Monday, December 8, 2014

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17

(To be honest, this is more a review of the whole run.)

How do I continually get my heart broken by series like this? Regular readers know that I don’t care for a lot of the headliner Avengers titles these days. Instead, the best team books seem to be the ones hanging out on the fringes of the Marvel U. Heroes for Hire, Mighty Avengers, MODOK’s 11, Mystery Men, Thunderbolts, I could go on and on about the best Marvel team books. And Superior Foes deserves to be in that conversation.

I picked up this series because when I chatted with artist Steve Lieber at a con, and he seemed really excited about the book. Not only did I get a great Snow Job sketch, but I also found a fantastic series.

Historically and almost thematically, this series picked up after Jeff Parker’s wonderful run on Thunderbolts. I wasn’t tremendously familiar with Nick Spencer’s work, but from the opening pages of the first issue, this series boasted top notch characterization, laugh-out-loud moments, and an entertainingly confusing plot. The Sinister Six (who have only 5 members) consist of Boomerang, Beetle, Speed Demon, Shocker, and Overdrive. This mix of classic, new, and legacy villains was a delightful ensemble. Even though Boomerang was a raging jerk, you couldn’t help pull for the guy. With supporting appearances from Mach-V, Chameleon, Silvermane, Punisher, Owl, and a lot more, this was firmly planted in the Marvel U.

Of course, as we learned in this issue, we have had a darn unreliable narrator for the entire series. Boomerang isn’t exactly trustworthy. The last issue (like many of the others) has a lot of late reveals and explanations that our guide didn’t want to let go too soon.

Spencer really proves himself in one aspect. He leaves the Marvel U richer than he found it. Boomerang has had some moments of characterization before. But the new Beetle being Tombstone’s ambitious daughter? Overdrive pining to eventually become an Avenger? Who knew that Speed Demon had a soft spot for dogs? And Shocker, truly, his potential is the most surprising (or not). These goofballs are the type of characters that drew me into the Marvel U when I first discovered it as a kid. The costumed villains can have lives just as rich (or richer) as those of the super-heroes.

Aside from a few fill-in issues that couldn’t live up to the standard set by the rest of the series, this run is the child of Spencer and Lieber. The book wouldn’t have worked without Lieber’s art. In addition to solid super-heroics, Lieber shows off a tremendous sense of comedic timing. His art direction seamlessly flows between drama and comedy. And his action scenes? He rarely if ever delivers them straight. If there is a fight in an issue of this book, you are going to get something new and special. The pacing of the fight scenes keeps the book moving at an amazing pace. Sure, the world is never at risk, but a LOT happens throughout this run. Lieber’s gritty but clear pencils are key to making that fast pace work.

Folks, this is an EXCELLENT comic. The type of comic you can look back on fondly and realize that you’ve discovered a hidden gem. 

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