Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man: Getting the Band Back Together

This book collects the first six issues of what gets called a "sleeper hit" of the year. On face value, it is a book about supervillains, mostly minor foes of Spider-Man who have banded together to take on their common enemy. These are not A-list characters, and probably they are most known for how easily they were taken down in the first volume of The Superior Spider-Man. However, their status as C-list characters that are relatively unknown opens them up for more exploration and interesting situations, as the major corporation that controls these super-powered characters does not fear their likenesses being changed or altered. I mean, what is to be feared, that their Q-scores will go up?

There is a cynical part of me that gets bummed out that more exciting things are not being done with major characters, but at the same time if these companies are still willing to take chances to give expert creators leeway to make interesting and entertaining books, then does that make up for it? I leave that question to the ether and my audience really, so make of it what you will or respond what you think in the comments.

In the meantime, let me tell you about this book, the creation of two experienced creators, best-selling writer Nick Spencer and Eisner Award winning artist Steve Lieber. Spencer has told some excellent stories with his creator owned series Morning Glories, Marvel Comics' Secret Avengers, and DC Comics' Jimmy Olsen. Lieber is known for his expressive illustrations and storytelling in the comics series Whiteout, Detective Comics, and Civil War: Frontline as well as co-authoring The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. Spencer speaks about his work on the Superior Foes series in this interview, and Lieber speaks more extensively about his career in this interview.

So, what happens when two expert creators are given free reign to weave tales of minor supervillains without pulling any punches? They produce a bunch of compelling heist comics about a band of real jerks. There is Boomerang, an ex-professional baseball player banned for gambling; Speed Demon, a super-fast thief who used to be known as the Whizzer; Shocker, the also unfortunately named villain armed with electro-shock gauntlets; Overdrive, the getaway driver who can transform and super-charge any vehicle, and the Beetle, a woman with a technological suit of armor at her disposal. Together, they bicker and scheme, comprising the new Sinister Six. Even though there are five of them.
Silly villain, don't you know comic books aren't worth any money?
Notably, I think this is a comic book series that is simultaneously attractive to new fans who may not be aware of any of the characters' backstories and still fulfilling to long-time Marvel Comics readers. Spencer and Lieber do not sugarcoat the fact that these people are not nice and would willingly sell each other out in an instant in order to save their own skin or make a big score. But there is just enough learned about each character to make them somewhat relatable, if not sympathetic. Spencer and Lieber also depict some interesting social and power dynamics with a sense humor that is quite exceptional. The manner how the writing and art balance wit and suspense is the most striking feature of this volume, and I think if Oscar Wilde had written Criminal or Incognito, I bet it would resemble The Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
Some other things I liked: They are not always in costume, and they call each other by their first names.

Other reviewers have much good to say about this book. Jason at the Heroesonline blog called it "the best book you haven’t been reading." Jesse Schedeen commented positively that "the series is more grounded and focused on more flawed characters with less flashy powers. It's more a crime drama with costumed characters than a real supervillain book." He also had a great way of describing the series as "all about what the Six are up to when they're not being punched in the face by Spider-Man."

This book was published by Marvel Comics. There is a preview of the first few pages available here from Comic Book Resources.

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