Review: Superior Foes of Spider-Man Vol. 2: Crime of the Century trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

With every new chapter I read of this book, I keep finding new comparisons to make between this and other great books. The first section of Superior Foes of Spider-Man Vol 2: Crime of the Century is Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye if it starred villains, while the later stories remind me of Geoff Johns' work on the Flash Rogues. The trade picks up right where the previous one left off and the main narrative continues through to the next and final trade. This happened for the best of reasons: Nick Spencer was given five additional issues based on the title's initial success, requiring a reconfiguration of the storyline. As a result, there are two fill-in issues in Crime of the Century with different writers and artists, though there's no drop in quality.

One of the main Hawkeye comparisons comes from the Beetle's origin story at the start of the trade. The twist ending of Getting the Band Back Together was the reveal of her father, the crime lord Tombstone. This was a detail that was staring me right in the face but which I completely missed since "Lincoln" is a fairly common last name. Janice Lincoln is the villainous version of Kate Bishop: a purple-wearing overachiever desperate to make a name for herself in a male-dominated field. At the same time, she has a close relationship with her father; Tombstone only wants her to stay out of the supervillain business because he feels "grunt work" is beneath her. Instead, he wants her to become an attorney for supervillains and steal more than he ever could. This closeness is codified in the most darkly funny con job I've ever seen in a comic. Eight-year-olds should not be that good at grifting.

Despite her father's line of business, Janice gets the Beetle identity through her law firm where she defends pharmaceutical companies from "the strong-armed tactics and corruption of the disabled widows lobby." This is probably just Nick Spencer being hilariously unsubtle . . . but I could also see the daughter of a supervillain actually thinking that way. She's assigned to a lawsuit from the Fixer, who is suing Baron Zemo for a percentage of the profits he's made since the Fixer saved his life on Counter-Earth way back in the late '90s Thunderbolts run. Eventually this leads to her volunteering for their plan to get vengeance on Captain America and taking on the Beetle persona.

If the Beetle is Kate Bishop, then Boomerang is the book's Clint Barton, complete with his tendency to get beaten up and his thoughts represented with unusual artwork. His dream sequences during his concussions feature pirates wearing Pittsburgh Pirates hats (fitting for a former baseball player) and a perfectly-timed "Thanks, Obama" joke. Having gotten on the nerves of both the Owl and the Chameleon, Boomerang plays one against the other by framing the Chameleon for stealing the Owl's painting of a maskless Doctor Doom. Boomerang also ends up trying to protect his new bartender girlfriend from an attack by Bullseye, his biggest rival, leading up to a punchline about how Daredevil's girlfriends -- specifically Elektra -- keep getting killed.

While this goes on, the Shocker deals with his theft of the head of Silvermane, who ends up dominating his captor despite not having a body. This coincides with a visit from classic Spider-Man villain Hydro-Man; he brings back the supervillain rehab idea mentioned several times in the first volume. After Speed Demon, the Beetle, and Overdrive break into a restaurant for dinner, the plot goes on hiatus at this point due to the aforementioned expansion. James Asmus contributes several stories to this Marvel version of the famous Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im," including a look into some of Overdrive's mysterious past. His story ends up having the equivalent of Killer Croc throwing a big rock at Batman.

Asmus wastes no time in pitting the Beetle against one of Marvel's two lawyer superheroes as she tells about the time she tried to prove Matt Murdock was Daredevil. This involved hiring the minor foe the Looter to distract Matt during a case; while she couldn't prove the dual identity, she won her case thanks to Matt vanishing. Speed Demon glorifies his less-than-spectacular record with some high-level lying. Whether or not he actually got revenge on Hercules by having a mutual ex-lover give him a venereal disease is never determined; it doesn't help when Hercules visits that very restaurant, much to the dismay of Overdrive, who lives in fear of just that happening.

Even though Tom Peyer's absence from comics is likely shorter than I believed it to be, he takes a welcome turn as the writer for the last issue collected in Superior Foes of Spider-Man Vol 2: Crime of the Century. This visit to Supervillains Anonymous isn't directly linked to the main story, but it's been a major point of discussion by the main characters from the start. What's really impressive is that this is the same support group from the excellent Sinister Spider-Man mini-series, including a return of the Hippo. The two short stories focus on how villains react to the newly violent Superior Spider-Man, starting with the Grizzly, whose regression after being beaten is both sad and humorous. The other one is the aforementioned Looter -- or the Superior Looter as he calls himself. His self-improvement succeeded outside of New York, but he's immediately beaten down. Since they don't know that Spider-Man's body has been stolen, most of the villains think he had a mental breakdown, which is scarier in their view.

Next week, Grizzly makes a grand return in Spencer's Ant-Man, with the finale of Superior Foes of Spider-Man coming sooner than later.
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