All of the people featured in this book are terrible and terrible people will let you down.
One of the conceits of Superior Foes of Spider-Man is the irony of its title. None of the characters this book focuses on are superior to anyone or anything. Boomerang, Overdrive, Beetle, Speed Demon, and Shocker are awful people and not just because they’re villains—they are awful villains too. So why did my heart feel warm and fuzzy when the Sinister Six finally came together as a team?
Late in this book, Boomerang, Beetle, Overdrive, and Speed Demon go to a bar to celebrate their big score: a* portrait of Doctor Doom’s face and the head of Silvio Silvermane. Some villains from the Sinister Sixteen from #12 show up, wanting a piece of the profit. A fight ensues. And—get this—the Sinister “Six” win. They actually win. They win through teamwork.
Somehow amongst all the squabbles and in-fighting, Nick Spencer’s dialogue and Steve Lieber’s art have made the reader care about these losers, these villains who are terrible and terrible at being villains, to the point that you feel a little thrill when they finally come together as a team. When they work together, they can accomplish things. Big things! Maybe they really are the Superior Foes of the title after all.
Except that they’re not.
That victory in the bar is tainted by what happens immediately after it. All the characters have to do is stick together. That’s all they have to do. Spencer has written these characters so well that it’s hilarious and heartbreaking when the characters stay true to form and screw everything up. Boomerang may be at his most infuriatingly punchable outside the bar, giving a speech about friendship that he has stolen from Shocker. Shocker gives the speech about the practicality of sticking together at the start of the issue, after towering over the crew at the end of last month’s. Shocker’s right and sincere, so of course the Sinister Six deal with him in one of the coldest, most heartless scenes of the series.
If there’s any criticism I’ve had over the last fourteen issues, it’s the characterization of the Shocker. Shocker, while hardly the most dynamic character, has made enough appearances in Spider-Man books to feel like the most defined character of the cast. So while Spencer had total freedom to come up with what, say, Overdrive is like, it felt out of place that Shocker was such a coward, given that Shocker’s not been overly cowardly in the past. In this issue, he starts to get a big moment, finally standing up to the gang. It’s emotional and meaningful until that little voice in my head reminds me that this was built up through dismissing his history over the years. However, I was also hurt for him when the Sinister Six betrayed him again, so Spencer may have taken a shortcut but it’s one that works.
Interspersed throughout the drama is the book’s typical solid humor. Great bits include Hammerhead seeing a therapist, the head of Silvio Silvermane lacking a USB port for phone charging, and the particulars of how owning his head puts you in charge of the Maggia. Really, it’s easy to overlook just how big the cast actually is; Spencer and Lieber are juggling a dozen characters, giving them conflicting motivations, and making them interesting. They might be the best thing to happen to Spider-Man’s rogue gallery in decades.
All in all, Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14 provides moments that have been building for the entire series, forces you to realize that you care about these characters who are only going to let you down, and sets things up for a big, crazy, comic book climax in the final issues.
While the cast of Superior Foes of Spider-Man are always disappointing, the book never is.