The Small Lebowski:
Characters Appearing: Answer, Beetle, Boomerang, Doctor Octopus, Elias Hargrove, Hardshell, Rhino, Ringer, Spider-Man, Stegron, Swarm, Vulture
Lethal Foes of Spider-Man #1-4
Issue(s): Lethal Foes of Spider-Man #1, Lethal Foes of Spider-Man #2, Lethal Foes of Spider-Man #3, Lethal Foes of Spider-Man #4
The story starts off with Dr. Octopus' arms being destroyed.
Both the adamantium set and the regular set are destroyed. Doc Ock, thousands of miles away at the Vault, screams out in pain. But after that, he finds himself under attack from telepathy, through the chip that he used to control the adamantium. With his strong willpower, he's able to resist the attack. And the attacker turns out to be the spirit of the Answer.
The Answer gives some more details about his origins than we've seen before.
In this series, including in the above flashback, the Answer seems far more powerful than he ever was in his original appearances. His powers were more subtle originally (and i was never 100% sure what they were, exactly). They're much more flamboyant here.
The Answer wants Doctor Octopus' help getting a body, and says that he'll break him out of the Vault and help him re-create his arms. Octavius' specialty as a nuclear scientist is what made him come to him (i mean, that and the fact that thanks to the chip, Doc Ock was able to contact him).
Doc Ock's initial plans involve using a cousin named Elias Hargrove, who he has leverage on, to gain access to the nuclear device that he used to use before the accident that made him Doctor Octopus.
Meanwhile, Leila Davis, is let out of jail. She was the woman seeking vengeance against the Beetle on the behalf of her husband, the Ringer, in Deadly Foes. And she recruits Boomerang, Rhino, and the Vulture to make some money and maybe go after the Beetle again. Boomerang has a personal grudge against the Beetle as we saw in Deadly Foes, and the Rhino has no love for the Beetle after that story as well, although now that he's able to take his suit off again his primary motivation has become raising enough money to get his family out of eastern Europe (later said to be the Balkans). The Vulture was not in Deadly Foes last time, but he is looking for a cure for cancer. Which you wouldn't think would be found in a grudge match against the Beetle, but you'd be surprised.
Davis has a super-suit for herself, and she is now Hardshell. Her first mission for the team is to steal the same (conveniently gun-shaped) device that Doctor Octopus planned to use to give a body to the Answer.
Despite attempted interference by Spider-Man...
...the Foes manage to get away with the device. But they wind up fighting amongst themselves after they escape, and a stray blast from the device in Central Park accidentally causes the return of Stegron.
The next player in this story is the Beetle himself. He is struggling with cash, in a large part because he's apparently paying off people that might know his secret identity. It looks to me like the bigger issue is that the Beetle has some very expensive fetishes (but i'm not judging).
He decides that he needs to stop thinking small and taking "henchmen" gigs. But he calls around and can't seem to scare up anyone to work with him. We don't see who he talks to but they're presumably other super-villains. During the course of those calls, he learns that Rhino and Boomerang are working with a "mysterious woman", and he's able to guess that it's Leila Davis. So he decides to go steal the gun that they stole.
But on his way, he comes across Spider-Man fighting Stegron, and he helps Stegron defeat Spider-Man. They agree to a partnership with the usual "and then I'll betray you..." bullshit (the sort of thing the first Foes book mostly avoided).
Beetle and Stegron bring Spider-Man to Hardshell and company, hoping to trade him for the nuclear blaster. Which kind of makes the Beetle look like a doofus.
As Hardshell notes, they have an agreement with AIM to sell the blaster for a billion dollars. She's got very little personal investment in Spider-Man, and the other villains don't either, really, at this point (more on that below). So the Beetle comes across looking like, in Boomerang's words, a "loser". But then things turn into a real cluster when Boomerang, who does have an investment in a grudge against the Beetle, tosses an exploding boomerang at him. Hardshell tries to stop Boomerang but misses and hits Stegron with a blast instead.
So a big dumb fight breaks out.
