The professional super criminals of the Marvel Universe may lie, chat, steal and kill, but ultimately they’re looking for the same thing as you and me: A way to make ends meet and a bit of the good life. Of course, the risk associated with the rewards they seek is usually not proportional and even if they do pull a job off the consequences are often greater than the rewards. So even though their behavior is reprehensible, Marvel’s working class super criminals are essentially underdogs, and when the spotlight is turned on them, you can’t help but root for them on some level.
Five of these blue collar super villains: Boomerang, Beetle, Speed Demon, Shocker and Overdrive who make the latest and misleadingly named incarnation of the Sinister Six, are the stars of writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber’s ongoing series, “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.”
We spoke with Spencer about the events of the series’ first arc which has the team preparing to swipe the head of the cybernetic mob boss Silvermane in order to placate the bloodthirsty and relentless Spider-Man villain known as the Chameleon.
CBR News: Let’s start with the man who’s been the focus of these first issues, Fred Myers, better known as Boomerang. In the opening issues, Fred has lied, screwed over his colleagues and even attempted to murder one of them. Yet we still like him, and it seems you do, as well. What is it about Fred that makes us like and sympathize with him despite his despicable behavior?
Nick Spencer: [Laughs] Everybody loves assholes. The world needs them, and all comedy comes from the ability to relate and connect with someone and then seeing them do something that you could never do. We all have that inner dickhead we can take and transpose onto Fred. He’ll do horrible things with it, and we get to be safe with our comics
I think what’s most appealing about Fred as a person is that he’s the underdog in his story. No matter what horrible things he does, he’s not the villain. He’s the guy trying to beat the odds. I think we can all sort of relate to that too.
In issue #4, he breaks his team out of a prison van that his set up led them to. While he’s doing that he says, “This is a real Heisenberg moment.” Do you think Fred and “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White are comparable in how they view their circumstances?
I think that every working class crook in the country must have been watching “Breaking Bad” and feeling some sense of kinship with Walter. I liked the idea that these guys would watch “Breaking Bad” and idolize a high school science teacher.
Will Fred be our primary point of view character for just this initial arc, or will you continue to follow his perspective as you move forward?
Fred is always kind of in the driver’s seat, but we will take some issues to focus in on some of the other cast members. We’ll really spend some time with them and deal with some of their back stories and motivations for being in this gang, but Fred will remain our primary narrator throughout the book.
The new Beetle is really going to be fun to spend some with. She’s this unknown quantity within the group and is the one character I was able to invent more of a backstory for. I’m excited — we’ll see more with her in issue #7, and I think people will dig it.
Only Boomerang is aware of this, but right now, the primary antagonist of the Sinister Six is the Chameleon. What made you want to pit the group against him in this initial arc?
The Chameleon has a lot of great story possibilities. He can appear to be anyone. Right there, you have lots of potential roads you can go down with the character.
Plus, Chameleon is a great behind the scenes guy, because he can always remain there. Having an antagonist that can be the trouble behind everything and seeing all the different ways he can manifest within the story is a lot of fun.
It’s interesting that the Chameleon has embraced his bloody and ruthless side, but within the Sinister Six, there’s sort of a conflict between the romanticism of putting on a costume and the brutal reality of using their super abilities and tools to commit crime.
Yeah. Half of this team has been members of the Thunderbolts at one point or another, and the Marvel Universe has such a history of bad guys becoming good guys and then becoming bad guys again that there is sort of a built-in romance to putting on a costume, even if you’re a bad guy.
I think Spider-Man’s villains kind of approach life in a different way than Captain America’s rogues. They have their own sort of codes and levels of how far they’re willing to go and they’re constantly wrestling with where to draw those lines.
One guy who seems to have a particularly hard time with that is Shocker. In issue #4, we saw he was still wearing his Thunderbolts badge on his belt. Why is that? Did the Thunderbolts have some special significance to Shocker?
That scene was Steve Lieber’s idea. Basically, it was saying that guys like Shocker can’t afford new belts. [Laughs] It’s just cost savings on their part. It’s not a problem anymore, though, after issue #4, where Luke Cage takes the badge back.
The other Thunderbolt presence in this book is, of course, Boomerang’s parole officer Mach V [Abner Jenkins] who used to be the original Beetle. I know you’re a big fan of the Sinister Syndicate, a group the original Beetle was part of. Is that part of the reason why you wanted to bring Mach V into the book?
Definitely. I’m a huge, huge old school Beetle fan. I really wanted to bring Abner into the book, and the idea of having him as Fred’s parole officer was just to good to pass up. Abner has got a big part to play in this story going forward. We’ve seen nowhere near the last of him.
â€¨That relationship between Abner and Fred is just great to play with. If you read books like “Deadly Foes of Spider-Man,” you saw the way those guys were constantly butting heads and jockeying for control of their gang. So now it’s fun to look at their relationship from this vantage point, with Abner having gone straight. It will be interesting to see how their old grudges and habits manifest.
As I mentioned earlier, in issue #4 Boomerang ratted out his gang because they kicked him out, but at the end of the issue, he regains his membership and control of the team by liberating them from a police van. How would you describe the dynamic between the Sinister Six going into issue #5?
Like you said, going into issue #5, Fred has control of the gang again. He sprung them from jail and they have no knowledge that he was the one that put them there in the first place. So for now, they’re taking their cues from him again.
Obviously, at the end of issue #4, he took some additional steps to solidify his control and eliminate any risks [by throwing Shocker into a trunk of a car and driving that car into the river]. Going forward, there will still be challenges to his authority, and there will still be doubts about his ability to pull off this job. For now, though, it’s his way or the highway again.
What can you tell us about the plot of issues #5? Is this the big heist for Silvermane’s head and the repercussions from it?
Yes — in issue #5, we go into the heist of the Owl’s place, where Silvermane’s head is supposedly kept. In the issue, we’ll spend some time following the Owl. We’re going to introduce him into the story, which should be a lot of fun. Plus, there are a couple big twists and turns. It’s a big issue.
I love Steve Lieber’s character acting in this series. His art gives the book a great grounded, seedy feel.
Steve is one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with. He’s so critical to this book and integral to its success that you really can’t say enough about his contributions. So many of the visual gags and jokes in this book are added in by Steve. He takes the script that I give him and puts additional layers on it that makes it twice as good. Without Steve, the book wouldn’t be half as funny and it wouldn’t be half as good. He’s one of the most talented story tellers I’ve ever encountered. His ability to make these characters come to life is just unparalleled. The guy is amazing.
Finally, in this initial arc we’ve seen some of the complications that come with being a costumed thief in the Marvel Universe. After the Silverman heist, what comes next for the “Superior Foes of Spider-Man?”
This book is a little different in that it doesn’t really follow a traditional arc structure. Everything is connected and everything is building. Really, we’re going to continue down the same path. Things will happen in issues #5 and #6 that will make things feel a little different in issues #7-12, but it’s still all the same story.
I want to give a huge thank you to all the fans and retailers who have supported this book. The response to it has been unreal. The enthusiasm that people have shown for it and the attachments they’ve already made to these characters is just mind blowing. It’s so much fun to work on a book when the readership is in that place, and that’s certainly where we are on this series. So again, thank you, to everybody who’s been picking up the book, shelving it in their stores and supporting it.