Nick Spencer has an analytical mind and delicately develops his character exposition with wit and reason. This has been seen with his previous works of Thunder Agents, Morning Glories and Secret Avengers. What is more is that he is damn good at it, leaving twisting turns and weaving character threads. It is this attention to detail that is needed to produce an irresistible villain story because not only must you understand your central character, but feel for them. There is not a book in the land that will sell with a dislikeable central character, unless that is its central premise. Tackling a story on villains is often done as a one shot or explored as part of the overall hero story but there is rarely a mini series dedicated to it because it is an unenviable task. The origin of a villain is often the most insightful part of the character, as the evolution of immorality often has torrid beginnings. With the success of Thanos Rising and Superior Spider-Man, I believe we are witnessing the evolution of comics to reach a greater depth of character; the bad guy. Welcome to the Sinister six…oh wait…the Sinister five?
This comic is a rarity on the shelves of your local shop because it contains good bad guy writing. To be honest it has to, because there are no heroes in the book. Boomerang is a realistic villain dictating his autobiography through his thought boxes. His monologue supplies a unique set of thoughts to the medium and highlight the immense stress caused by cliché disingenuous lawyers, repetitive team meetings and going one on one with the Punisher. It is a wonderful observation that villains hate Frank Castle because he will not incarcerate you but murder you. The reverse is often expected for heroes dealing with the homicidal bad guys. The witty banter between the Sinister five is on par with the verbal assault that would occur amongst friends, they mock Shocker’s wish for a unisex bathroom, Speed Demon’s obsession with his old team and Boomerang’s love for Dormammu. It is all light hearted and quite realistic mocking which does not really occur that often in the Justice League or Avengers. These are the gad guys so clearly they squabble more often and lose focus on the big picture. These humorous quips are often reserved for the smart alec of the superhero team; Peter Parker often springs to mind. The plot is also clever and portrays situations that we do not often see, such as the deals struck with restaurants to shut down their competitors or the foray of lies to prevent breaking bail in court. This is a great story, brilliantly told from a wonderfully refreshing viewpoint.
Steve Lieber who was popular in the nineties, with work on Hawkman and Detective Comics but took a creator owned path in this decade provides the art. His work on Whiteout with Greg Rucka was adapted into a feature movie. His pencils on this book are solid and well established. His splash pages of the Punisher contain very believable explosions and astonishing glass shattering effects. The villain’s faces are all unique and distinguishable, which is a rare skill when many artists just rely on varying character’s outfits. His cheesy cringe-worthy lawyer expressions are invaluable, as are his looks of villainous anxiety. It is fantastic to see the hero explode onto a scene looking from the antagonists perspective. Each member of the Six have their own vulnerability and it is exposed on their character in the form of intoxication, anxiety and fear. It is the hang dog look of Boomerang that complements the character’s disposition so perfectly, that we really begin to pity him. The story is played out well with classical storytelling and a villainous exposition rarely seen before.
The reason why this comic book works is because Nick Spencer allows us the opportunity to relate to the minor villains. Our conversations with our friends sound more like the Sinister Six bickering than the Justice League postulating. The human condition is not a perfect one; we are more like a Z-list villain than an A-list superhero. We are not comparable to Superman because we cannot be perfect, but it may be said that we read this medium because we admire them and their pursuit of benevolent civic duty. Inasmuch as we cannot compare ourselves to superheroes, we also cannot compare ourselves to the Joker. The Sinister Six are not psychopathic homicidal nutcases straight out of Gotham, but more normal people that choose to lead a life of criminal pursuits. They work as a group because they know they need to work together to pull off the big win. Nick takes this further with his fantastic dialogue that shows us how interdependent they are on each other. A group like the Justice League are too perfect and are far from dependent on one another, which is the reason why a more powerful adversary is often needed for the book to be coherent at any level. There is little cynicism, deceit or deception as their greater goal is an altruistic one. This does not apply to the Sinister Six as each member is focused upon personal gain, even if they have to lie to each other to do it. This dishonesty is a central theme to the book, to the extreme measure of upscaling your reputation by pretending to be beaten to a pulp by the Punisher. This lie then builds to another lie and then another, escalating your tower of deceit to an inevitable catastrophic end, when it comes crashing down. And trust me it will, because these are the bad guys. But this book approaches those fundamental building blocks that allow evil to escalate to supervillainy. The Sinister Six are getting stronger and bigger even if they are founded on a scaffold of chicanery. I do so enjoy evil character exposition and recently it has become more and more a potent selling point in comics. I like to think this is the reason why Walter White from Breaking Bad is such a compelling protagonist and why so many of us are addicted to the show. I wait impatiently for further installments of the Spiderfoes and believe Spencer’s can take this book to dark corner’s unknown and make us love it all the same. The superhero and anti-hero phenomenon has been well archived over the years but the treatise of supervillainy has only just begun.
“I mean it though..babe, doesn’t Fred look good? He looks…virile.”