Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17: The Wonder Years

Superior Foes 17 cover

Regardless of how great or terrible a television series may be, it almost always ends up being defined by the quality of its final episode. Who cares if The Sopranos was (for the first four seasons at least) one of the most game-changing dramas in television history? The final episode ended on such an ambiguous note, that Chris Hardwick spent the first 20 minutes following the Breaking Bad finale talking about how it compared to The Sopranos (without ever mentioning The Sopranos by name). I managed to avoid getting sucked into the confusing world of Lost when it was on the air, but still felt for fans of the show who were left dumbfounded by how it was all tied up.

For me, there’s no finer finale from my lifetime than The Wonder Years. The Wonder Years was one of those quiet, character-driven shows that documented an era of American history I never experienced first hand. And yet, the emotion and sentimentality of the final episode chokes me up as if I was a teenager in the 1960s watching the world changing before my eyes all over again. As Daniel Stern’s wonderfully reflective voiceover takes over the final few minutes of that show, we get some semblance of resolution for all of these characters we just spent so many years getting to know or love. And yet, the one big plot point that drove the narrative for the entire series – the romance between Kevin and Winnie – is left somewhat dangling. Actually, it’s quite conclusive – they do NOT end up with each other. A part of me was incredulous about that plot development, and another part of me understood it and accepted it as the right way to end the show.

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It’s funny that the Superior Foes of Spider-Man spends so much time in its final issue comparing itself to some of the more controversial finales in recent memory – the aforementioned Lost and The Sopranos endings, along with the How I Met Your Mother series ender, which I think qualifies as a possible crime against humanity. Because for me, Superior Foes #17 was The Wonder Years finale of comic book series ender – a sentimental journey that filled me with a sense of joy and wonder, while simultaneously leaving some major plot points somewhat unresolved. But I can’t get upset about it because this series has been so wonderful, and such an unexpected surprise, that who I am to demand that every single little thing be tied up in a neat little bow? That’s not what Superior Foes has ever been about and to go in a different direction now that the ball is on the 1-yard line would have been disingenuous of Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber.

Spencer and Lieber fittingly end their series focused almost exclusively on Fred Boomerang Meyers, who even himself admits at one point that he’s the unofficial star of this book. Boomerang goes from “winning” to being a loser again within the blink of an eye as he pulls off just one too many con jobs before getting nabbed by the Owl. But anyone who has read all 17 issues of this series who still thinks Boomerang is some loser “D” list character who is not worthy of a second thought clearly hasn’t been paying attention.

The miracle that Spencer and LIeber performed in the creation and duration of Superior Foes of Spider-Man will never be understated. Similar to The Wonder Years, the duo took a concept and quietly and confidently produced something that will stand the test of time and serve as something that people will reflect back on joyfully. Remember, this is the series that I thought was some kind of belated April’s Fool’s joke when Marvel first solicited it back in April 2013. It seemed like another desperate cash grab from Marvel – slapping the name “Superior” on a book that stars the likes of Boomerang, Shocker, Overdrive, Speed Demon and a new version of the Beetle? What were they smoking at the “House of Ideas,” and where could I get some of that?

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Anyone who has been reading Chasing Amazing for the past 18 months knows how much I love this series – how this book became a favorite of mine nearly the instant the first issue published two Julys ago. Superior Foes scratches every single itch I could ever ask to be scratched in a comic book series – character driven, unique humor, quality artwork and a fast-paced story. But even with my love affair with this series, once it became known that the book was ending at issue No. 17, I wondered how Spencer and Lieber would wrap things up. Those of us following the spider-books the past couple of years have received a number of finales – none of which could be described as being as perfectly pitched as Superior Foes #17. In some instances, the creators were trying too hard to be epic and ended up tying themselves in a pretzel with their logic. In other cases, the creators were surprisingly bitter about the fact that their books were ending.

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Perhaps because there were never any high expectations about Superior Foes in the first place, Spencer and Lieber never felt any pressure to tell their story the way they wanted to tell it. It was patently obviously as the series marched on that the two had a gameplan, and outside of a couple of issues earlier this year that felt like placeholders until the larger caper narrative took back over, they never deviated from the script. As such, the ending that we got was probably the ending they had always planned on giving us. If we liked it, great. If not, well, the book is over, what else are you going to do about it? That level of confidence and honesty is just hard to find in a comic book these days. Sure, at times, the comic reads like Spencer and Lieber are actively aware of how confidence and honest they are, giving this final issue a congratulatory tone. But, again, if you’ve been reading Superior Foes this whole time, what else do you expect?

I guess the one last thing to discuss about this comic and this series, is where does Marvel go with this cast from here? The Sinister Six who are actually only five are all seemingly alive and well enough to carry on in another book or series. But after getting such a high quality look at these characters for the past 18 months, a part of me hopes that unless Spencer and Lieber are back on the case, Boomerang and company remain out of the rotation for a while. The next person who writes Boomerang or Shocker is inevitably going to be compared to what Spencer and Lieber did and unless Marvel can find someone with another golden idea using this cast, it will probably lead to unsatisfying results. I think there’s potential in a Kevin Shinick-scripted Hobgoblin series to serve as the quirky and hip Spidey satellite book, but as of right now, there is zero reason to expect that to be in the cards.

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So until then, let’s just let this final issue of Superior Foes serve as a lasting memory – a sudden fade to black that really wasn’t all that sudden. Or to paraphrase my favorite finale, growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of Superior Foes of Spider-Man stay with you for the long haul. I remember a comic, a series, like other series, a cast of characters a lot like other cast of characters in comics. And the thing is, after all of these issues, I still look back, with wonder.

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