The jig is up, everybody, because as Marvel’s most recent batch of solicits has revealed, “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” is done for as of issue #17. I’ve feared this very moment from the instant I first fell in love with the goofy, wise-ass series last year, and now that the moment has arrived — I’m surprisingly cool with it.
Yeah, I didn’t see that coming either. Just a few months ago I was trying to save the series from cancellation; I took all my favorite moments from the first handful of issues and compiled them into a call-to-action-y Tumblr post. (Is there another kind of Tumblr post?) I’ve been reading comics long enough to have been burned by prematurely canceled books in the past — yes, I’m still bummed about “Slingers.” I didn’t want that to happen to “Superior Foes” and, now that the book has a fast-approaching end date, I find myself surprisingly unburned.
I read the headline — “Superior Foes,” “New Warriors” End In November — and actually felt a sense of — pride? I know I didn’t feel sad. No, I felt pride, which is an odd feeling for someone that has had nothing to do with the book in any capacity past enthusiastic/vocal reader/supporter. Why did I feel pride?
I’ve always gravitated towards comedy, and I have dozens of VHS tapes filled with “Seinfeld” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episodes to prove it. However much I love to laugh, and however much I respect comedy as an art form and a real craft, that tends to not apply to the super hero comics I read. I got into comics in late 1992, which was not exactly the most upbeat time for the medium. A lot of those pouch/bullet-filled comics are hilarious, but they sure weren’t meant to be funny.
Any X-comic that had even a hint of humor in it pulled me in. You better believe Peter David and Larry Stroman’s “X-Factor” blew my tiny little mind. Say what you will about Scott Lobdell’s “Uncanny X-Men” run, and I know people do, but he won me over with his quip-filled battles and snarky one-liners. There are pages in “Generation X” #1 that still make me laugh. And I don’t think I need to get into how Deadpool straight up changed my life in middle school; I wrote the very first IN YOUR FACE JAM about that.
Fast forward to me being an “adult.” I now get my comedy fix through my involvement with the Upright Citizens Brigade. When I’m not writing about comics, I’m usually doing improv, planning comedy videos, or writing and recording comedy sketches. And when I’m not doing any of that, I’m plowing through episodes of “Golden Girls” and “Frasier.” This is the life I’ve chosen. It’s so rare that my passion for super hero comics overlaps with my passion for comedy. It might be too early to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” hit me just as hard as a 29 year old man as “Deadpool” hit me back when I was 13. I firmly believe that just a few years from now, I will be speaking of “Superior Foes” with the reverence I now use for the most formative comics of my youth.
I wasn’t even going to read “Superior Foes” because I’m a very casual Spider-Man fan, even after I saw some covers and pages for the series when I briefly met artist Steve Lieber at the last ever Stumptown Comics Festival last year. I ignored “Superior Foes,” but I did buy, read, and enjoy his Image book “Underground.” My interest simply didn’t get piqued until I heard rave reviews for the series on the iFanboy podcast. Another super comic that’s funny? I had to give it a try.
As soon as I saw an undressed Boomerang ask a trio of criminals in red hooded robes if their whole get up was “some kind of sex thing,” I knew this was the book for me.
For those of you that missed out on the book so far, “Superior Foes” follows the re-formed Sinister Six — with five members, because, you know, who’s counting? — as they go for a big score. The plot is full of double crosses and unexpected twists, twists designed to make you laugh instead of scratch your head. But the real selling point is the characters. The oafish Speed Demon, the put-upon Shocker, the competitive Beetle, the scoundrel-y Boomerang, the cantankerous severed head of Silvermane — these are characters I loved reading about. I eventually realized that “Superior Foes” was the “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” of Marvel Comics, and the book clicked into place for me. Fan for life, totally on board, ride or die with the “Foes.” Hearing Charlie Day and Kaitlin Olson’s voices while reading Boomerang and Beetle’s lines only enhanced my enjoyment of this ridiculous series.
Writer Nick Spencer revealed a completely different side of himself with this series, one that I never expected from him. Comedy is hard. It’s tricky. Throw too many jokes out at once, and the audience could miss the best ones. Clutter your sentences with words, and you lessen the punch line. If the characters and situation aren’t somewhat grounded, then there’s nothing for the comedy to comment on and bounce off of. Spencer kept the jokes tight and the characters at least marginally sympathetic; all five of these characters strive to be better. Who can’t relate to that? Of course, most of us don’t go about that by double-crossing crime bosses like the Owl or Chameleon — different strokes.
While Spencer’s scripts delighted me, they didn’t surprise me. I’ve read funny super hero scripts before — and Spencer’s are now up there with the best of the best. Steve Lieber surprised me. I knew he was a great artist. I did not know that he or any comic book artist could execute physical comedy with such expertise. In my decades of reading comics, I’ve just always assumed that static images could not live up to what we see on screen. Steve Lieber proved me wrong by turning Mach VII into the Marvel Comics equivalent of Dick Van Dyke. The running gag of him not being able to fit through doors and windows because of his dumb super hero wings never got old, and only got increasingly funnier. No words, just trust in Lieber’s massive storytelling abilities. Throughout the whole series, from facial expressions to detailed maps of trap-filled warehouses, Lieber redefined for me what it means to draw comedy.
Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors have been enhancing Lieber’s artwork every step of the way. There were a number of ways she could have gone with this book’s palette. It’s a crime book, so it could have been dark and grimey. It’s also a jokey book, so it could have looked like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Rosenberg somehow split the difference between these two polar opposite genres to create a look that’s inviting but off-kilter, both dark and clear, and somehow realistic while being totally over the top. She colors mundane things like parole meetings and basement hang outs with a dullness that’s recognizable as true while still possessing the necessary vibrancy for comics. The fact that she kept the blue Boomerang, yellow Shocker, black Overdrive, purple Beetle, and red Speed Demon from clashing like a box of smashed together crayons in every issue should be applauded.
Timing is everything in comedy, and letterer Joe Caramagna has done wonders in facilitating every single joke in every single issue. The standout, for me, has to be Speed Demon’s argument with a little girl and her corgi in the first issue. The placement of the word balloons, the inflection indicated by every use of italics, it all builds to a fantastic comedic payoff. The nuance of language and delivery that he’s been able to capture just by keeping certain word balloons tight and round, or shrinking the letters down to whisper-size — his contributions can’t be overlooked, and they can’t be praised enough.
I’ve enjoyed this series for a year now. The book itself has felt like a caper, trying to see how long a comedy book starring D-list — at best — characters can last at a big time comic book company. The caper lasted longer than I thought it would, and it lasted longer than the creative team thought it would, too. I consider 17 issues a hearty success — and enough issues to make for an impressive complete series hardcover, right Marvel?
I felt pride when I saw the solicitation for the final issue of “Superior Foes” because, even though the series was coming to a close, it felt like a victory. It felt like the comedy nerd inside of me had won, like he had also tricked Marvel into publishing a super irreverent book about a group of sometimes moronic do-badders. Spencer and Lieber and Rosenberg and Caramagna created a book that felt unquestionably theirs, but also unquestionably mine, too. I did nothing but buy and read the book, but every month it felt like I was voting with my dollar for the exact kind of comic I want to be reading — and the exact caliber of comic I expect to get for my money.
If you haven’t read “Superior Foes” yet, I fully endorse it. You haven’t really experienced joy until you’ve seen what Shocker’s couch looks like.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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