Comics : Scarlet Spider (Vol. 2) #1

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This review was first published on: Jan 2012.

Background...

Way back in the ‘90s, Marvel produced a Spider-Man story so controversial, it is still cited as one of the biggest mishaps in comics. This story involved Spider-Man, a bunch of clones, and some pretty serious retconning. One of the characters that was introduced at this time was Kaine, a failed clone of Peter Parker. While he was bigger, stronger, and had visions of the future (his “Spider-Sense”), he was also suffering from clone degeneration, which scarred his appearance and made him mentally unstable as well. During the “Clone Saga”, Kaine was a villain who hunted Peter and Ben Reilly, another clone of Spider-Man. He was eventually apprehended and disappeared for quite some time. During the “Brand New Day” era of Spider-Man, Kaine re-appeared and was killed during the “Grim Hunt”. However, this was (extremely) temporary, as Kaine was “re-born” (as a giant spider-monster) for the events of “Spider Island”. At the end of that arc, Kaine was “cured” of his transformation, as well as his cellular degeneration apparently. Having been given a second chance at life, Kaine decides to leave New York behind, taking Spider-Man’s stealth costume with him.

In Detail...

"Life After Death"
Scarlet Spider (Vol. 2) #1
Mar 2012 : SM Title
Summary: No Spider-Man, new Scarlet Spider (Kaine)
Writer:  Christopher Yost
Artist:  Ryan Stegman
Inker:  Michael Babinski
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
Executive Producer:  Alan Fine
Chief Creative Officer:  Joe Quesada
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Tom Brennan
Assistant Editor:  Rachel Pinnelas
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Articles: Kaine

The comic opens at the Port of Houston, in Texas, where an illegal deal of an unknown nature is occurring. Text boxes tell us that “someone” has learned of this deal by overhearing a talkative source at a bar. As the two sides exchange money, an unseen attacker begins to pick off members of both groups. It is quickly revealed (quite unsurprisingly) that the attacker is Kaine, and he is not willing to negotiate.

Kaine continues his assault, while his inner monologue reveals that his instincts are telling him to kill. Writer Chris Yost is trying pretty hard to differentiate this from Spider-Man by highlighting Kaine’s aggressive nature. He attacks ferociously and leaves with the money, intending to use it so he can flee the country. Again, Yost is not wasting time here trying to separate the two different Spider-Heroes.

Before Kaine can leave, however, he notices a smell coming from one of the storage containers and investigates what exactly was being exchanged. The answer? People. In a shockingly grim move for Marvel, all the people inside are dead, save one girl. Kaine scoops her up as she makes a weak plea for help in Spanish.

The scene cuts to a near-by hospital, where a cop (Officer Wally Layton, in case he ever shows up again) is harassing a doctor so he can question a suspect he shot. Of course, Kaine arrives at this moment with the unconscious girl and Layton pulls a gun on him. Kaine reacts (again, of course) violently, but leaves when he realizes his intensity is scaring people. He tells the cop to check the containers in the port before quickly exiting.

Later (roughly 2 hours since his attack on the port), Kaine is approaching Mexico via a hitched ride on chemical truck. It’s amusing to see how Kaine so freely uses his powers thus far without attempting to obscure his face or worrying about the consequences. However, it appears he has a certain level of paranoia, as he is convinced that law enforcement from the cops to the Avengers are after him. He feels he can stop running for one night if he lays low though, since it’s been weeks since Spider-Island and he’s had no sign of being followed. He instead opts to use the money he stole earlier to buy a room at the Four Seasons Hotel, as well as some room service (with a little nod to Clone Saga writer J.M. DeMatteis on the pizza box).

Upon seeing himself in the mirror, Kaine muses that while his physical scars are gone, he still is the same person on the inside. Unlike your typical anti-hero though, he does not see himself as acting rationally or feeling justified in his actions. He actually seems to be bothered by his past. Of course, that’s not to say he doesn’t have the mental trauma and brooding past that is popular with the gritty heroes these days. Part of his angst comes from the rejection he felt from his creator and the short lease on life he had been given. He explains his attacks against Ben Reilly as an irrational belief that he was protecting Peter. He also found peace in saving Peter by dying for him during the Grim Hunt. However, after his revival, Kaine claims that Spider-Man saved him, “In every way you can be saved.”

Apparently after being dumped in the Anti-Venom Cure, Kaine’s mind is no longer suffering either. However, he won’t allow himself to forget his dark past. And while the cure was able reverse the effects of his cellular degeneration, it seems to have left his other powers intact (despite being created for the purpose of removing spider powers). As we saw at the end of Spider-Island, Kaine now seems to possess the “stingers” that Spider-Man used briefly after the events of “The Other”. This issue also demonstrated he has the organic webbing and night vision that was associated with that event as well. In this scene, he shows off that he still has Mark of Kaine “burn” ability, which he uses to shave his hair and beard, symbolic of letting go of his past and attempting to be a better person. Feeling free from his past and alive for the first time, Kaine gives his first attempt at web swinging, loving the freedom.

Back at the port, Officer Layton is getting the run down on the human trafficking ring that Kaine stopped. However, before he can explain his run-in with the spider-powered hero, a mysterious hooded man shows up, saying one simple word to the officers gathered. “Burn.”

Meanwhile, Kaine is finishing up a round of web-swinging. While he rests, a bird manages to somehow surprise him. He deduces from this that he no longer has his precognitive visions nor a spider-sense. We are not told why this is, but I suppose it could be written off as a side-effect of having his clone degeneration reversed: A healed mind means his altered spider-sense (and thus the entire thing) is also “healed”. However, Kaine takes this in stride, commenting “The future’s wide open.”

