Prior to the launch of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, we knew, or at least thought we knew, quite a bit about just who the members that made up the new Sinister Six. One member who remained an enigma, however, was the new female Beetle, who first made her debut way back in Captain America #607 from 2010. As the recap page of Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 states, all we really knew about her was that she hired by Baron Zemo and the Fixer to attack Bucky and the Black Widow, and that sometime later, she joined Boomerang's team as seen in the first issue of Superior Spider-Man. So it came as a real surprise last issue to learn that the new Beetle is actually the daughter of long-time Spider-Man villain Lonnie Lincoln, aka Tombstone, and that the super-powered mobster was just as shocked. Thus, about three years after her first appearance, Nick Spencer has finally decided to devote this particular issue towards the new Beetle's origin—and I'd say it's about time somebody finally got around to it.
The comic opens “many years ago” at a little girl's birthday party, and the birthday girl, Mallory, is in the midst of opening her presents. Mallory's mom hands her daughter the last one from a very young Janice Lincoln. Mallory rips the present open, and inside is a note telling her to look out the window. Outside in the front yard is a dog with a large ribbon tied around his neck. Too excited to listen to her mom, Mallory and the other kids rush outside. Mallory begs her mom if she can keep him and when her mom agrees, Mallory hugs the dog, and tells Janice that the dog is “the best present ever!” But Janice isn't with the other kids; she's getting into a car...with all of Mallory's birthday presents. Janice tells the shocked Mallory, “Thanks for the cake, sucker!” then whistles for the dog who then leaps into the car with her. The driver of the car is Janice's father, Tombstone, who gives her a congratulatory, “That's my girl” as they drive away.
“Twenty years later,” Janice graduates from Columbia Law School and receives congratulations for her valedictorian speech, including from a girl in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace named Patricia. Janice replies by saying Patricia would've been valedictorian were it not for her “accident,” deliberately pausing before and emphasizing the word. When Patricia asks what Janice means by this, Tombstone arrives, and Janice runs over and gives her dad a big hug. Tombstone says he's proud of her, admitting that he was crying, and that he can't believe how “it all paid off, adding Columbia University ought to name a building after him called “Tombstone's Center for the Illegal Arts” given all the money he spent for his daughter's education. He then shows Janice her graduation present: a fully restored 1960 Corvette. Janice, however, isn't all that enthusiastic and merely says the car is “nice.” When Tombstone asks what's wrong (pointing out how it set him back a hundred grand), Janice says that even though she likes the car, it's not what they had talked about: she wants to become a super-villain.
Later, the two are having chicken and waffles at a soul food restaurant, where Janice still insists on becoming a super-villain but Tombstone refuses. Janice accuses her dad of being hypocritical, thinking it's because he doesn't want her to be a criminal. Tombstone objects, saying his wanting her to be a criminal is why he sent her to law school. He points out that, as a financial lawyer, she can steal far more money than he ever could and never get arrested for it, as opposed to her being a glorified two-bit street-tough who “runs around with other losers getting beat-up by some **** in his pajamas.” Janice explains that she doesn't want to be the muscle--she wants to be a boss. This, however, gets a laugh from Tombstone, who says that although she's capable of being anything she sets her mind on, a woman crime boss had “never worked out so great.” This gets Janice angry, and argues that there's no reason a woman can't be a crime boss and be even better at it than a man. She lists off all the problems of the crime "industry," that it's filled with “troglodytes” who kill each other because they have no “organizational skills” or “people management,” and that she's going to break the super-villain glass ceiling by becoming “the Hillary Clinton...of drug lords.” Tombstone remarks about how Janice is just like her mother, and that the reason he was in prison so much when Janice was a kid was for the “peace and quiet.” He says that if Janice is so dead set on being a super-villain, then he's not going to help her pay for it, and that she needs to get herself a job.
Thus “five years later,” Janice has become a defense attorney for a lucrative and crooked law firm. Janice's boss calls her into his office, saying how impressed he was of her recent case summation, where their client, a pharmaceutical company, was being sued by “the disabled widow's lobby.” He then gives Janice another assignment to help negotiate a financial settlement involving one of the firm's most “oldest and lucrative clients” and wants to keep things “close within the family” due to the case's “sensitive...political nature.” When Janice gets the case folder, she sees that their client is Baron Helmut Zemo. When Janice points out that Zemo is a Nazi, her boss dismisses this by saying, “Janice, come on--the Nazis were a long time ago.”
