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Picks of comic book week: Never trust a super villain whose mask lacks eyeholes

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Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6

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The weekly dose of the best comic books for December 11th, 2013!

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Book of the week: Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6

After a brief surge in 2011-2012, it has suddenly become dangerous to be a spin off title of "Spider-Man" (whether "amazing" or "superior") these days. Both "Venom" and "Scarlet Spider" are ending their runs after having survived beyond the two year mark while "Morbius the Living Vampire" was quickly axed and the latest incarnation of "Spider-Man Team-Up" has been rebooted. Thrown into this mix is this plucky little title about some B, C, and even D-List villains written by Nick Spencer, drawn by Steve Lieber and colored by Rachelle Rosenberg which has essentially become "Hawkeye for super villains". As of October sales were sliding down the top 100 list and it is doubtful this series will outlast "Morbius" despite the fact that it is often quite funny in terms of dialogue and visuals and creating a lot of life about of some discarded and even new villains.

The star of this series remains Fred Myers, also known as Boomerang. A disgraced baseball pitcher turned super villain, he actually started out as a Hulk villain before being attached to mostly Spider-Man appearances during his decades in print. His partners in crime - with the term "partners" being a loose one - are longtime allies Shocker and Speed-Demon with fresher faces in Overdrive and a mysterious woman who's taken on the mantle of the Beetle. Abner Jenkins, the original Beetle, has since become the armored hero Mach-IV who is a perennial "Thunderbolts" member and has become Myers' probation officer after yet another arrest after a caper gone wrong. Throughout the course of this arc Myers has manipulated his team as well as the Russian mob boss Chameleon in order to enrich himself, and he's seemingly stolen a priceless painting from another gangster (old "Daredevil" villain Owl) while sacrificing his team to do so at every turn. In this issue, things start to unravel for the overconfident Myers. A date with a bar tender goes poorly while Jenkins begins to catch on with his lies, and the Chameleon soon makes his presence felt. Meanwhile, the rest of the team (sans Shocker, who narrowly escaped a murder attempt by Myers) have been captured by the Owl and are set for a nasty fate if Beetle can't summon her father to help them - who turns out to be another well known Spider-Man rogue.

As always, these issues read better than their plots imply, if that makes sense. Spencer's back and forth banter between his characters always has the flow of a hit sitcom while Lieber always hits the ball out of the part with illustrative comedy in many key points. While this is a series about a team of thieves who betray each other often, Spencer has remembered that it takes place with costumed figures in an often zany universe, and thus the tone is hardly ever serious. This issue does poke some fun at Dr. Doom which some fans may not care for, but compared to many overly glum books offered by the "distinguished competition" this series is often a hoot. Considering how many Spider-Man books were once on the stands as well as the glut of other material it isn't a surprise that many readers took a pass on it, but those who haven't have been treated to one of the most unique super-villain crime comedy capers in years.

Honorable mentions:

Invincible #107: Robert Kirkman's other perennial Image Comics series skipped November, but then again skipping a month or two has hardly been unusual for this series overall. Longtime artist Ryan Stegman and newer colorist John Rauch continue to pick at the left over pieces of sagas from issues #80-100 and attempt to reassemble them into something just as epic. This has produces issues which catch a breath from some of the bombastic tones of previous eras even if sometimes things can be hit or miss. In this issue, an old and dismissed villain has been recreated into a form barely recognizable from his old one as Monster Girl tries to make piece with her Flaxian "son" who she sired out of wedlock during a long term regime change adventure run by her husband, Rex Robot. Meanwhile, Mark Grayson is hit on Anyssa, one of the few surviving Viltrumites who once was a mortal foe. The last trump card that this series has - Mark's former arch nemesis, Angstrum Levy - may be punched next issue. While there is no denying at this point that this series is past its prime, it still is a rare example of a comic with all the over the top art and action of a mainstream superhero saga with the shifting whims and unpredictable plotting of a creator owned project.

