SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN: 'Proudly About A-Holes'

 

On the surface, Superior Foes of Spider-Man looks like one of the least likely launches in recent Marvel history. And series writer Nick Spencer is happy about that.

The book, <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/superior-foes-of-spider-man.html>announced earlier this month</a>, stars Boomerang, Shocker, Speed Demon, Overdrive and the recently introduced female Beetle and not only puts villains in the title role, but fairly obscure ones that aren't likely to show up in an live-action sequel anytime soon. These are aspects that Spencer says he's embracing in his collaboration with series artist Steve Lieber, taking advantage of the unique nature of the book.

"None of these characters will be redeemed in any way," Spencer said, contrasting it with past books that put antagonists front and center. "This is just not that kind of story. These are not thieves with hearts of gold. There is something missing from their character that just makes that impossible."

In our interview with Spencer — who's also writing for Marvel, plus his creator-owned titles and at Image — the writer discusses his plans for the series, working with Lieber, telling character-focused stories and why the main players are calling themselves the "Sinister Six" when clearly there are only five of them.

Newsarama: Nick, what can you share about how Superior Foes of Spider-Man developed? It's certainly a different type of book — though it's tying into something huge (), it stars lesser-known characters, and villains in the lead role.

Nick Spencer: It is a really different book. I think that's one of the coolest things about this. You don't see many books like this on the shelf anymore — the market and sales sort of dictate that books hew a little closer to the franchise line, and tie-in to a big event, and feed off a chain reaction in continuity. This book isn't like that at all.

Me and Steve Wacker, who I worked with on , have been circling, figuring out what to work on together next. We had a couple of close calls on things, but it just hadn't happened, and a decent amount of time had passed. We were at Thought Bubble in Leeds last year, and had breakfast, and were just talking around ideas. I started talking about how badly I wanted to do a villains book, and how much I loved the working-class Spidey villains. It very much grew out of that.

 

After the holidays, I emailed him — "Why don't we just do a Deadly Foes of Spider-Man book, and make it about those guys?" Obviously Dan Slott's Spider-Man stuff has exploded with , and everybody's loving that. So it became Superior Foes of Spider-Man — which is great, because if you look at the lineage, we had Deadly Foes, and then Lethal Foes, and now we have Superior Foes.

Nrama: Though the characters you're using were just in , they haven't had this type of focus either ever, or at least in a long while. Did you find that meant there's a lot of room there to flesh them out as main characters? They aren't quite as rigidly locked in as other Marvel leads.

Spencer: Yeah, of course. One of the really cool things is that for the vast majority of the audience, there's a very limited exposure to these characters. These are the guys that are in the first three or four pages of Spider-Man, usually — they're the guy getting beat up by Spider-Man while he's thinking about the bigger problem that he's going to spend most of the issue dealing with. Or they're going to know some of them from .

To get to fill in a lot of the blanks here, and have a little bit more room to invent, and be able to put your stamp on them a bit more, is pretty great. My experience with these characters goes back a little more, because I'm sort of the perfect age for them — a lot of these characters had a big heyday in the '80s as the Sinister Syndicate, and with Deadly Foes and with Lethal Foes. So they're very much my generation of Spidey rogues. Since I'm old, that was a very long time ago.

For me, part of the fun is re-introducing this group of characters that I'd love since I was a kid to a broader audience. That's a big thrill for me.

Nrama: But they're not the Sinister Syndicate this time, right?

Spencer: They're the Sinister Six now, because the Sinister Syndicate were losers. So of course these same guys think that if they're now the Sinister Six, people will take them seriously. [.]

Nrama: Though there's only five of them that we know of.

 

Spencer: So, not the best start.

I've seen all these theories about who the mystery sixth person is. All I can say is, I think Boomerang — who's in charge of the gang — would certainly love to know who the sixth one is. The argument is that there's nothing better than being the Sinister Six, but only having to split the money five ways. I think they're just going to ride it out for the time being.

Nrama: You mentioned Jeff Parker's , where Boomerang, Shocker and Speed Demon all played a role. Is that run informing what you're doing at all here?