In the confusion Spider-Man gets free. The Beetle tries to escape with the blaster and the other villains give chase. The Beetle is repeatedly called a loser and he's totally rattled by the Vulture ,who has a personal reason for wanting the blaster back, since he thinks it can cure his cancer.
My personal vote is that Stegron gets the blaster, because he wants to use it to create a race of dinosaur men, and that's awesome. Unless of course if the Vulture can really use it to cure cancer, but in that case he has to share. Frankly, i'm fine with them both taking a turn. Let the human race become a cancer-free race of dinosaur people. It's the best of all possible worlds!
But that's not the direction we're going in. Instead, this whole donnybrook is observed by a guy with the lame name Strikeback, and he's obviously the Ringer returned from the dead. Because that's what we needed.
Spider-Man tries to follow as well but passes out from his recent injuries.
Meanwhile, since Doctor Octopus' plans have been foiled, he goes a different route. Through his lawyer, he gets his cousin Hargrove to write a formula that will help restore the Answer to a body (i'm disappointed that Octavius couldn't come up with it on his own), and then Ock goes to a Vault guard that he's been helping earn a night school degree, and tricks him into using his equipment to implement the formula and allow the Answer to materialize.
Like Stegron, the Answer never intended to honor his partnership, but Doc Ock still has the mental connection via the chip that the Answer used to contact him. So he's able to brainwash and control the Answer.
He uses the Answer to help him escape and build a new makeshift set of arms. We're getting cornier and cornier with that "pleasanter for me" dialogue.
When Spider-Man wakes up, he finds himself drawn to Empire State University, where Doc Ock is trying to retrieve the remnants of his original arms and the computer chip that controlled his adamantium armor. So just to be clear, there are three sets of Doc Ock's arms in the discussion. His new ones, which are crude, his original arms, which are damaged but repairable, and the adamantium set, which have been melted down (but the control chip still exists). The space necessary to clarify all of this and the scenes devoted to Doc Ock building one suit of armor and then stealing another, etc., is an example of how this story gets cluttered up with plot mechanics instead of character development.
Note the Answer's extensive powers.
It's suggested that Spider-Man's arrival is also thanks to a subliminal summons by the Answer, an "answer" to his need to escape from Doc Ock. When Spidey arrives, the Answer says that he's unable to fight him, but his powers do manifest when Spidey attacks. Doc Ock is admirably focused on his original goal and doesn't stick around for vengeance even when Spidey gets knocked down. So he escapes with his (still damaged) original arms. As he's leaving, he bumps into a container on a roof, and in this random way the Swarm will be added to our cast.
At this point, the Vulture has retrieved the nuclear blaster. And in what is almost a nice scene, Hardshell suggests using it to cure the Vulture's cancer and then giving it to AIM. But even as i was cheering that (obvious) solution, Hardshell was already betraying him.
And so the madness continues.
The fights and chases continue until the arrival of Strikeback...
...followed in quick succession by the Swarm.
Strikeback is indeed the original Ringer and Hardshell's husband. He was found by AIM after the Scourge slaughter while they were scrounging through the carnage to steal all the dead villains' technology, and they used him as a guinea pig in their cyborg experimentation. He had to do a few jobs for them, but now he's a free agent (that's a pretty fair deal!). He wants to be a good guy now, and he tries to convince Hardshell to come with him. She's not so sure at first, but things come to a head when he's getting crushed by Stegron.
But Strikeback manages to get free and teleport away with Hardshell.
In the meantime, i continue to be disappointed with the infighting between the other villains.
C'mon, Rhino! Let the old man cure his cancer, and then go team up to make money to send to your family. This isn't hard! But that's the last we'll see of the Vulture. He's knocked out, and then the blaster is all used up. So no cure for him.
Swarm, without ever doing much, gets blasted by the device, and is put to rest again.
Doc Ock and the Answer fight apart from the rest of the group, and eventually decide that their debts are settled and they go their separate ways. All the other villains are knocked out. I doubt that if this series was billed "The Return of the Original Ringer" that anyone would have bought it, but that's the main lasting contribution.
