Welcome back kids in the hall. Given all my “fun in the sun” procrastinating I did on the beach last week, I have not yet finished by Read pile entry on the Phantom book I promised last week.
So, on today’s blog, we’re going to finally post a review of a TPB that my former college roomie, Chad Smith, let me borrow way back at the end of March. I proceeded to read it rather quickly so this review actually about a month and a half overdue. Oh well, here’s hoping that drinking all those IPAs and taking repeated blows to the head sparring with Buster Douglas has not permanently ruined by memory.
First a little back story on this review. I’ve always been a Spiderman fan. he was the first comic book hero I ever liked, he’s the one I’ve read the most consistently over my 39 years on the planet, and for the most part he’s the superhero I end up always coming back to if there’s nothing else to read. That being said, I’ve been pretty unhappy with the direction of the series over the past couple of years under the watch of Dan Slott. I mean the dude made Peter Parker a poor man’s Tony Stark for a while…yuck.
So much so, although the Superior Spiderman series (aka OctoSpidey) wasn’t that bad, I for the first time since the whole Ben Riley fiasco of the mid to late 90s actively boycotted the book. Technically, I guess I also half boycotted the book following “One More Day” but I eventually saw that was a lost cause and picked it back up again.
In any case, as a result there has been a pretty large Spiderman sized hole in my universe, so I was itching to find anything that would be appropriate to fill it. In some ways that was the half way decent “Spiderman: Renew your Vows” book, but that’s been hit or miss at time.
Then in walked this Spidey spin off book that told the interesting tale of a group of C list members of Spidey’s Rogues gallery and the trials and tribulations of being such an awful group of baddies.
After seeing the title if you are a Spidey Fan,you are immediately struck that this is in someways a throw back to the “Deadly” and “Lethal” foes of Spiderman Miniseries released in the early 90s. Luckily for me, both of those comic book series I had recently reread a month or two previous to reading this trade just by consequence (again trying to fill in that Spidey gap left by the boycott). Not to say that it’s necessary to read those older 90s miniseries to get Superior Foes, but it does give some back story as well as an important counterbalance to contrast the two series. Because really, they couldn’t be more night and day.
Superior Foes tells the tale of perennial Spidey punching bag, Boomerang as he reforms a version of the infamous bad guy group The Sinister Six with 4 other flunkies: Shocker, Speed Demon, the new female Beetle, and relatively newcomer Overdrive. Of course, that only equals 5 villains in a team that should have 6, but as author Nick Spencer deftly writes: “Why have 6 members when you only have to split the loot 5 ways?”. Plus there’s the whole notion that heroes will think there’s some mysterious 6th member pulling the strings of the new group, hence giving them both additional street cred as well as a fall guy if something goes wrong.
Plus in a hilarious and playful bite at those old miniseries from the 90s, Shocker asks Boomerang why they just can’t call themselves the “Sinister Syndicate” which was the name they used for their group before, to which Boomerang in an awesome bit of meta fiction says “nobody neither cares or remembers the Sinister Syndicate”.
The whole book is actually filled with these kind of incredibly clever cons as it makes no apologizes for the characters being villains and there penchant to lie and cheat to get what they want, even when it comes to something as the name of their team.
And I guess that’s what I like about the book the most. Let’s face it, none of these characters really were anything but stupid gimmicks in the minds of most readers. I mean, really who is Boomerang? or Shocker? Really? If you asked the standard fan, he’d probably just say “that guy that throws boomerangs” or “that dude that looks like a bad 60s couch”.
I mean, from even my own perspective, prior to this book all I could really tell you was that the Shocker was somewhat of a coward, Boomerang was somewhat “jock”ish given that he was a ex baseball player, and Speed Demon was a real jerk (‘cause Grandmaster made him be an evil clone of the Whizzer…I guess).
But Nick Spencer dares to give them strong unique personalities that endears them to the reader despite their nastiness. Like if Quentin Tarantino wrote for Spidey villains, in the hands of Nick Spencer, these lovable losers ooze charisma and style in the way that Mr. Pink or Vincent Vega would. They are affable yet dysfunctional, self aggrandizing yet self defeating, and all together human. Just a bunch of small time crooks trying to get by in an increasingly dangerous and competitive world.
My buddy Chad Smith said the book was like if Keith Giffen’s Justice League International was written about super villains and I gotta say that’s pretty close to the mark in terms of taking no name lemons and making them into delicious lemonade.
In fact, after reading this series, I’m never going to look at these particular Spidey villain the same again. To me now, thanks to this book, they are 3 dimensional characters each with distinct personalities, dreams, aspirations and so forth. And that makes for better comics overall, when both hero and villain alike are allowed to be real people with depth and reasons to fight for their way of life.
Now, I don’t want this to be a spoiler heavy review so I’m not going to talk much about what happens in the book or the overall plot, but I will say that the character that comes away from the book the best is Boomerang. From his interactions with the other gang members (especially Shocker), a more divulging look into his own personal back story, the way he runs the Sinister Six and conducts his own business, this C list character automatically bumps himself up into at least being a B lister now.
I actually care what happens to Boomerang now, and in some ways want to see more of the character in Spidey books going forward. At the end of the book, he also seems very capable in terms of both running a gang of hoods and/or being more than an concessional pain in the ass for the old Web Spinner.
Finally, I loved the fact that only time you see heroes in this entire book is during the gang’s brief run in with the real deal dynamic duo of Power Man & Iron Fist. For being a Spidey book, the wall crawler actually is never seen or even mentioned which at first seemed a little odd but made sense from a stylistic perspective after a while. Although you miss all those classically corny Peter Parker quips, you do get the witty back and forth banter of Marvel’s original “cop buddy” team up which helps keep even the fight sequence light hearted and groovy.
Overall, I’m very happy that I read this trade and would recommend it to any one in a heart beat. And I mean anyone, as I really don’t think you have to be a Spiderman fan, or hell even a comic book fan to enjoy this story. It’s self contained for the most part and thanks to the strong characterizations tells its story without having refer back to any sort of mainstream continuity.
I know that Sony is thinking about making a some standalone movies for their Spiderman universe. Although I think it’s insane that they are doing anything other than giving the full rights to the Spidey-verse back to Marvel, I personally can’t think of a better blueprint to make a really good film other than this trade.
These would be villains that any viewer would be happy to spend 10 bucks to see for 2 hours, with all the comic charm up for full display. It would be your typical ultra hip “heist” film and in a cinematic world filled with the same old origin stories, I think that would be breath of fresh air.
Andy’s Read Pile Rating: A+ (A must read for all comic fans)