A surprise flashback issue is often disappointing. Instead of the present day story moving forward, with no warning the comic series jumps into the past, usually to give the origin of a character. In the case of "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" #7, though, Nick Spencer and guest artist Rich Ellis buck the trend. Their telling of the Beetle's origin is a blast, and as readers learn more about this new character it becomes increasingly clear that she's far more dangerous than you may have thought.
In many ways, the character gets summed up in the opening four pages, as young Janice Lincoln manages to steal all the presents from a friend's birthday party through a mean trick that flips a celebration into a dirge. From there, she just keeps going. Janice isn't just someone who was born into a criminal family (with Tombstone as her father), but rather someone who's got a startlingly conniving nature. She's smart, she's ruthless and she will do anything to get her goals. In other words, she's a great super-villain.
What makes the writing in "The Superior Foes of Spider-Man" #7 work so well, though, is that readers don't just see her being a villain. Watching her operate as a lawyer, for instance, shows that she has that same sort of drive and vision in whatever she does. There's a nice element of humor to her working, but at the same time it's a thin veneer over the fact that she is startlingly efficient. She's got a brilliant mind and in many ways it makes you wonder if the only thing holding her back is the rest of the Sinister Six. Spencer's taken a throw-away character and run with her, and the end result is a joy.
Ellis's illustration of Beetle's origin is good, too. At first, I found myself enjoying the art well enough; a nice mixture of realistic and goofy. But then at the end of Janice's graduation ceremony, when she turns to her father and says, "I want to be a super villain," everything clicked into place. There's something about that expression on her face that is actually a little chilling; it's the moment when you realize that there's nothing she can't do, and she's going to funnel all of that ability into something very, very bad. Add in some solid storytelling -- there aren't many artists right now who can handle an 11-panel page so well -- and you end up with a book that nails its script perfectly. While I'm a big fan of regular artist Steve Lieber and welcome his return, Ellis's stepping in is a good choice and I wouldn't mind him returning if the book needs another guest.
"Superior Foes of Spider-Man" #7 is different from the rest of this series; it's missing Boomerang's great narration, and the interplay between the different members of the Sinister Six that normally makes this book a winner. This issue might be rather different from what preceded it, but it's great, too.