Spencer: It's a fantastic run. I really loved it, and I'm a big fan of Jeff's, so I think you'll see some stuff there. Certainly the fact that these characters were a part of the Thunderbolts was a key moment in their lives, and something we'll touch upon. A part of it was sort of wedding that iteration with the '80s heyday of the characters — now that going straight didn't pan out, nobody wants to talk about the fact that they were heroes at one point. It'll definitely factor in.

Nrama: A lot of times, it seems there's a temptation to make villains go good — or at least tease that they might be headed in that direction — when they're starring in their own book. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, is it?

Spencer: None of these characters will be redeemed in any way. This is just not that kind of story. These are not thieves with hearts of gold. There is something missing from their character that just makes that impossible. If you're picking up the book hoping to find a hero in hiding, you will be disappointed. This is proudly a book about a**holes. The fun is in seeing how they survive, how they get in each other's ways, and things like that. It's definitely not a redemptive tale.

Nrama: Speaking of proud a**holes — Spider-Man himself these days is being controlled (mostly) by Doctor Octopus, and it looks like Spidey has more of a player in this series in the looming influence that he's had on these characters' lives, rather than him showing up much in the book?

Spencer: Yeah. In this book, Spider-Man exists as two things, really: First, as a sort of larger-than-life concept. Spider-Man is something that needs to be factored into the planning of every job. He's the reason these guys went to jail X number of times. He's had a significant impact on their career trajectory, and has a significant impact on their industry as a whole. So you'll hear a lot of talk of Spider-Man in a very non-personal way.

At the same time, these are guys who have come up against Spider-Man countless times now, for some of them. Dealing with Spider-Man is old hat. And in some ways, they know him, the costumed Spider-Man, better than just about anybody. And that obviously factors into the fact that Spider-Man is not Spider-Man; that Peter Parker is no longer behind the mask.

 

So you get this fun dynamic where Spider-Man is dealt with both as a costume and as an idea, and also as this guy you work with, in a weird way.

Nrama: So since villains are the stars, will readers see any other heroes in the book, from Spider-Man's world or elsewhere?

Spencer: Yeah, definitely. Everybody's going to kind of drop in. That's the fun of doing this book in the Marvel Universe. As the issues go on, you will definitely see loads and loads and loads of guest stars; various heroes and lots of other Marvel criminal-types. It's the kind of book where bringing in all of those characters in is a very organic and easy thing to do.

Nrama: From your past interview on this series and the fact that these are not super-powerful characters, it seems that the vibe of this book is more of a smaller-stakes, street-level type of book — a little more grounded. Is that an accurate read?

Spencer: Definitely. My favorite Marvel book is . Also , which I really love. I wanted to do a book that could sit on a shelf near those books. Not to make the claim that this book is on that level, because those books are masterpieces, but certainly I wanted to do a book that was fun, and that was about its own story, and felt a little pure to me in that sense.

The focus is very much on the characters, and on telling stories about their lives, and getting in their heads; rather than driving towards some larger narrative. Which isn't to say that there's not a chain of events that grows over time. But really, we keep the camera very close in on these characters. 

 

Nrama: Speaking of — Steve Lieber is the artist of Superior Foes, which alone speaks to the notion that this appears to be a different type of Marvel book.

Spencer: Steve was the first guy I asked for. He had just done that issue of , right around the same time that we were getting moving on [Superior Foes]. I just immediately emailed Steve — "Can we get Steve Lieber to draw the book? That would be amazing." 

I didn't expect it to happen. When you get to work with an artist like that, you're like, "Well, the book is going to be good no matter what now." Now the book is worth picking up no matter what I do. Steve Lieber will take it to that point on his own with no problem. He's one of my favorite artists, and he's the consummate storyteller. The attention to detail, and the level of craft that he puts into the pages — it's really amazing to see.

I stopped writing traditional scripts for him. This is the first book where I've ever broken off of the panel-by-panel thing, because it's just getting in his way. You just have to kind of be like, "This is the scene, and this is the dialogue I had in mind, and you shape this thing now." The pages are just glorious. They're so beautiful. It really feels like the book that I had in my head, which is always nice.

There's lots of humor in this book. This book probably has the most gags-per-page of anything I've done since Jimmy Olsen. That can be such a tricky thing. With Steve it's not a worry at all. Steve's going to sell the joke every time, and make the joke better. It's a joy to get to work with him, and we're having a blast.  

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