomerang weren’t such a dick all the time, we’d be getting somewhere.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

3 comments on “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man 2

  1. I’m getting a very heavy Venture Bros. vibe from this series. This series is like every scene that takes place in the Monarch’s Cocoon. And I’m totally cool with that. If there’s any part of the superhero world that must feel like a boring, frustrating grind, it’s got to be being a low-level villain. The heroes and the big-bads have all kinds of thrilling adventures, but the b-list guys are stuck in this mundane cycle – and even when it’s blown out to crazy criminal levels, I can’t help but identify with it.

    Plus, this series makes me laugh a couple times every issue, and when it’s a comedy, you can’t argue with laughs, right? It’s the same thing that makes me look the other way when Deadpool is unloveable – he makes me laugh.

  2. T’s got an interesting point about the heavier elements that kind of skirt the periphery of this series. They’re all sort of revealed not to be the serious thing they’re pretending to be. Like Punisher – that ain’t Punisher. I wonder if there’s a way that the threat represented by Chameleon will reveal itself not to be an actual threat at all.

  3. I understand what you want in character development, Shelby, but I just feel like there’s no reason to do that to these characters. So many of us have ended up in jobs just because they were available to us. It’s not that we love them or hate them, they just are what they are. That’s how I feel Boomerang is. He isn’t real evil or anything, it’s just that somehow he ended up a villain. He doesn’t love it, he’s not particularly good at it, and chances are it will never get him anywhere. Because of that, does he need motivation to be a really good bad guy? I don’t think so.

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