It’s New Year’s Eve and the Spidey Office has one more comic book for the fans before 2014 arrives (I’m guessing they heard about our very own Crawlie Awards and wanted to make sure this issue was eligible – don’t forget, you have 2 more days to vote!). And since it’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man, you know that means we’re celebrating the end of 2013 in style!
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Rich Ellis
Color Art: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: In-Hyuk Lee
Editor: Tom Brennan
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: The Beetle, aka Janice, aka the daughter of Tombstone’s origin is told. She grew up crooked and wanted to be a supervillain but her dad put her through law school because those are the real, legal crooks. Luck brought Baron Zemo and The Fixer through her law office doors one day and she saw the opportunity to help them out and took it, getting the Beetle identity and equipment from The Fixer.
MY THOUGHTS: Now I’m aware that brief plot rundown sounds dull compared to a usual issue of Superior Foes, but that’s just because all the humor was in the telling of this one more so than in the situation itself. Thankfully, even with a fill-in artist, this was a still a solid and very amusing issue of Superior Foes.
It has to be said that this is a huge departure from what we’ve seen from the series so far. Not just in the fact that the first six issues were largely about the team and the team dynamic (a team that is nowhere to be seen in these pages), but in that the first six issues were all narrated by Boomerang. To hit issue seven with a formula that’s been working very well and chuck that formula right out the door is a bold move, and Spencer seems completely unfazed by it. In fact, he goes a step further and has the first issue not narrated by Boomerang be an issue in which he doesn’t appear at all, throwing out the series’ de facto “star” to date and never missing a beat.
Also breaking this issue from the norm is the absence of series artist Steve Lieber, who has been a major factor in the quality of this book. But I’m happy to report that the first fill-in of the series worked out about as well as it could. Rich Ellis isn’t able to make me forget about Lieber or anything, but he does a very able job in filling in for him and keeping the style of the book consistent. I have to wonder, since a lot of the amusing quirks in the art are still present here, if Nick Spencer actually scripts more of these things for Steve Lieber than I give him credit for, or if he took the initiative to script them in this issue for Ellis to help keep things consistent. Either way, it works very well and while I hope Steve Lieber remains the series artist for the duration of the series, as far as I’m concerned Rich Ellis is welcome back any time there’s a need for a fill-in. And kudos to editor Tom Brennan for recruiting such a solid match for a book that is such a writer/artist collaboration. Frankly a fill-in artist could have been a disastrous thing for this book right now and it’s impressive how seamlessly it was pulled off.
EDIT: Please see comment #8 below this review for a word from artist Steve Lieber on the subject!
One question I have to raise, though, is what’s up with the order of the covers on this series? Last issue had a cover that featured the other Foes holding up The Beetle, as if presenting her to the reader. This issue’s cover has all 5 Foes looking like they’ve just pulled a heist with Speed Demon front and center. Wouldn’t these covers have made more sense if they were switched? Here we have a story exclusively about the Beetle, so a Beetle-centric cover would have seemed like a natural, and last issue was a story following the Foes’ heist on the Owl’s compound (even though it wasn’t successful), so shouldn’t that have gotten the post-heist group shot? It’s not something that takes down my enjoyment of the issue or anything, it just seems very curious and stands out to me as something that looks like a filing mistake of some sort. And oddly I’ve just noticed that the cover credits Lieber and Rosenberg instead of Ellis and Loughridge, which is an unfortunate oversight for the clearly hardworking fill-in team.
As for the story itself, Spencer doesn’t disappoint with the story of Tombstone’s little girl. Tombstone is every bit the proud papa (even remembering the anniversary of the downright evil scene of her childhood you can see in the preview pages provided here) but he’s also an old school gangster who wants to protect his baby girl and doesn’t want to see her in a costume. And Janice is exactly the kind of screwed up young lady you’d expect to have been raised by Tombstone, but she’s also a progressive type of young person, intending to break the glass ceiling on female bosses (which gets a laugh from ol’ dad). It’s a simple story but Spencer packs it with plenty of humor and style, and though it might not be as zany as a typical issue of Foes, it’s still a good and fun entry into the ongoing story.
The best part of the issue, though, is the bickering between The Fixer and Baron Zemo. This is a case of Spencer allowing Fixer to call out the obvious things that are usually overlooked (Fixer makes fun of Zemo thinking he should get a fair shake like Bucky by saying, “You’re wearing a Baron Zemo costume! It’s like if I dressed up in a Nazi uniform and a Hitler moustache and then complained about not getting a good table at Chili’s!”). There’s also plenty of fun art in this sequence of what’s going through people’s heads, from Janice imagining Fixer and Zemo as old ladies, to Fixer’s description of Zemo’s problems with Bucky being illustrated as kids with signs (that one you’re just going to have to read to get I think). This is the scene that feels most like the best parts of this series and it really shines in an issue that doesn’t have quite as much of this sort of thing. And it’s a brilliantly “this series” sort of way to get us to this Beetle’s first appearance in the Captain America series with Baron Zemo circa the Bucky-Cap days. I ALWAYS appreciate a writer who can make continuity work while telling a great story.
So in the end I’d say this isn’t the greatest issue of this series, but it’s a very entertaining standalone and still better than most of what else is out there. If you’re still on the fence about this book and considering picking it up, this is as good an issue as any to jump in and it will probably knock your socks even farther off since you don’t have the heights of the series (#5) to compare it to.
GRADE: A I mean it’s great comics. What more are we asking for?