Perhaps the only ironically titled comic book in Marvel's catalogue, "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" #5 continues the trend of high quality stories coming out of Steve Wacker's office. This is easily Nick Spencer's best Marvel work, and Steve Leiber continues to draft clever page layouts that are clean, expressive and fun.
Spencer writes a story that uses tension to not only build threats but earn laughs when it reaches the breaking point. The Owl's story about Man-Bull, told as a pack of rats hangs above an employee who has done him dirty, coils with suspense, releasing in a hilarious turn that reveals new information about that Z-list villain that is not only the moral of the story but amazingly funny. (Somewhere in the Marvel Universe there needs to be a Man-Bull elimination dating show called "The Bullchelor" post-haste.) The tag on the story showing Boomerang's loose end literally not being as tied up as he thought is a great callback to what was assumed to be a joke in the previous issue, and will no doubt complicate the story moving forward as it advances what we thought was the actual mission.
It's hard to write an engaging story using an unreliable narrator but Spencer continues to pull it off. He balances Fred with just enough likable moments that I want to keep reading. When it's revealed that we were once again lied to about the true nature of this mission, it left me mad but wanting to know why this swerve was kept a secret. I'd imagine this is what it feels like to actually be a member of this team.
This is a comic about C-minus students trying to outsmart a world full of people smarter than them. Spencer has the dynamics of the group nailed, a rag tag outfit that reflects its leader's personality - letting pride and hubris get in the way of the best idea. Boomerang's narration is just as much trying to convince himself that his choices are the right ones. Leiber aids in the cause, using body language to convey everyone's emotional states of mind -- Beetle's alpha-woman posturing, Shocker's near-constant slouch, Boomerang's shifts between confidence and uncertainty. His action layout is clean, dynamic, and fun to peruse. The facial expressions deliver, which is important for a book that reads like a crime sitcomic. The punchline panel in the Man-Bull story had me laughing out loud just as much because of the looks Leiber gives The Owl and his potential blackmailee.
With Marvel's line of comics becoming increasingly intertwined, "Superior Foes" is a great stop for readers looking for fun, engaging stories that are self-contained and well-told. For the first time, these characters all feel like fleshed-out people that I continually look forward to spending time with each month.