Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing The Superior Foes of Spider-Man 3, originally released September 4th, 2013.
Taylor: We all know the origin story of Spider-Man. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the sensational powers of a spider. At first, he doesn’t use his powers for good, instead choosing to indulge himself in a world of personal gain and selfishness. An indirect consequence of the path he chooses is that his Uncle Ben is murdered by a thug he previously had failed to apprehend. Because of this, Peter comes to fully understand his uncle’s saying: “with great power comes great responsibility,” which leads him on the path to superherodom. But what if your path is different from Peter’s? What if instead of choosing to be a hero, you choose to be a villain? What creed or mantra would you follow then? What expectations would you have of yourself and those you call your allies? In a surprising change of tone, Superior Foes of Spider-Man 3 explores this question and the result is a deepening of Boomerang’s character that, while unexpected, is a welcome addition to the series.
Fred Meyers (aka Boomerang) has been assigned a parole officer, Mach VII (aka Abner Jenkins), as part of a deal to keep himself out of prison. Abner seems like a pretty good guy. He appears to truly want Fred to turn his life around and cease his days as a villain. Of course, no one would no more about that then Abner himself, who was once a villain before teaming up with The Law. Fred is skeptical of the idea of turning his back on being a villain, but then his gang — the Sinister Six — throw him out, thereby reducing their number to four and causing Fred to seemingly reconsider Abner’s offer. He goes to a villain support group, but his motivation in doing so seems less about reforming and more about getting revenge on his former team.
Generally speaking, I thought I had this series figured out after two issues. I assumed that it would be a funny take on the idea of being a super villain while also poking some good-natured fun at the comic book genre. The expectation was that this is going to be a title which didn’t bother with developing complex characters or exploring the motivations behind being a villain. I assumed that the readers were just expected to accept that some people wanted to be heroes and others villains — end of story. But I didn’t think this was a bad thing since the humor in issues one and two was so enjoyable. However, issue three gives us insight into Fred’s character which, while maybe a little scant on laughs, is pleasing to read and can only make Foes a better story.
We’re used to Fred being kind of a dick to virtually everyone he meets. As can be seen above, when someone appears to show genuine concern for his well-being, he treats them like garbage, at least on the surface. Typical villain behavior right? Always treating everyone poorly because that’s just what villains do. Or is it? In a reflection on his past we learn that Fred actually used to be part of the Thunderbolts, a team of super villains employed by the government to combat other villains.
Fred claims to have done this only because he wanted to avoid jail time. While that seems like a logical motivation, some the work done by artist Steve Leiber would suggest otherwise. Take a look in the lower left hand corner. I don’t know who that woman is or what the situation might be, but Fred looks genuinely happy, especially when compared to his morose present-self depicted in the center of the page. Could it be that Fred actually enjoyed being a good guy? If that’s true, it makes you wonder how he even became a villain in the first place. What were his reasons for doing so? Is it really that he’s just a natural villain, or is there something more lurking behind the mask? In any case, this makes it hard to believe that Fred is as bad as we first thought, or perhaps even as bad as he thinks he is himself. His being a jerk to everyone around him might just be a front – an attempt to prove to himself and others that he truly is a super villain.
This front seems all the more apparent when Fred has to deal with being kicked out of the Sinister Six. Upset at the betrayal of his team, due to his being shadowed by a parole officer, Fred muses on the idea of comradery among villains.
The expectation for a villain is that he would be swearing revenge on those who betrayed him, right? Instead, Fred slinks off to bar to drown his sorrows. Further, he actually expects his fellow villains to act like upstanding individuals and show a bit of loyalty to him (this despite the fact he’s been trying to pull a long con on all them himself). Now, should Fred really be all that surprised that among a group of villains loyalty is in short supply? Probably not. However, Fred apparently is operating on a different set of assumptions. He expects people to be good. In fact, he maybe wants people to be good. That sounds like a superhero mindset to me if there even is such a thing.
Ultimately I found this issue more intriguing than anything else. I can’t say it knocked my socks off in anyway, but it will be interesting to see where writer Nick Spencer decides to take his story and characters. While I expect the humor to pick up again in the next issue, I’m also looking forward to see how it will be integrated into a more well rounded and possibly character driven series.
Did you find this issue to be something you didn’t expect, Patrick? Are you pleased that Fred is being given some depth or do you think this will ultimately drag down some of the humor of Foes? Also, that little background story on Silvio Silvermane seemed out of place to me. What do you think about that whole thing?
Patrick: This is the first time in the history of Retcon Punch anyone has ever asked me about the “whole thing.” Taylor, if you want my take on all things, you best buckle up: you’ve seen how many words I can write about a simple issue of Catwoman, never mind about ALL THE THINGS.
I loved that story about Silvio Silvermane. The story itself doesn’t do all that much. It’s a whimsical gangster fairy tale, with equal parts magic, impossible science and absurd coincidence. Y’know, it’s the kind of story you want to be true of cyborg crime bosses. But we don’t have much more than a second to sit with that E.T.-esque ending before Fred clues us in on the real ending: with Silvermane’s forever-alive head held captive and tortured for years. We’re put in an interesting predicament in that moment: the original ending his ridiculous, but then, so is the “truth.” And why would we trust what Fred says, even to us? Taylor suggests that he might be hiding his true feelings about his time with the Thunderbolts (and I totally agree with that assessment), so what’s to stop him from misrepresenting other parts of his life to us? I know the heist that the Sinister Six boots him from was supposedly aiming to steal the head, but what if it’s just some other MacGuffin?
There’s so much storytelling and counter-storytelling going on in this issue. There are the twin conflicting stories about Silvermane at the opening of the issue, two different stories about the main characters joining the Thunderbolts and one Super Villains Anonymous confession. Taylor covered those first couple stories pretty well, so I wanna talk about this awesome meeting.
First, let’s just get a load of this thing. It’s held in a church basement, naturally — and there are cheap donuts and stale coffee to spare. There are even twelve steps scrawled out on the chalkboard. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber play this scene surprisingly straight… even if we’re in a room populated by a man with a bell for a head and some kind of anthropomorphic hippo. I think we’re meant to actually believe that these characters are vulnerable. I found myself laughing at the hippo’s shirt, which reads “Higher Power,” but the more I thought about it, the sadder and more desperate it became. As the first speaker at the meeting goes through his story — one that paints a horrifying picture of how humiliating and hard it would be to be such a low-level supervillain in the Marvel universe — Fred makes snide remarks. I felt myself pushing away from our protagonist. Not that I expected him to accept Jesus and give himself up to the power of his addiction, but it does show that Fred can’t even get help when its offered to him.
That’s what ends up making this issue more sad than anything else: there’s no such thing as a home for Boomerang. He doesn’t belong with the Sinister Six, he doesn’t belong with the Thunderbolts, he doesn’t even belong at Super Villains Anonymous. He’s just as asshole taking advantage of his one friend who has his shit together. It broke my heart to see that shit-eating grin creep across his face in the penultimate panel.
Hey, so what’s the deal with Luke Cage and Iron Fist? Why are they always the bottom tier of Marvel heroes? Between their recent appearance in Deapool and now showing up in the final splash of this issue, it’s like they’re a quick punch-line. I honestly know very little about either character, but are they sort of the Aquaman of the Marvel Universe? Maybe those characters need to tell some stories about themselves and shape their own legacies, just as Boomerang does here. 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?