The next morning, as Janice strides towards her meeting, her secretary tells her she has a phone call from her dad. Tombstone (who is in the midst of burying someone alive) tells his daughter that he's calling to wish her a “happy anniversary.” Janice has no idea what her father means, but Tombstone reminds her that today is the 25th anniversary of her very first crime--the theft of Mallory's birthday presents. Janice, having forgotten all about this, is touched that dad has remembered, and tells Tombstone that Mallory is now in rehab. Tombstone then tells Janice that he's proud of her, apologizes for not always being there for her, and regrets how things may not have turned out the way she wanted them to when she was a kid. He says that he hopes she understands why he put his foot down about her wanting to be a super-villain: it wasn't because she was a woman or because he didn't think she could do the job; it was because it was a game for lowlifes and “dangerous people who don't deserve to keep goin' anyway,” and that this didn't apply to “the smartest, prettiest, connivingest gal in the whole world” such as her. Everything he did, the only thing he's ever been proud of doing, was to keep her safe. Moved by her dad's words, Janice promises him that nothing bad will ever happen to her, as she looks into the meeting room where Baron Zemo and the Fixer are waiting.
Janice then points how their “disagreement” has also stalled work another “project.” Zemo, we learn, has just found out that Bucky Barnes is the new Captain America. This makes Zemo angry because Steve Rodgers is giving Bucky a complete pass for his crimes as the Winter Soldier due his being brainwashed by the KGB, and yet Zemo, who claims to have reformed, is not being given same benefit of the doubt. Fixer, however, points out that Zemo is still wearing the same costume as his father, Baron Heinrich Zemo, saying “It's like if I dressed up in a Nazi uniform and Hitler mustache and complained about not getting a good table at Chili's!” Zemo's plan, which he describes as “the simpliest of tasks,” is for the Fixer to hire a new super-villain to attack Bucky and inject him with a nanotech virus. Fixer, however, tries to explain that this means creating a whole new costumed persona, which requires creativity and brand new equipment. Intrigued, Janice states that not only can she draft a memorandum in which both Zemo and Fixer can share the profits while also preserving Zemo's “first right of refusal and end chain of title,” but offers her “assistance” in becoming a super-villain for their plan against Bucky.
We then see Janice at the Fixer's secret lab, were she's admiring his weaponry, particularly an over-sized laser cannon Fixer calls “Bertha.” Fixer remarks how Janice looks familiar and we get a brief flashback of Janice showing her dad a severed hand she found in the backyard while's he's visiting the Fixer. Janice states she doesn't think they've met before, then what she's supposed to do after she slips Bucky the techno-virus. Fixer says nothing, as Zemo wants to strap Bucky to a rocket and crash it in the ocean in order to re-create how Bucky supposedly died back in World War II. He then pulls out a costume--a suit of form-fitting “smart armor” that augments the wearer's strength and is strong enough to withstand Iron Man's repulsor blasts. He also gives her mini-replusors of her own, and a small ray gun for “extra firepower.” Janice, however, complains that it's a “girl's gun” that looks like it “shoots bubbles,” and wants “Bertha” instead. Fixer reluctantly agrees and, before they can fit her with the flight pack, asks what her mask size is. Janice smiles, and the last page shows her as the new Beetle flying through the city.
As you can no doubt tell, this issue deviates drastically both in narrative and artistic style (though Rich Ellis does a capable job in reflecting the artistic quirks Steve Lieber has brought to the series). It's also, being composed of a series of prolonged flashbacks, a complete interruption from the main story threads that have transpired over the past six issues. It's quite jarring and disruptive, and, I confess, that while it's still good, it's doesn't feel up to par by comparison with previous issues. That being said, Spencer has created an amusing origin story for a super-villain who was otherwise just the designated female of the group.
Janice Lincoln, as we've seen, believes she's a better leader of Sinister Six than Boomerang, and, at the very least, she does display far more in-depth organizational skills and intelligence. But for all of her progressive feminism, we see that Janice is really not so different Boomerang himself. Like him, she had lucrative and professional career, in this case being a high-price defense attorney; and, like him, she has an aptitude for scheming and manipulating others, looking out for her own self-interest as she climbs her way to the top. The difference is that for Janice, being super-villain has always been her lifelong aspiration, the result of having been raised and spoiled rotten by one. And speaking of which, for a pair of criminal sociopaths, Tombstone and Janice's father-daughter relationship is surprisingly loving, sweet, and adorable. Were it not for the fact that he's literally a stone-cold killer and encouraging Janice to be a crook, you'd actually mistake Tombstone for being a good dad. Granted, it's a characterization and dynamic that appears to have been directly inspired by The Sopranos, but Nick Spencer depicts it quite well.
The other strong point of this story was, of course, the “creator's rights” dispute between Baron Zemo and the Fixer. It's one of those laughably absurd yet strangely logical-in-context scenarios that has become a hallmark of the series, attenuated by the visuals of how Janice truly sees them as they trade verbal barbs back-and-forth. The fact that everything they discussed actually took place within the Thunderbolts and Captain America comics only heightens the humor for those well-initiated in the Marvel Universe.
Is this an important issue? Not really, but it does give some much-needed information about who the new Beetle really is and what motivates her, which are character necessities. If anything, you'll definitely come away with a better appreciation and understanding of Janice, and makes one expect the eventual familial squabble between her and Tombstone all the more.