The final issue is just a big fight, which i guess was inevitable considering the number of characters. I want to make it clear that big slugfests of course belong in super-hero comics. And Stegron and the Swarm are awesome by default, there's no denying that. Any comic can be improved just by having them walk across the page and wave. I also have a personal investment in the Answer, since Al Milgrom's Spectacular Spider-Man was one of my earliest runs, so it's nice to see him again (even though he's brainwashed for the majority of the story and seems way overpowered).
But truly good super-hero comics manage to blend the slugfests with good characterization. There was a lot to work with here. The original Foes series showed the potential, but this book goes in the opposite direction. In other books we've seen nuanced depictions of the Vulture and (to a lesser extend) the Rhino, but that's all discarded here. In general i wish there were more cases of villains showing loyalty to each other. Not to make them good guys but just because it's in their own self-interest.
As for the art, it starts off pretty good in an old school (i.e. non-Image influenced) way, which i like. But it seems to be a hard rule that as an early 1990s Marvel project went on, the number of artists involved increased exponentially. And the art gets sketchier as we go along, which is all the worse because it happens as the plot requires the fighting to become more chaotic. So overall this is in the "fine for what it is" category but that's a downgrade from Deadly Foes.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This story makes an unfootnoted reference to Spider-Man/Punisher/Sabretooth: Designer Genes, so it takes place after that. It's said that Doc Ock's next appearance will be in Spider-Man Unlimited #3. Beyond that, it seems context free.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Those "and then I will betray them!" plots are indeed silly most of the time, but I can accept it from Stegron. He is exactly the dumb, Saturday morning cartoon villain who you'd expect it from.
Posted by: Berend | March 28, 2017 4:09 PM
The idea that the Answer got his powers when the Kingpin was in Vegas doesn't really work. He got his powers from Harlan Stillwell's devices, which fell into the Kingpin's hands after Stillwell's death, and the Kingpin's time in Vegas was long before Stillwell's death. In fact the Kingpin's exact words were "I know that the Answer was granted his power by technology developed by the late Harlan Stillwell, just as I know that in a subsequent experiment we used that technology to grant the Black Cat her powers." That doesn't sound like one experiment done before Stillwell died and a later experiment on the Cat done years later.
Posted by: Michael | March 28, 2017 8:46 PM
I never bought that Ringer survived Scourge's assault. Both Scourge and Captain America checked the bodies of Scourge's victims to make sure they were dead. The odds of them both missing vital signs are astronomical. (Or Fridge Horror- Cap is bad at checking vital signs and hundreds of people have died as a result.)
Posted by: Michael | March 28, 2017 9:46 PM
It's sad but interesting just the point the Beetle is at here; having gone from someone who could stand up as a credible threat in the last mini to basically trying to get by but with too many enemies here. Likewise interesting is that he's one of the few villains who admits that he's just really getting by doing henchmen gigs when he should be doing bigger things. And while he has been part of things that could get him more notoriety (Egghead's MoE, being on Tony's hitlist during Armor Wars), it's this "potential major villain who keeps doing small time work" that just ends up being an interesting dichotomy going forwards for Abner.
Posted by: Ataru320 | March 28, 2017 10:35 PM
@Michael: When A.I.M. spirited away the body of the nearly-dead Anthony Davis from the Bar With No Name, to fool everyone they obviously left behind a ringer :P
Posted by: Ben Herman | March 29, 2017 9:01 AM
This series would later lend its name to one of the only good 16-bit Spider-Man video games, "Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes." The only connection to this series, though, would be the inclusion of Beetle and Ock as bosses. Sadly, the game was only ever released in Japan, while we in the states continued to get crap like "Separation Anxiety."
Posted by: TCP | March 29, 2017 9:16 AM
"My personal vote is that Stegron gets the blaster, because he wants to use it to create a race of dinosaur men, and that's awesome. Unless of course if the Vulture can really use it to cure cancer, but in that case he has to share. Frankly, i'm fine with them both taking a turn. Let the human race become a cancer-free race of dinosaur people. It's the best of all possible worlds!"
Posted by: Michael | April 3, 2017 12:00 AM
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