While he makes plans to continue his run to Mexico, Kaine notices a car about to hit an elderly woman. While he initially seems to ignore it, he jumps at the last moment and lands directly on the car to stop it. A fairly amusing solution to something we may have seen the more experienced Spider-Man handle with grace and care. While he is surprised that the old woman is not afraid of him, his enraged outburst at the woman’s carelessness soon changes that (this is a trait I hope to see them spend more time on). The crowd however is more focused on the driver, who due to Kaine’s unconventional methods, was thrown from the car and is now seriously injured. He flees the scene, pondering why everyone else seems more interested in helping the driver and less interested in trying to attack him for his mistake.

Returning to the Four Seasons Hotel, Kaine decides to drink away his worries (yet another departure from the real Spider-Man). The waitress (who according to Marvel is apparently going to be a returning character) attempts to flirt with Kaine and get his name. He ignores the advances, which is probably a good idea until he creates a better name for himself. Conveniently, the TV in the background is covering an attack at the Port of Houston where several policeman are either injured or dead, and (presumably) the other bodies were burned. Kaine tries to tell himself that this isn’t his problem and that since he isn’t Peter, he doesn’t need to feel responsible to protect the only survivor from the trafficking operation.

At the hospital, the girl is just waking up when the mysterious villain attacks. The girl’s name is apparently Aracely and the strange man is ready to make her burn as well. Kaine, meanwhile, is off on foot to an unknown destination.

In General...

Before I get too far, I suppose I should start by saying that I think this was a fairly decent opener. Did it grab my attention the way I hoped it would? Not exactly. Did it disappoint me in the way I was actually expecting? No, it didn’t. Granted, it’s difficult to judge a book this early in, but from what I have seen so far, I am definitely willing to continue reading it. Maybe I am willing to forgive it because I have high expectations for the future though.

If there’s one thing this book tries to establish fairly quickly, it’s that this is most definitely NOT a Spider-Man story. All of Kaine’s actions and inner monologues try very hard to distance themselves in tone from the web-spinner we’ve come to know and love. While this may seem like a bad thing, I find that at some parts it works. Yost definitely wants to have Kaine be on the path to redemption, but he doesn’t want the completely altruistic character either. This is good, because if Kaine was willing to jump in and help, we may just as well read Amazing Spider-Man and be done with it. At the same time, this also seems to limit the run of the book, because as he develops as a character, there may be less and less difference between him and Peter Parker.

Personally, I hope they keep this dark edge to him. He can still help, but perhaps for different reasons. Perhaps his motivations will be skewed, or his methods harsher. In this issue he certainly demonstrates a much more noticeable violent streak than Spidey does, but at the same time he appears to regret it. Either way, I hope they give him direction and a distinct style. While I think the first few issues (or even arc or two) can be supported by Kaine’s inability to determine what kind of man he is, that indecisiveness will get old quick.

His inexperience at being a hero makes for a rather amusing read. While this type of story is not exactly new, it is interesting to read it coming from an adult with a troubled past and not some cocky kid showing off. For the moment, I also find Kaine’s inability to understand peoples’ reaction to him an interesting story piece. Perhaps Scarlet Spider, with his more selfish inclinations and aggressive problem solving, will become the hero to the people, while Spider-Man remains the pariah despite his noble intentions and strict moral code.

Something I did enjoy was that this is not simply just Spider-Man with a new costume. His powers are a little different, which is actually something I had been wondering when the book was first announced. In my mind, the powers along with the character make a hero interesting (it’s why I take forever to decide my teams in Ultimate Alliance). This small differences make the character feel unique in my mind. Something else I enjoyed was getting through the issue and realizing that this character is basically a messed-up Peter Parker. If the books ever share an artist, I look forward to seeing Peter Parker do some fairly un-heroic stuff. I do wonder though when (or if) they will bring up that Kaine should have Parker’s memories up to a certain point in college, as well as his academic know-how (or will they explain this away as a side-effect of his degeneration).

As for the story, it’s all being set-up right now. We are being introduced to the characters that will become central to the plot, so all I can comment on, is the little bits we have. I don’t know what Aracely’s role will be in the book, but I hope they don’t relegate her to “teenage side-kick” status. I know the “lone wolf” routine was Spidey’s for about 42 years, but I think the idea of a gruff, misunderstood hero and the young side-kick is a little more clichéd (and something more fitting for an anime or video game). I would also like to know more about his lack of a spider-sense (I suppose to differentiate him from Spider-Man) and why he has powers seen in “The Other”, while Spidey lost his without any explanation.

Personally, I am eager to see how Kaine is going to build a civilian identity for himself. Will he find a job, or live off the people he stops? If things become harsh in Houston, will he take his own brand of heroics elsewhere? And how long until the inevitable Spider-Man cameo?

Overall Rating...

I like this issue. I know some of you will probably disagree and say it’s rather generic or slow paced, but I have hopes for this series. I want to see where this is going to go and whether the character can be unique enough from both Spider-Man and Venom (the original Gritty Spider-Man) to carry a series for a length of time. As the character is fleshed out, I will better be able to determine myself whether this series is worth my money each month.

Footnote...

Is the fiery villain a previously established character? Also, despite my hopes for this series, I will personally bet that it will only last at most 2 years. Here’s hoping I am proven wrong though!