Superior Foes of Spider-Man should have been a dumb book: best case scenario, a bunch of “jokes” mocking readers for enjoying superhero comics; worst-case scenario, a joyless slog of villains swearing, murdering, and “being for adults.” What we got instead was a comedy book, sure, but it’s also a love-letter to also-rans, the losers, and the losers who deserve to stay losers.
Last issue ended with a twist. Boomerang gets jumped by the Chameleon and the Owl, but—oh snap—he’s also at a major league baseball game disguised as the team’s pitcher. The first thing this issue does is clarify what was going on. The Boomerang that got beat up? That was actually Abner Jenkins, the superhero Mach VII, former Beetle, and Boomerang’s would-be sponsor for supervillain recovery. Boomerang made the switch using the Chameleon’s shapeshifting serum. Boomerang also takes us through how he walked off with the Doctor Doom painting many issues ago. What keeps these reveals from feeling like cheats is that all of this happened on panel. As Nick Spencer takes us through the exposition, Steve Lieber revisits scenes to show how Boomerang did it. It’s smart, plays fair with the reader, and encourages us to revisit previous issues.
Has Boomerang ever been close enough to winning that he gets to explain his plan to the hero? Because that’s what he gets to do here. Later in the book, it’s revealed that he’s been relaying this tale to Peter Parker. Though Boomerang loses in the end, subtly, he also gets his biggest win. He gets to monologue to Spider-Man about being close to victory.
The first half of this issue is built around Boomerang taking the field as Demang Pendak, a pitcher about to break Boomerang’s rookie strikeout record. Boomerang wants one last moment in baseball because, he tells us, baseball was the last time he was happy. He claims that this is the one time he’s telling the truth, but . . . he’s not. Not really. It’s Boomerang convincing himself that this goal, this next thing matters because the last thing didn’t work out. And we’ve spent enough time with him that we want it to work out, sort of, so when Boomerang’s mistakes catch up with him and the Owl pressures him to throw the game—it’s sad. Kind of. I mean, he’s still a piece of crap. We don’t find out specifically what happens, but we know Boomerang ends up a loser, like always, albeit one we grudgingly like. Maybe?
The second half of the issue addresses resolutions for the other members of the Sinister Six and Mach VII. Speed Demon’s is mostly a gag, Beetle and Overdrive are glossed over, but Mach VII’s brought a legitimate smile to my face.
And then there’s the Shocker.
My biggest recurring criticism has been the characterization of Shocker as a worthless coward. It didn’t ring true to what we have seen before. However, where we end up is—well, Shocker gets the best “badass” moment of the series. He gets to take out the Punisher. With a Shocker-Mobile. It’s kind of the best thing.
Shocker also ends in up as the don of the Maggia (or Silvermane’s right-hand man), which could have larger implications for Spider-Man and the Marvel Universe.
In a way, Boomerang explaining his brilliance comes off as Spencer and Lieber patting themselves on the back. Which, you know what? They should be allowed to do for hitting seventeen home runs in a row. I’m not sure what I have left to say about Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber. They had a low bar to meet but set it exceptionally high with each issue. Lieber in particular carries a lot of the humor and the emotion on the back of his pencils. They gave us a book that was funny, smart, and unique, things more comics should strive to be. These two have announced a new book from Image, so check that out.
Spencer goes to the “Sopranos“ ending twice in this issue. We don’t know how the baseball game resolves and the conversation with Peter Parker ends the issue, mid-sentence. It’s frustrating but fitting. We’ve spent seventeen issues with these characters who will always keep themselves from getting what they want. These supervillains who are their own antagonists. We’ve been frustrated with them, so that’s how we leave them—with frustration. The Sinister Six did nothing but disappoint us, but The Superior Foes of Spider-Man never did.