No current Marvel series quite scratches that Superior Foes of Spider-Man itch, but The Amazing Spider-Man has suddenly become the next best thing. Writer Nick Spencer is using his latest story arc as an opportunity to revisit certain key characters and even build directly on old plot points. The result is a satisfyingly goofy Spidey adventure, whether or not you’re a fan of Superior Foes.As much as Spencer’s run has varied in terms of tone and focus, one thing has remained constant – it’s the villains and supporting characters who really fuel the series. Spencer’s handle on Peter Parker is fine, but it’s characters like Boomerang, Aunt May and Mysterio where the series has really found its hook lately. That’s what makes this latest arc work so well. Peter is very much a secondary player, one reluctantly dragged into the fray as Beetle and her new Sinister Syndicate retaliate against Fred Myers. Instead, it’s these blue collar villains who steal the show, along with a handful of memorable scenes involving an unfairly beleaguered May. But this isn’t a knock against the issue. It’s simply an approach that plays directly to Spencer’s strengths writing morally ambiguous C-Listers.
While Spencer isn’t able to spend a great deal of time with every Sinister Syndicate member (the short structure of this arc would make that pretty difficult), he finds plenty of success with Beetle and Electro. The former is easily the most relatable antagonist this series has had. She’s not evil by any stretch. If anything, she shows a level of moral fortitude, refusing to allow her new team to give into their baser desires or commit crimes that aren’t specifically mandated by their mission. Plus, her motivations are completely understandable. She wants money and professional respect, and she’s happy to exact a bit of well-deserved revenge against Boomerang if the opportunity presents itself.
As for Electro, Spencer builds very naturally on the foundation laid by previous ASM writer Dan Slott. Francine Fyre is undergoing a very clear character arc, evolving from powerless doormat to a woman finally in control of her own destiny. Spencer manages to use Electro as comic relief in this issue without diminishing that growth. And then Aunt May’s personal struggle helps shine a light on the other side of the conflict and the unintended consequences of the Syndicate’s first mission. It’s interesting to see how much synergy there’s been between ASM and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man on the May front, with both Spencer and Tom Taylor seemingly trying to push May to the brink and test just how resilient she is in the face of adversity.
The only thing missing from this Superior Foes reunion is artist Steve Lieber (who’s busy working on Jimmy Olsen with Matt Fraction). Luckily, Kev Walker is an apt replacement. Walker’s style isn’t as dark and grungy as it tends to be in other Marvel projects like Deadpool or Thunderbolts. The combination of John Dell’s inks and Laura Martin’s bright colors transform Walker’s style into something more lighthearted and comedic in tone, perfect for the goofy nature of this story. Walker captures the humanity of his characters in addition to the zany nature of the conflict. Walker’s rendition of Spider-Man himself does leave a bit to be desired, however. The hero lacks his usually sleek, angular quality and suffers from odd anatomy and proportions in the major action sequences.