When it comes to my popular culture consumption, I’m a sucker for good characters. Give me quality, well-drawn characters and I’ll probably end up liking what I’m seeing/reading regardless of how fast-paced the story may be. That’s why a show like Mad Men, which moves at a glacial pace compared to more popular/highly-rated programs, constantly ranks among my favorite every year. Good characters also transform an action-packed show like Breaking Bad from summer fluff to contender for “greatest show of all-time.”
After its cute, and universally warmly received debut issue, Superior Foes of Spider-Man #2 demonstrates that this series is very much character driven. The story seems completely secondary – tertiary even. In fact, it took a second read of this comic for me to even remember that this issue (kinda) develops a plot point involving Boomerang and his reformed Sinister Six (Five) needing to track down the “head” of Silvio Silvermane in order to pay a debt back to the Chameleon. Granted, Boomerang himself brushes aside this plot device … and that’s just the point. These story details are not important in Superior Foes of Spider-Man. What’s more important is that Boomerang’s quirky narrative (as written by Nick Spencer) adds depth to him and his supporting cast of characters. If you want fast-paced action movies disguised as a comic book series, read Superior Spider-Man.
So, for me, Superior Foes is totally my cup of tea, though I’m starting to recognize why it might also frustrate and annoy others. As I just alluded to, the actual “crime” the Sinister Six are planning to accomplish is a bit murky and hard to follow. I had the same issue with the Superior Foes #1, which I talk about in Episode 6 of the Superior Spider-Talk podcast with my co-host Dan Gvozden. There’s just a few too many instances where characters essentially say “we’ll get to that later” rather than actually explain what it is they’re doing. On one hand, these little narrative devices give the comic a very unique voice that feels more contemporary and social media-ish (a la Hawkeye). On the other hand, I just don’t know if it’s a sustainable storytelling strategy over the long haul.
Then there’s how the Punisher is used in this comic. Superior Foes #2 opens with a fantastic, narrative-heavy splash page of the Punisher – guns ablazeing – and how Boomerang just hates this guy because unlike other superheroes who beat you up a little bit until it’s time to take a “nappy nap,” Frank Castle has no moral code and just kills criminals indiscriminately. I found this page to be a phenomenal bit of characterization from Spencer that can only be captured in a narrative that takes the perspective of a villain. We’ve heard from Spider-Man (Peter Parker version) plenty of times about why Punisher is a kook, but Boomerang’s description felt haunting. Spider-Man judges Punisher based on morality – a perceived “right” or “wrong” way for heroes to do their business. Boomerang is petrified about the fact that just being a villain means the first time he ever crosses paths with the Punisher might be his last day alive. Boomerang’s voice here just feels like something a real-life small-time crook would say to a community of sympathetic ears.
So when we finally get the Punisher confrontation that was basically advertised for this comic, there’s another great moment where Boomerang is asked for his “last words,” and all he can come up with is that he doesn’t want to die with a boomerang insignia on his head. The Punisher then reveals himself to be the Chameleon, which kinda took the fun out of the sequence for me. It’s not that I expected Boomerang to be offed in the second issue of his own new comic book series, but I would have totally bought into the scene more if Boomerang managed to get away from certain death through some kind of luck or chicanery and then ended up changing the story (as he did) of what happened to the rest of the Sinister Six. Instead, what we have here is a classic case of bait and switch, which can be frustrating if used too often (and this is now the second time Chameleon has been the central figure in a bait and switch in this series).
Again, none of these details are negatively affecting my reading experience of this comic. In fact, I believe Superior Foes #2 has just as much fun, energy and humor as the debut issue. Spencer is weaving together such a quirky universe of characters. It’s not just the titular “foes” who are the focus, but also characters like Boomerang’s shyster lawyer “Partridge,” who sets workforce relations back a few centuries by not only marrying his secretary, but still calling her “babe” every chance he can (and bragging about it).
Then there’s the visual of Boomerang imagining the decapitation of Partridge. Similar to his work on Superior Foes #1, Steve Lieber does such a fantastic job using visuals to not only advance the story, but to also reveal little tidbits about the character. Of course Boomerang’s imagination looks like something my toddler son drew on the coffee table. It’s the little details like this that make me want to spend $3 once a month to hang out in this universe.
In fact, I love these characters so much, I think it’s time we start hearing more from the likes of Lady Beetle and Overdrive, who are probably the two most underdeveloped team members thus far. What’s so funny about my assessment is the fact that when the Superior Foes concept was announced a few months ago, I thought there was no prayer of this title being anything more than a four-issue mini-series, and here I am after two issues begging for more development and characterization in a way that will probably fill up a dozen comics worth of material in no time.
If this write-up comes across as overly negative, it’s only because after just two issues, I think Superior Foes has an enormous amount of potential. It’s already the comic I most look forward to reading every month and have the highest expectations for as a result. There’s a lot of great stuff in issue #2, and in many ways, it’s an improvement over the debut since there’s less set-up and exposition and more flat-out character exploration. I just want to see Spencer and Lieber get the credit they deserve and for the Superior Foes concept to succeed like its older brother Hawkeye has managed to do.
All images from Superior Foes of Spider-Man #2: Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber. Cover by Ed McGuinness