by Nick Spencer (Writer), Rich Ellis (Artist), Lee Loughridge (Colorist)
The Story: How does one become a super villain? Beetle sure seems to know the answer as we see her secret origin.
The Review: In ensemble books, there will always be characters delegated to the background, some that will receive less spotlight than others. It’s something that is fairly common, with books like Hickman’s Avengers and even some issues of Morrison’s JLA run being culprits when it comes to putting a certain focus on certain characters over others. Writers can usually overcome this by either pushing forth with some stories or a single issues featuring them heavily, to balance things out for readers who might start to question the reason behind the inclusion of one of the cast members.
In this month’s issue, Nick Spencer does this by putting the spotlight on the new Beetle, who had been some kind of mystery in the issue of Superior Spider-Man in which she was first introduced. Mostly there to add some tension and to provide humor, we didn’t know much about her, as she shared the same fate as Overdrive in mostly being there without being particularly active, with being reactive being mostly the case as far as character work goes. She wasn’t absent so much as merely there most of the time.
This issue changes this sad status, however, as the rather big reveal of the last issue is not only fleshed out, but it also acts as a character piece revealing just how Beetle grew up to become a member of the Sinister Six. This is told via the relationship between father and daughter, as a very different Tombstone is shown here, presented as a loving and rather doting paternal figure instead of a relentless mob boss. The way both Janice and Tombstone interacts is rather fascinating, with the certain cruelty he is known for mixing with his attitude toward someone he genuinely cares about. It is both funny and rather cute to read at the same time.
The stereotypical speech about potential, the future that could very well await for Janice and what she actually wants out of life are all presents here, yet twisted around with the vision of how crime is in the Marvel universe. The fact that Janice wants to become a super-villain, much like her dad, speaks volume about their relations and how her education got screwed up. The way she progress through the year, either by ruthless acts or by manipulation, ends up being rather malevolent, yet utterly funny at the nonchalance she displays and how easy it is for her to commit such acts all by herself.
All of this do use well on of the strengths and theme of the title, showing a certain irreverence and a more comedic way to portray the other side of the equation of super heroism. The manner in which the dispute between Zemo and Fixer is brought up is genuine, yet there is a certain lack of respect as well as a certain normalization of two being basically dressed in their pajamas or high tech gear debating through a lawyer. It isn’t as out-there as some previous issues, yet there is a certain normalization of criminal activities and how the persons that commits them are portrayed in a world with thunder gods, sentinels of liberty and other such meta humans.
Something that’s a bit different in this issue, though, is the artist as Steve Lieber is replaced by Rich Ellis.* This proves, however, to be a smart choice as Ellis is able to reproduce the regular approach in tone without being a pale copy of Lieber, with a different style that suits the title well. His characters are generally very apt in terms of emotions and facial expressions, with a certain body language and mannerism that adds a lot to the personalities on display. The panelling is also very good, with a dynamic way to present the visual flow as the progression of events is done almost flawlessly. The backgrounds are also very fine, with just enough to provide the certain sense of realism that adds so much to the more bizarre elements. The distinctive manner in which some of the weirder elements are also presented is back in some manner, as Janice imagine a less-than-flattering depiction of the conflict between Zemo and Fixer, which does add a good amount of hilarity.** The only problem, a minor one, is that there are some panels in which the lines are left a bit incomplete, which does make the book seem a bit rushed in some respects.
The rushed aspect isn’t that much helped by the colorization of Lee Loughridge, who seems to push the more realistic approach to colorization up to eleven, with some pages lacking in diversity as a result. Some pages are impossibly beige and yellow, creating a sepia effect that is a bit overwhelming. This has the result, in some cases, that the contrasts are either too minimal or non-existent, which hurts the book as a whole. Loughridge does deserves some credits at trying to emulate the past colorization of the book while he does seem to push forth some techniques that are genuinely interesting, yet for the most part it is a bit lacking.
The Conclusion: Presenting a fun and interesting father/daughter relationship through the themes of the book, this issue manages to be entertaining, but also neatly-written in terms of characterization at the same time. It does have some problems in terms of colorization, but the art makes up for it to produce another satisfactory issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
Hugo Robberts Larivière
*It does seem a bit cheap of Marvel not to replace Lieber’s name on the cover for Ellis, though, considering he did the whole issue.
**Stop producing T-shirt worthy panels, dammit! Now I simply have to create myself a pimp Zemo apparatus, pronto.