Underneath the colorful costumes and super powers, the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe are just like everyone else. They have aspirations, wants and dreams, and they often have character flaws that sabotage them — especially if it’s a dream of ruling the world or, more modestly, a criminal empire. The latter is the shared dream of Boomerang, Speed Demon, Beetle, Shocker and Overdrive, the five villains who make up the current incarnation of the Sinister Six.
Over the course of 17 issues, writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber‘s critically acclaimed “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” saw Boomerang and his associates embark upon a series of life threatening misadventures and dangerous double crosses, all in the name of realizing their dreams. For the most part, their exploits failed spectacularly, typically due to a character flaw or a rival criminal’s machinations, but the final two issues saw the members finally coming to peace with their failures, with some of them even achieving a modicum of success.
CBR News spoke with Spencer about the many twists and turns of the series’ final two issues, including the how he decided who Boomerang was telling the story of the series to, how one of the series’ biggest last issue twists originated in a Marvel Knights pitch Spencer sent to Joe Quesada 15 years ago, and the possibility of a “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” omnibus collection
CBR News: In “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” #17, you had the big reveal that Fred was talking to somebody else instead of the reader. I have to wonder, was “Superior Foes” meant to be a long, shaggy dog type of story?
Nick Spencer: [Laughs] It’s important to not to take the end conversation too literally. When I sat down to write issue #1, I wasn’t thinking, “This whole thing is a conversation with a guy who may or may not be Peter Parker.” It was more that as we got to the end, I thought it would be fun to answer the question of who Fred has been telling this story to. I’m going to stay officially undeclared on whether or not that actually is Peter Parker or not, but it’s funny to think it might be.
This issue is a huge deal for me in that I’m on a cover of the Marvel comic. Myself, Steve, Rochelle and a lot of other folks that worked on the book are name checked on the cover. That’s insane. I didn’t ask for that. It was entirely Steve’s idea. It was a real treat for me.
The reveal that Fred is talking to someone also finally explains why we never really left his perspective during the series. It was predominately his P.O.V.
Yeah, he says during the issue that at least in his mind, this has been his story, and he’s a little, dare I say, hurt by the idea that the listener might be interested in the fate of Herman and everyone else.
How long have you had the twists and turns of the final two issues mapped out?
In terms of the heist and what Fred was really driving towards, that was there at the initial conception of the book. I wanted to end with readers learning what Fred’s big secret is and what really drives him. We discover that it’s really kind of a sad thing, because it’s all about regret. That for him, it’s really all about this life that slipped away from him.
He got to realize his dream of being a ballplayer again, but then it was snatched away from him very quickly because of his own flaws and mistakes. Getting to that core of the character was really important. It was really important for us to bring it all back to that, and show you why it’s okay to care about this horrible human being even as he does terrible things to his colleagues. I think it’s important to show the sympathetic side of Fred.
Throughout the series, you showed how cunning Fred can be when he’s not tripping himself up. Is Fred the type of person that can learn from his mistakes? Or will he always be his own worst enemy?
I think that’s what became so interesting about him as a character. By the time you get to the end of the story, it’s clear that he’s a very clever and inventive thinker. He’s got a gift for this, and scheming is kind of second nature for him. It’s just like you said, though — he has these quirks of personality, and some of it is simple fate and bad luck that’s sort of confined him to the B-list.
They make him perpetually second string, and that’s a huge part of what this book really is all about — the working class villain who’s reaching for that gold ring and just never quite getting it. I think that there’s something that really resonates about that. So it’s definitely interesting to get a look at just how good Fred’s plan was, how he adapted to the challenges and surprises in front of him, and how he spun them to his advantage. It’s clear that Fred is a natural, in some ways.
Fred’s flaws may have kept him from winning, but it’s interesting that “Superior Foes” ends on a positive note, with Fred talking about how what’s important is not winning and losing, but striving for your dreams.
Well, yeah! I think he has this realization that losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. He has this moment where he can feel genuine pride at what he pulled off. Even if he didn’t get everything that he wanted, and even if he didn’t end up winning, per se, he can feel satisfaction and contentment with the fact that, yeah, he gave it a great shot and got pretty far. He’s got a small degree of inner peace because of that, at least temporarily
One of the twists I enjoyed was the reveal that Fred’s girlfriend was in fact the Black Cat in disguise. It’s a twist that works if you know the character’s current continuity in “Amazing Spider-Man,” but it also works if you only know the basics of the character.
This is something that I couldn’t talk about at all before this issue; a lot of this series is repurposed from a Black Cat pitch that I sent to Joe Quesada a good 15 years ago. When I was in college, him and Jimmy [Palmiotti] had just started at Marvel Knights. I had reached out to Joe at one point, and he had been very kind. He allowed me to send him a few pitches, and one of them was a Black Cat pitch.
It was really all about her being immersed in the world of working class super villains. There are a lot of elements in this book and characters that I wanted to use there and used here. I could never really talk about that though, because obviously, she’s undercover here throughout. So it was really, really satisfying to get to do that with a twist that was like a decade and a half in the making.
It was a real treat to write the Black Cat, too. She’s one of my all-time favorite Marvel characters. It was really fun to bring her in this way, because even though I didn’t get to write much of her as herself, I got to write her pulling off a really good heist.
It’s a great example of how Fred is very good, but there are just some people who are always a step ahead of him or a class above him. He’s not quite in their league and Felicia is definitely in that category.
Ultimately, how did Felicia feel about Fred?
