There’s a lot of humor out there. TV, movies, stand-ups, and half the Internet are trying to make you laugh. Where’s the last place you’d expect to go for some laughs?
Oddly, a comic book.
Straight-up humor is rare in comic books, even at the most adventurous publishers. As comics critic/comedian Brett White wrote after Image Expo, which unveiled many new Image Comics series: “The books are diverse in tone, intent, and artistic style, furthering the correct assertion that comics are more than just superheroes. But when looking at the rundown, I had just one question: where are the comedy books?”
Well, humor fans and comics fans finally have something they can enjoy together: one of the best damn comics around is a humor comic: The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Steve Lieber. This comic is chock full of verbal and visual humor, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen or read in years.
Everything about this series is unlikely. It’s not about a superhero: it’s about a team of supervillains, but not top-shelf villains such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, the Joker, or Lex Luthor. Nope, the series is about Fred Myers, a.k.a. Boomerang (an extremely minor villain) and five of his even more minor cohorts (Beetle, Overdrive, Shocker, and Speed Demon.) In one of many jokes, these five crooks call themselves the Sinister Six.
The opening narration of the series, by Boomerang, sets the tone: “Spider-Man’s the only one anybody ever talks about. Nobody’s ever like ‘Hey, what about Boomerang?’ What’s up with him? What makes that guy tick? Where’s he from? What does he do in his spare time? Does he have any pets? And hey—why does he keep letting this guy beat the holy hell out of him? Is he mentally ill? Is it a sex thing?”
In fact, it’s more of an incompetence thing. Spencer and Lieber wring great comedy out of this crew’s bumbling attempts to make something of themselves in the supervillain game. These semi-lovable idiots operate on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, where the villains are more likely to jeopardize their pride and dignity than the fate of the world. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man are decidedly inferior.
Superior Foes is a crime comic and a supervillain comic, but most importantly, it’s a humor comic. Just about every panel contains a laugh, reminding us that the funny pages can actually be funny. You’d think it would be easy to pick a best joke from this series, since it’s only on issue ten, but you’d be wrong. Some of the best jokes involve the old Comics Code Authority logo covering a raised middle finger, a self-help group called Supervillains Anonymous, Speed Demon stealing a puppy, Boomerang haplessly trying to romance a bartender, and some bizarre visual gags involving the cyborg head of Silvio Silvermane (don’t ask).
However, I have to say the Best Joke Ever (or maybe Best Bit Ever) from this series is a ridiculous situation that features Dr. Doom—probably Marvel’s number one villain, who is normally ultra-serious—saying to a painter, “I want you to draw Doom… like one of your French girls.”
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Doom, he has nothing to do with Obamacare, but he is one of Marvel’s oldest villains. Victor Von Doom is monarch of Latveria and nemesis of the Fantastic Four. He wears a badass suit of armor that partly inspired Darth Vader and keeps his face covered because of scars on his face. It’s a long-running argument in comics whether his face is actually hideous or just slightly scarred, meaning Doom keeps it under wraps due to vanity. As Boomerang narrates, Doom’s face is “kind of in that ‘who is Banksy, was Deckard a replicant’ category of interweb mystery.”
That mysterious face is important to Superior Foes because one of Boomerang’s heists involves a painting of Doom’s real face. In Boomerang’s possibly reliable narration, one night Doom has a little too much wine and asks a famous painter named Broudaire to do a portrait of his real mug. The next morning, the pretentious, third-person-using monarch is left to exclaim “Doom did… what?” The artist is dispatched with a death ray, but Doom holds on to the painting, which is stolen many times until it ends up in our sorta-hero Boomerang’s hands.
It’s remarkable that Marvel—a mega-giganto-corporation—is willing to let so much fun be had at the expense of one of their strongest characters, but thank Doom they are. The world is a better place with a line like “I want you to draw Doom… like one of your French girls” in it.
If you like reading about crime or idiots, you’ll enjoy this comic; it should be particularly pleasing to fans of smart comedies like Archer. Please give this comic a try, because if you do, maybe it will encourage Marvel and other companies to do more like it. We need more comics like this.
Comics that are comic! What a concept.