Welcome readers, to the first official installment of my Rise of the C-Listers article series. For a brief background on my inspiration for this column, please look over the original article. But either way, I’m glad to be taking this journey into some of comics’ most underappreciated characters.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man (hereafter Foes) by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber, and Rachelle Rosenberg recounts the tale of the new Sinister Six, consisting of Boomerang, Beetle, Shocker, Overdrive, and Speed Demon. Yes, there are only five of them, but that’s part of the gag. Over the course of 15 issues (we’re going to ignore #11 and #12, which were filler stories composed by other creative teams) we watch these characters navigate the seedy underworld of the Marvel Universe in a vain attempt to pull off major heists.
I won’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of even one of the characters mentioned in the prior paragraph. None are particularly memorable, and not one has ever starred in a solo series or even had more than a couple of significant appearances. The Shocker probably has the best pedigree, given that he’s almost defeated Spider-Man on several occasions, and even had a role in Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the 1990s.
However, our guide to Foes is not Shocker but Boomerang, aka Fred Myers, aka the second best boomerang-themed character in comics (#1 honor goes to DC’s Captain Boomerang, who’s actually a fairly cool character…but I digress). In fact, one of the first jokes in the series notes the fact that the reader doesn’t even know Boomerang’s real name, something that was certainly true for me the first time I read issue #1. Boomerang narrates the story, taking us through his odyssey of crime.
Boomerang is a loser. He’s got little skill to speak of, fails at almost everything (particularly human interaction), and lies like a lawyer. In fact, Boomerang’s lies are a central tenant of Foes: hardly an issue passes without him exaggerating a story or misleading someone, and the majority of his fibs drive the plot in some manner. In general, Boomerang attempts to deny accountability for his actions, placing blame on someone else, which is much easier when the shapeshifting Chameleon acts as an antagonist. The wildest thing is that he gets away with it more often than not.
Yet, even despite all of Boomerang’s failings and negative qualities, the reader can’t help but root for him. It helps that Boomerang’s narration treats the reader like a friend, pulling the tie closer between the fictional scoundrel and the reader. There’s something inherently likable about the untrustworthy, selfish criminal. Perhaps it speaks to human imperfection: Boomerang has flaws, which he acknowledges, but he’s unabashedly himself. He places himself in situations where he seeks to benefit only himself, screwing over friends, allies, and enemies whenever it suits him. Boomerang is someone that, by all accounts, we should want to see fail, and yet when he inevitably does there’s a pang of regret.
Another key theme with Boomerang is lack of control. In his life, Boomerang fails to get his gang to follow his orders, and is constantly making a major gain only to have the rug ripped out from under him by an enemy he thought vanquished or, worse, forgot about. This is best exemplified by the fact that Boomerang cannot even control his dreams, as his unconscious mind acts as yet another barrier. Again, this motif speaks to the reader: in our own lives we often face situations where we feel there’s little we can manage or control, and yet we find a way to endure and overcome.
The series is full of subtlety, with a number of clever moments peppered throughout. One of my favorites involves Boomerang going to a Mets game with his new girlfriend. Boomerang was once a Mets pitcher, but had to retire amid scandal. In the modern day, he’s heading to a game at Citi Field where he is forced to wear a disguise (aka cheap Groucho Marx glasses and a fake moustache) to hide who he is. While at the game, Boomerang notes that he can’t stand their current pitcher, Pendak. He then reminisces to his time playing Major League Baseball, and the scene shifts to years before in Shea Stadium which, for those that don’t know, was where the Mets played before Citi Field; Shea no longer exists. This juxtaposition shows a longing for an earlier, simpler time and, as we learn, was Boomerang’s happiest time in his life.
Foes acts as an intriguing examination of the uncertainty of life as well, containing an amalgam of the fantastic, the frightening, and the mundane. The comic encompasses everything from wild superpowers to run-ins with The Punisher to discussions of how meetings are the worst part of being a supervillain. In this way, the series itself is much like life: a combination of competing factors that meld together, albeit imperfectly, to form an emotive tapestry.
Foes is a downright fun series, and that’s thanks in no small part to the team of Spencer, Lieber, and Rosenberg. The writing is full of snappy remarks and ridiculous situations, while the art contains numerous Easter Eggs, gags, and call-backs to other famous comics (such as Krazy Kat). The creators call upon a number of forgotten characters, scraping the bottom of Marvel’s barrel to pull out villains such as Mirage and Doctor Bong to round out the cast as needed. It’s enjoyable for new readers who probably were unaware of some of the weirder characters in Marvel’s stable, and longtime fans will chuckle to see the return of some lesser known characters and some concepts that should’ve remained forgotten (such as robotic Silvio Silvermane, which is handled hilariously). It’s hard to read Foes without laughing out loud at least once.
While it is an amazing series, Foes is not without flaws. Discounting issues #11 and #12, two filler installments that don’t measure up in quality to the other issues and aren’t necessary for the main story, there are a few downsides. For one, Foes does spend little time with Speed Demon and Overdrive: both characters are given brief character moments, such as the former’s love of a little dog he stole and the latter’s origin story, but neither receives much characterization or exploration. Beetle is an interesting character, but at times she feels one-dimensional, though she does receive more development towards the middle of the series. Still, these are minor complaints, as the character interaction is solid and both Boomerang and Shocker receive lots of great moments.
Without a doubt, Foes exemplifies the C-Lister formula. When starting the series, it’s unlikely the reader will know about these characters, let alone care about them. By the end, we’ve made a journey with Boomerang and company, and can appreciate their motivations and personas. The series even lampshades the fact that minor characters also have “compelling backstories” in issue #4, and is well aware of one if its greatest strengths: showing that even tertiary characters provide exceptional stories when placed into the proper narrative. I doubt if most readers walk away with new favorite characters, but at the very least Foes forces us to confront a truth: we are each the protagonist of our own story and, whether we’re a major player in greater world we each must face our own trials and can achieve (or fail to achieve) our own goals.
Dang, I didn’t think I’d get so philosophical about a comic that stars a guy with a Boomerang on his face and contains poop jokes.
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