I think she genuinely feels kind of bad for him. At least in my head, it’s a little bittersweet for her. I don’t think she had anything resembling feelings for Fred, but I think any of us can feel sympathy towards somebody getting that close to realizing their dream. Plus there was the way he finally connected to that side of himself. His better qualities come out because of her. To have that all be a ruse was tragic, and she’s not immune to that tragic element. I think she showed a little twinge of pity for Fred, but for her, it’s just business and she played him really, really well.
It was really great that nobody guessed that it was Felicia. I was really happy that we buried it far enough down that nobody seemed to catch us on that one.
Another fun twist was the Shocker’s confrontation with the Punisher. What inspired that gag — and the Shockermobile?
[Laughs] Well, the Shockermobile comes from Steve Lieber. He had dug up a classic old shot of the Shocker in the Shockermobile saying, “Don’t Mock the Shocker.” It was a really priceless ’70s Spidey moment. I thought we needed to bring that in here.
Beyond that, Herman has kind of been the underdog in a room full of underdogs in this book. He’s obviously taken more than his share of abuse, so it was very important for us to give him a happy ending of sorts; to finally give him that moment where he can win. He’s by far the nicest of the foes, and it would have felt really wrong not to give him this moment in the sun at the end.
I was almost hoping this series would put the Shocker on the path to reforming, but now I sort of hope the ending with him and Silvermane running the Maggia sticks, because I would love to read that comic.
[Laughs] I’m going to go on record as betting that [ending] will never be acknowledged in another Marvel comic. I think you can go ahead and tell yourself the story of Herman losing control of all that about five minutes later.
That’s the joy of storytelling, though. We get to pull the camera away at the perfect moment. We get to pull away at the kiss, so we don’t have to see the couple have another fight. That’s the luxury we have. I’m certain that Shocker is not set to be a Don in the Marvel Universe for very long. That book would be a lot of fun, though.
I imagine some of the other great gags were inspired by Steve too, like the courtroom scene with Speed Demon and Iron Fist wearing a business suit and his mask. I also believe that was a call back to Iron Fist’s early appearance in “Superior Foes” as well, right?
Yeah, that was a callback to their confrontation with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. James is the most skin deep of the bunch. He’s got small dreams and is really a simple man. I wanted to give an ending where he got a one up on a superhero and made some money. Speed Demon’s story was an easy one to wrap up.
I take it he’s going to use the money he won to go buy a Corgi.
Exactly. He’ll be the same guy tomorrow.
The two cast members of “Superior Foes” that had probably the most ambiguous and unfortunate-for-them ending were Overdrive and the new Beetle, who was one of your favorite characters. They crossed paths with an irate Doctor Doom.
Of course! I really liked the characters, but we can’t all win, and obviously Fred doesn’t really win either. The thing about these two characters, though, is they’re early in their careers, so you feel less bad when you give them the not so happy ending.
One of my favorite moments of the book is there in the last issue, when they’re running away from the fight. After all that we’ve peered into her life, my favorite line from Janice is definitely, “Fuck my dad!” [Laughs]
It really is her in a nutshell. You can tell the most sympathetic daddy-daughter story, but really, she’s just not a good person. So it was important to come back to that and show how little that means to her when the chips are down.
One of the biggest things that I’m proud of in this book is that I think we’ve really built up those two characters. I certainly hope that we’ll see more of them in the Marvel Universe, especially Janice. She’s a unique character now, and I’ve got high hopes for her.
Is there a chance that any of the “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” will appear in “Ant-Man?”
Yeah, we showed a variant cover for “Ant-Man” that has Janice on it. I had an opportunity to bring her into a story in a fun way. It was great to make that connection, and she’s got a fun little part.
Earlier we talked about Boomerang’s comment on how the point of things was not whether you won or lost, but the fact that you strove for your dreams. It felt like that was sort of the meta-message of the book, in that this was a little title that could, and readers shouldn’t be sad that it’s ending. They should be happy that you got to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. One of my favorite film endings is “Kingpin,” the Farrelly Brothers movie with Woody Harrelson. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sorry — I’m going to ruin it for you I love that ending because the characters don’t get everything that they want. It’s so rare, really, that you see that in fiction. Most stories are going to end with your protagonist getting the thing that they’ve been after.
It’s so much fun to do a story about losers; people who don’t get all that they’ve been hoping for and have to make their peace with that. They have to find some pride in the attempt. So when I started on this final issue, that’s really what I was going after — a broad sense of resolution in a way that didn’t give everybody a trophy.
The title characters might not have gotten everything they wanted out of “Superior Foes of Spider-Man,” but it sounds like you did.
Absolutely. This has been one of the best experiences in my career. I’m really, really proud of this book, and working with Steve has been one of the best collaborations I’ve ever been a part of.
People have no idea how hard it is to draw humor. It’s really tough, and he’s excelled at it. It’s been really rewarding to have a book that comes out on the page how it was in your head, and feel like you’re on the same page as the artist. It’s really nice when you have those experiences.
I wanted to say thank you to all the people that supported the book and were enthusiastic about it. This was one of the coolest fan bases you could ever hope for. There were a number of people who evangelized about the book and really got emotionally attached to it. As a writer, that’s the absolute best thing you can hope for. To see people show passion for the book and the characters means a lot. I’m really glad that we got to do this. It may be over, but I’m always going to be really proud and pleased to have been a part of it.
Is there a chance for a “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” omnibus collecting the entire series?
Oh, man, I hope so! I would really love that. There were a couple fill-ins in there, so we did 15 issues. I would really love for people to be able to read the series in one sitting, and read our 15 issues, uninterrupted.
The best thing that people could do for that is write Marvel and let them know that they would really like to see it collected that way. Nothing would make me happier!
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