Editor’s Note: My real life schedule has been in a state of chaos the past two weeks so we’re going to run the final installment of my Superior Foes Spotlight today. Starting next week I will be attempting to get through all of the new releases I have not yet written about these past two weeks. As always, thanks for the patience.
So, when I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to write a post spotlighting each member of the Superior Foes of Spider-Man, was it really any surprise who I was going to save for last?
This guy, right?
Actually, my decision to spotlight the amazing Fred Meyers, aka, Boomerang, was made a little more difficult thanks to a previous post I made more than a year ago. If you’re looking for a quintessential Boomerang/Spider-Man story, there’s no better one out there than Spectacular Spider-Man #67, which establishes the character as a bit of a bonehead and, as Kingpin called him, a “bungler.”
In an effort to not write about the same comic book twice (especially when I focused so exclusively on Boomerang the first time around), I settled on what I think is a very underrated Marvel Team-Up arc from the late 1970s by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema. MTU #82-85 marks the first time Spider-Man and Boomerang cross paths and does provide a few early glimpses of Fred’s mischievous/dishonest nature that would become a trademark in Superior Foes. Like what other villain out there willingly brags about getting hit by the Hulk and living to tell the tale? There’s got to be a better way to earn some street cred, right?
But similar to what I encountered in my write-up about Amazing Spider-Man #21 and the Beetle last week, to call this MTU arc a “Boomerang story” is a bit of a stretch. At its core, this is a Spider-Man/Black Widow story, with some high drama S.H.I.E.L.D. shenanigans mixed in as the former Madame Hydra-turned-Viper has brainwashed a couple of high ranking agents (including Clay Quatermain) and plots to crash a helicarrier into the U.S. Capitol building (because if the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taught me anything, helicarriers are only good for crashing into buildings).
For what it’s worth, the Spider-Man/Black Widow plot is quite good, and elevates this story into “lost gem” status (for what it’s worth, I think the bulk of Claremont’s MTU stories are quite good, even the sillier ones like the Saturday Night Live team-up). What starts out as a somewhat overdone amnesia story involving Widow thinking she’s just a regular old school teacher, Nancy Rushman, evolves into something far more complex and tender than it has any right to be. As Spider-Man, Nick Fury, Shang-Chi and “Nancy” fight Viper, Boomerang and the Silver Samurai, the story shifts its focus to Widow not only regaining her memories, but also her confidence in being one of the world’s most deadly assassins.
In one scene, Shang-Chi even fakes getting killed by Viper, as a means of giving Widow the incentive to kick some butt and get her groove back.
In the midst of all of this character development, Claremont teases a possible romance between Spider-Man and Widow – well, at least when she’s Nancy. As Widow shifts back and forth between her two personalities, Spider-Man is the epitome of patient and caring, which wins “Nancy’s” affections. When she leans in for a kiss on Spidey, he knows that she’s not thinking with a clear mind and rebuffs her advances. And when she completely changes back into Widow at the end, and gives Spidey the old “it’s not you it’s me” speech about their future together, there’s definitely a mutual understanding about how “real” the teased romance was.
Still, Claremont also keeps that door ever-so-slightly ajar when he ends his comic with a contemplative Widow thinking about how being alone is not a lifestyle choice but rather a professional necessity. So maybe, maybe, in some other time and place Black Widow and Spider-Man could have had something, but in all likelihood, the status quo would be maintained.
Boomerang is nothing more than a hired goon working on behalf of Viper here, but he gets to run his mouth off to great comedic effect. In addition to his line about getting hit by the Hulk, he also threatens Shang-Chi by telling him he took out another kung-fu master, Iron Fist a few months back – a claim that MTU’s editor immediately disputes by calling it a “biased” view of events from a Claremont/John Byrne Iron Fist issue. And thus Boomerang is caught in one of his earliest lies (or at least a lie in a Spider-Man comic), a gimmick/gag that has been repeated to great effect throughout the 17-issue run of Superior Foes.
And just in case you’re not convinced after reading the first few installments of this story that Boomerang was destined to be a loser in the Marvel Universe (at least until Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber rescued him), in MTU #84, Fred looks to be victorious against Shang-Chi, only to be deposed of by Fury off-panel and never seen again. However, the comic does feature a pretty funny sight gag of Fury wearing Boomerang’s costume for the duration of MTU #85.
But seriously, read this story, because it’s a true standout from a series that doesn’t have an illustrious history of producing complex, character-centric stories that aren’t overly formulaic and stilted. Claremont rarely gets much attention for his Spider-Man work because he apparently became famous writing some other superhero team that nobody really cares about (I kid, I kid), but the guy had a real knack for Spidey’s voice and his relationships with the rest of the Marvel Universe and probably deserved a stint on Amazing Spider-Man. I’m sure Marvel is okay with the fact that Claremont just revolutionized X-Men instead.
The first Boomerang story I read was the Deadly Foes of Spider-Man limited series and it’s still one of my favorites today. The feud between Boomerang and the Beetle is one of the highlights.
There’s a lot of the cowardly Shocker in Deadly Foes too so I wonder how much Spencer and Marvel were trying to reference the characterizations between Deadly Foes and Superior Foes. At the end of the day Superior Foes does a much better job, but for a 90s series there are a lot worse stories than Deadly Foes. At least it tried to do some interesting character work.
I’ll have to catch up on Marvel Team Up eventually.
This is my favorite story from the original Marvel Team-Up, though it’s more for the Spidey/Widow plot and the SHIELD intrigue than for Boomerang’s role.
My favorite Boomerang moment thus far is probably a scene in Spectacular Spider-Man #73 wherein he nearly escapes a courtroom with a pen, and then threatens the judge and Spider-Man with a paperclip.