(Marvel Comics, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
Written by Nick Spencer
Artwork by Rich Ellis
Color Artwork by Lee Loughridge
If you thought that a series as imaginative and original as Superior Foes, based on the misadventures of some of the Marvel Universe’s wackiest D-list miscreants must have some pretty interesting and down-right guffaw inducing origin stories, you would be absolutely correct. In this issue, Nick Spencer shines the light of his substantial talent on the early years of Janice and her transformation into the super-villain and current member of the misleadingly dubbed Sinister Six, The Beetle.
Spencer builds on the revelation that Janice’s father is the villainous Tombstone by taking us along on their first criminal collaboration; a birthday party heist in which the father/ daughter make the family dog an accomplice to make off with a car load of misappropriated presents and party paraphernalia. These are certainly some unusual formative years but Spencer writes of them in a very endearing way in fact Tombstone has never appeared more relatable or human. The big baddie obviously has loads of love for his little girl, going so far as to discourage her decision to don a costume and commit copious criminal capers in favor of a slightly less reprehensible career as a lawyer calling to mind Dan Slott’s run on She-Hulk.
In the latter half of the issue Spencer focuses on Janice’s role as legal advisor and arbiter in a case involving Baron Zemo and The Fixer. The crux of the litigation is that The Fixer believes he is owed compensation for his assistance swapping Zemo’s consciousness into a new counter-body and a percentage for everything he has done beyond that point. Janice plays a key role in bringing these battling baddies to an amicable agreement. Spencer’s dialogue is humorous and genuine enhancing the already ultra-clever narrative and creating several seriously laugh inducing scenes however it is the relationship between Tombstone and Janice that drives the story.
From precocious child to costumed super-villain Janice is a daddy’s girl and strangely, Tombstone is a doting dad. He may not be the work-a-day Ward Cleaver type but he loves his little girl nonetheless and Spencer very deftly brings that love to the forefront of the narrative. Through the years Janice’s desire to battle the costume and cape crowd never diminishes neither does Tombstone’s support, perhaps not financially but otherwise he is there for his daughter one hundred percent. This is an oddly heart-warming tale peppered with elements of the legal thriller, super hero tropes and family drama, throw in an ample amount of razor sharp wit and shrewd humor and you have the ingredients for an issue of Superior Foes. I love this book so much, month after month from the very first issue Spencer and his usual collaborator Steve Lieber delivering first rate stories full of action, humor and intrigue. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man holds its own against Hawkeye and Deadpool which are probably the only two books I would put in a category with it, the only other possibility being the new Harley Quinn book, which is definitely imaginative and uniquely funny but I’m reluctant to does so after only reading the first issue.
The writing is not the only highlight of this book; visually it is right on the cutting edge bringing elements of graphic design and other innovative components to the comic book medium. This month artist Rich Ellis fills in and does a bang up job. His style is particularly well suited for not only this series but for this story specifically. His use of a two page spread designed to look like pages from Janice’s day planner works particularly well in its resulting comedic effect. In several spots Ellis makes innovative use of symbols and icons in place of dialogue in word or thought balloons, I know this has been done and done extremely well in Hawkeye but it works here as well without feeling derivative. Lee Loughridge’s use of muted tones further brings a graphic design flavor to this issue. The more earthy color pallet seems to lend itself to the highly stylized character designs and slickly composed pages giving this issue a sophisticated yet hip look.
Overall this issue is an utter success, never faltering or missing a beat. The series creative team is as solid as they come and they deliver consistently. However Rich Ellis does a fine job filling in this month, maintaining the high standard set by Lieber and company. You don’t have to be a Spider-Man fan to enjoy this series, in fact you don’t even have to read any other Spider-Man related title to enjoy this series. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man stands on its own merits as an innovative and highly entertaining comic book. I unreservedly give this book my highest recommendation and suggest not just checking it out but adding it to your monthly pull list. (4.75/5) It is the most fun you can have for $2.99. So, until next time, see you at the comic book store.
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