Review by Frank Plowright
The Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a consistently hilarious take on the ineptitude and squabbling of super-villains, and with discount this oversized hardcover currently works out at around the same price as buying the three paperbacks that comprise the entire series. Furthermore, Marvel have made the right decision in relegating to the rear of the book two issues of vignettes largely by creators other than Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber. When collected sequentially in The Crime of the Century they rather brought the ongoing plot juddering to a halt.
The Sinister Six is a name with villainous pedigree, coined by Doctor Octopus when he first united Spider-Man’s major foes in the early 1960s. This current iteration is a third rate collective, with only the new female Beetle displaying a modicum of intelligence and competence, and her purpose in allying herself with the likes of Overdrive, Shocker and Speed Demon is puzzling. As the book opens, the team leader is Boomerang, never among the first rank of Marvel villains, but as characterised by Spencer a near genius at avoiding any responsibility or comeback for his manipulation and double-dealing. This is primarily via pitting his enemies against each other as he attempts to stay one step ahead of his debts while fishing for the big score.
In addition to Boomerang and crew Spencer fills the pages with assorted other Marvel villains, mostly those who plague Spider-Man (avoiding the A list), but not exclusively so, and they’re also gloriously inept, although sometimes better prepared. The best of them is Silvermane, one time Maggia chief, now reduced to a greatly prized cybernetic head spouting sarcasm and disbelief.
Steve Lieber’s engagement with the world of super powers has been limited, and it might be thought that his precise naturalism fits ill with the exaggeration of costumes, but that’s not the case as a precise naturalism is exactly what’s required to provide the best emphasis to Spencer’s comedy. He doesn’t oversell the jokes, and when compared to the other artists now relegated to the rear the gulf in presentation is obvious. The only guest artist now occupying pages earlier in the book is Rich Ellis, very good, and not out of place as his episode delves into the background of the Beetle, and so can stand a slight variation in style.
Spencer and Lieber’s contribution is a continual story over fifteen chapters, propelled by Boomerang’s one consistency: he tells lies. These become ever more complicated as the plot twists about until not even Boomerang himself is sure of the truth. How well the primary creators have done their job is evident in their final chapter. Despite their portrayal of Boomerang as a double-dealing scumbag without conscience the circumstances of that story drill to his core, and you’ll find yourself rooting for him.
It’s perhaps a little harsh to dismiss the work of the other creators so easily. Were anyone to come across Tom Peyer and Will Sliney’s Grizzly story or Siya Oum’s art in an anthology title they’d be pleasing interludes, but they don’t match the main course.
There isn’t much content you won’t find in the paperbacks, and the best of it is Lieber’s commentary on his final story, including a full rendition of Doctor Doom’s portrait, hidden throughout the book.