Archer & Armstrong #16: The "Sect Civil War" continues as writer Fred Van Lente and current artist Khari Evans (with longtime colorist David Baron) bring this relaunched Valiant Entertainment series to the usual heights of action packed comedy. The titular duo split apart over Armstrong sleeping with the women Archer loved, but now have been forced to work together once more by a civil war among the various sects of collectives who control the world from the shadows - sowing violent chaos worldwide. While Armstrong is eager to regain his friendship, it turns out Archer hasn't fallen far from his own corrupt parents as he seems to only be manipulating the immortal so he can gain access to another ancient MacGuffin and rule all the Sects himself. Meanwhile, Mary-Maria finds herself at the mercy of one of these sects, before ultimately ruling over it herself. The setting shifts from ancient Egypt to the modern Middle East. Hilarity ensues when the titular duo are captured by a squad of terrorists as Mary Maria takes over the sect of "ninja nuns" from earlier issues. As always, the zany satire of many real world organizations may not work for those easily offended, but for everyone else this remains a comedic gold mine as well as one of the best buddy comedy adventure comics out there.

Avengers A.I. #7: Original regular artist Andre Lima Araujo rejoins writer Sam Humphries in another manic issue of "Hank Pym & the robot Avengers", which seeks to treat robots and artificial intelligences as a similar "oppressed minority" stand in as mutants and Inhumans tend to be in Marvel Comics. As one of the "Inhumanity" crossover titles, this issue offers a done-in-one story which covers the aftermath of "Infinity" as well as a random guest appearance with Daredevil. A quest to claim Inhuman technology for SHIELD gets derailed when Pym and Doombot run afoul of the "man without fear" as he searches for a missing client - who has now mutated into a tentacle monster due to the crossover's finale. Humphries does a good job not only satisfying the crossover, but playing with stories set up by Mark Waid's run on "Daredevil" concerning Matt Murdock's new friendship with Pym as well as his wariness of Dr. Doom. The issue fleshes Doombot out a bit and thankfully doesn't neuter him while at the same time giving him a chance to shine and offer someone his own unique brand of "kindness". While a few splash pages make the issue read quite quickly, Araujo takes over as if he'd never left with Frank D'Armata's colors flanking his pencils well. This may be another quirky Marvel series that struggles to find an audience, but it has been improving with its last two issues, with another well known "robot Avenger" set to appear in future issues.

Mighty Avengers #4: Another "Inhumanity" crossover issue, this means that this relaunched Avengers spin-off series may not exist without a crossover banner on its cover until issue five or six - a trend some may recall for spare titles of the 1990's. In practice, writer Matt Ewing is using the premise of new Inhumans being created to kick off his second arc on this series, which sees Luke Cage organize and run his own team of Avengers - the first with a roster which consists of only one white male member. The biggest mystery the series had was who was the masked "Spider-Hero", and while news sites broke that story in October, this issue makes that mystery obvious to most readers even without such headlines. Whether as Spider-Hero or Ronin, that mystery man is Blade who seems to have to keep his face under wraps for a long term campaign against something dark and supernatural. Often plagued by a lack of a supporting cast for his own series, Blade has now joined two team books within four years and both have been to interesting results. Beyond that, Ewing sets up his new villain (yet another smarmy and corrupt tycoon and his super powered gal Friday) as well as organizes his team, and continues to showcase why it is absolutely absurd that heroes who literally deal with comic book super villains every day can't tell when one has possessed Spider-Man. Ewing has a good voice and role for all of his characters, and while Greg Land's "art" remains the series' biggest demerit, the inking by Jay Leisten makes it look different than usual, which can only be positive. Regardless, this has quickly become the second volume of a comic called "Mighty Avengers" which has proven to be a great read overall.

Also out this week: Death Sentence #3, which will get its own review, and The Standard #4, which was reviewed back in October!

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