Ok, so everybody’s been talking about the book about Doctor Octopus trying to be a good guy since Wednesday. Have we all got that out of our systems? Good. Let’s talk about the book where the bad guys try to be bad guys!
Storytellers: Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber
Color Art: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: Steve Lieber
Variant Cover: Carlo Barberi & Edgar Delgado
Editor: Tom Brennan
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: The Sinister Six (four) make their assault on the Owl’s compound for the head of Silvio Silvermane – only not so much. Boomerang ditches his crew mid-job as they fight the Owl’s defenses so he can go down to the basement himself, where he finds his target. Not the head of Silvermane, but a painting of “The True Face of Victor von Doom,” which he describes as the most valuable and sought after piece of art in the world. Meanwhile, the car Boomerang trapped Shocker in has been fished out of the river and delivered to a junk yard. When Shocker busts out of the trunk, what does he find in the junkyard? The head of Silvio Silvermane mounted on a remote control car! Shocker takes the head and runs!
MY THOUGHTS: We are now five deep in a series of issues that refuse to let up on being the most ridiculously entertaining read possible. Spencer and Lieber seem to have a very clear idea of what they want to do and the talent to do it, and there’s just nothing standing in their way.
Starting at the beginning, we’re first treated to a scene that makes the Owl scary in a way that I personally haven’t seen for some time. He has a man that stole from him tied up (in a location described by the caption as “Someplace Awful,” an amusing stylistic staple of this series). Suspended not far over the thief’s head are quite a lot of rats, seemingly just held by some netting that they are already working on chewing through. After the man pleads for his life, the Owl tells him a story that is pretty damn funny to the reader, though surely not to the thief. By the end of the story, the rats have chewed through the netting and descend on the thief’s head. As the Owl and his lackey walk out of the room, the Owl tells the lackey to save a few rats for him. Those are the first 4 pages of the issue. Page 5 is a full page of the Owl with blood around his mouth having torn into a rat. Boomerang’s signature narration begins for the issue on this page, saying, “So yeah – this guy, right? Let’s rob HIM.” Much has been made about this series’ perceived disrespect for the Shocker, but here we see an unexpected and impressive amount of respect shown to a villain that I would say is on a similar level with the Shocker. Contrary to the dumbing down of some B and C-list villains that’s been talked about lately, this is the kind of building up of a B-lister that makes them seem a truly formidable villain. In CrazyChris’ review of Superior Spider-Man #21 this week, he says of Dan Slott’s handling of Stunner, “If the creators do their job, even C-list villains can be impressive.” I would call the Owl a B-lister, but I think the same point applies here. Spencer and Lieber want to make him a big scary villain, and damn it, they DO.
Moving on, it then takes the Foes 6 whole pages to go from thinking they’re ready to go in to actually going in. And of course it does. Boomerang seems most concerned with Speed Demon missing the great cue he gave him to go speeding off (“We need to MOVE FAST!”), while Speed Demon is dealing with a leg injury that he’s augmented with roller skates and duct tape, the Beetle is trying to give everyone detailed and color-coded plans she came up with, and Overdrive is actually trying to study the plan (until Boomerang throws them off the roof, that is). Spencer and Lieber have their characterizations down cold in a way that it typically takes creators well over 5 issues to do, and because of that they know exactly how to effortlessly use each one for individual comedy and to set off the others. Scenes like this make it obvious why the creative team chose each character, and their affection for each one shines in constant comic gold.
When the assault on the Owl’s base begins, we get the best use of Overdrive’s ‘tricking out vehicles’ power that I’ve ever seen (and he’s been around a short enough time that I think I’ve read all his appearances). He takes a regular remote controlled helicopter and turns it into AN ACTUAL HELICOPTER that he can still remote control and use to fire on the building. That is SUCH a better use for that power than just making cars bigger and actually makes it seem pretty cool for once (to me, anyway – I’m sure people who are more into cars were more interested in the power than I was already).
Shocker fans may be disappointed to see another character, this time Speed Demon, call him “the coward of the group.” And initially I was rubbed a little wrong by it myself. But once again I’m going to say you have to consider the source. Just a few pages after Speed Demon calls Shocker a coward, Speed Demon is in the Owl’s compound running away yelling, “We’re all gonna die!” and in the very next panel runs into a giant scorpion (a giant actual scorpion, not an oversized Mac Gargan), stops, and says, “Peed.” This shows you 2 things: A) Sure, these guys are calling Shocker a coward, but it isn’t unlike the closeted jock who calls everything “gay,” and B) THIS COMIC IS PLAYED FOR HUMOR. Period. It is not a serious character study of Shocker OR Speed Demon. It’s a wink and a nod and just trying to have as much fun with this group of lower-tier villains for as long as this series can last before its sadly inevitable cancellation due to lack of popular characters.
There’s a small touch that I won’t spend too much time on but I have to mention: The Owl has a Prius. This fact in itself cracked me up, but I about died when it’s driving off and you hear him say, “Listen to that. You can barely hear the engine. LOVE the Prius.” Now I don’t know if this is an example of a team having fun with some required product placement (remember the Old Spice issue of Kirkman’s Irredeemable Ant-Man?) or if this is the team making fun of product placement, but either way I found it damn funny. And it shows the wonderful range and versatility of this team that they can give us a hilarious little bit about the Owl loving his Prius in the same issue that they make him a scary bastard and nothing about the tone of either thing feels out of place. Believe me, that shows more talent than you might realize.
So finally there’s the ending. Should I be surprised that Boomerang didn’t believe EITHER story he told us about the head of Silvio Silvermane? No, not in the slightest. He is the definition of an untrustworthy narrator. But I still wasn’t expecting him to get down to that basement and end up looking for something completely different. The painting of The True Face of Victor von Doom is just another great little piece of lore Spencer and Lieber have added to this gritty underbelly of the Marvel Universe now. And if that surprised me a little, that was nothing compared to my total shock to find out that the FIRST story of Silvermane’s head, the one where he’s found by the son of the junk yard owner and taken in, is TRUE! When Shocker popped out of that trunk and saw the boy and his dog, I thought he looked an awful lot like the boy from the story, so it might be the same junk yard. But to then see Silvermane’s head on a toy car around the corner, followed immediately by a full page of Shocker running off with the very surprised head, is just an amazing swerve that had me absolutely cracking up. This book is definitely proving that it doesn’t have any qualms about taking chances and doing something out of left field and ridiculous if it’s going to be great fun. And great fun it is.
GRADE: A+ For a comic book to be as good as I’ve been reviewing it already and to just keep getting better is pretty much unheard of. But as long as this book stays on the top of its game and keeps topping itself, I can’t give it anything less than the perfect score it deserves.