Currently in Spider-Verse, many Spider-Men of alternate dimensions have teamed up to combat the Inheritors, a family feeding on the Spiders' life forces. In Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 3) #10, the Spider-Men killed an Inheritor and found that he was quickly revived. The heroes came to the conclusion that the villains must be using cloning technology. To combat this, Spider-Man sent three Spider-Men to the dimension the clones originate from.
The Spider-Men sent on the mission are Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly, and Black Widow, all of which are clones themselves. Scarlet Spider is the Earth-616 Kaine who carries a certain gruffness and has no objections to killing. Ben Reilly is from a dimension (Earth-94) where the Clone Saga never ended, and as seen in Spider-Verse Team-Up #1, he is optimistic. Black Widow (formerly Spider-Woman) is from the Ultimate universe (Earth-1610) and she is the female clone of Peter Parker. She is also leader of the All-New Ultimates, a book I highly recommend you don't read.
The story begins with Scarlet Spider (Kaine), Spider-Man (Ben Reilly), and Black Widow (Jessica Drew) walking in a sewer-like tunnel. Jessica complains it smells, and Ben says, “Chemicals. Rot. Decay. Just once I would like a bloodthirsty maniac to switch it up.” Reilly approaches a door and warns his partners that they will probably meet a “miserable hellscape” and they must be prepared. Beyond the door, they are surprised to find a very urban-like, slightly futuristic city. Jessica pulls Ben back into the tunnel to avoid being spotted, and he’s befuddled, uttering, “It’s beautiful out there! I didn't see even one Starbucks. What kind of villain homeworld is this?”
The devices they were given by Spider-Man prevent the Inheritors from sensing them but they are still visible, as Black Widow explains. Ben asks if anybody is wearing their civilian clothes under their costumes, and Kaine conveniently finds some hospital gowns. While Reilly and Widow don the gowns, Kaine doesn’t because his costume makes him invisible. “This isn’t one of the spocks that exposes the butt, is it?” Reilly asks. He is embarrassed to find it is, but Jessica reassures him that they’ll “avert [their] eyes.”
The heroes decide to get to work and enter another door to a futuristic, hospital-like room. The image of Jennix, an Inheritor, suddenly appears on a screen above them and says, “Jennix sees you within the machine. There is nobility in your utility. There are elegant secrets in complexity. You are part of something complex.” Slowly, a bunch of people wearing helmets and gowns march down the hall like zombies. There are two rows; half are clones of the same man and half of the same woman. Luckily, they are oblivious to the heroes. Ben quips, “No way did we stumble right into their factory on the first try. Not even I’m that lucky.”
Upon finding a computer, Jessica realizes that the people must have been clones of normal humans, not Inheritors. “If this is their homeworld -- or one of them -- then it would make sense they maintain order by genetically engineering a vast majority of the population,” she assumes. Our heroes think they’re safe from being found … until a man who looks like Max Modell discovers them. He assumes they are stray clones and walks towards them. “Quick! What would a clone say?” Ben ironically asks Jessica. Modell realizes they are impostors, begins to yell, and Kaine webs him in the mouth. He informs his teammates that guards are close. As Ben and Jessica are running, she asks if they can have their costumes back, explaining, “I am not fighting naked again. There’s probably some J. Jonah Jameson clone here and I’ll never get those pictures off the internet.” The heroes somehow put on their costumes in mid-run.
The spider-clones jump out of the building and begin falling in midair. Soon, they begin fighting flying guards and land on a nearby roof unharmed. Jessica is relieved to find Iron Man flying towards them. Stark asks, “What in the great web is going on here!?” Obviously, this is just a clone of Iron Man. Realizing they’re spider-people, he wonders if Jennix, the Inheritor in charge of clones, is testing him. Ben pulls of his mask, and assuming it’s the Stark from his dimension, he asks for help. Iron Man responds by blasting him instead. The villainous clone is so excited that he might capture the heroes for Jennix that he doesn’t dodge a punch by Scarlet Spider. He is knocked unconscious, and the heroes move to a place in cover.
Meanwhile, Jennix sits on a throne inside his palace. He is contemplating how Spider-Men are traveling through dimensions and the great Web of Life is shaking. “This could be the most exciting work I've done in a century. And a feast, of course. A feast such as we've never known,” Jennix expounds.
In a hidden room, Ben Reilly wakes from unconsciousness and apologizes for letting his guard down for the Iron Man impostor. “I haven’t seen a familiar face in so long,” he says. Jessica explains she took off Stark’s armor while Ben slept. She learned how to do this by the Stark of her dimension, and she was only electrocuted by the suit twice. “But once some kind of gas hit me and made me puke,” Jessica admits. Ben asks how she got Kaine to wait until he woke up to interrogate their prisoner, and she replies she simply asked nicely. “Hey, I’m not some animal,” Kaine snaps. As Ben interrogates him, he discovers that the Stark clone is the architect of the cities in the Inheritor dimension.
“Jennix shares his genius with me,” Stark explains. Jessica becomes frustrated with him, and Kaine decides to get to business. He pulls out the shanks in his wrist and asks for the location of Jennix’s headquarters. Stark freely tells them it’s in the Baxter Building. Jessica asks why Stark would disclose that information so easily, and he replies, “Because you’re three spiders and I’m delivering you right to him. I’ll be rewarded for this. You don’t really think you’re going to win?” “Well, actually, Tony. I’m Spider-Man. So, yeah. I do,” Ben boasts.
“So all we have to go is break into the most guarded scientifically advanced building in the city and defeat the most dangerous foes we've ever faced,” Reilly explains. He asks who has a plan, and Kaine doesn’t. Luckily, Jessica does: “The place is impregnable. We’d never be able to get in on our own. So we’re going to need an escort.” She picks up the dismantled Iron Man helmet.
It takes an hour for Ben to put on the Iron Man armor, making sure he avoids the booby traps. He soon enters the Baxter Building in the armor with Kaine and Jessica (out of costume) as his “prisoners.” Ben tells the security guards, “I've got two clones here who aren’t with the program. I’m bringing them to Jennix personally.” As part of the plan, Jessica breaks her handcuffs and distracts the guards. The guards fire a large weapon at her, but she still fights. Ben and Kaine try to quickly pass the guards when a voice from behind them yells, “That’s Peter Parker! I’d know that face anywhere!”
The heroes are dismayed to find that an evil clone of Johnny Storm has ruined their plan, and he asks, “What the hell is going on here?”
Spider-Verse: Scarlet Spiders #1 doesn’t disappoint because of what happens but because of what fails to occur. The main premise of the series is that Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly, and Black Widow, all clones with totally different personalities, team up and interact. This idea has great potential, but it fails greatly in character relationships. The three heroes are strangely detached to each other and fail to have any interesting exchanges or banter. Instead of utilizing dialogue frequently, Mike Costa uses a third-person description of Black Widow that doesn’t add anything to the story but fill space. This is very strange too because Costa proved in his storyline The Arms of the Octopus that he can write terrific character interactions.
Of course, this issue also partly fails in the nostalgia aspect of the story. You can’t simply write a comic about three clones, have them travel to a futuristic society full of robotic guards, title it “Scarlet Spiders,” and not be reminiscent of the 90’s. As a fan who first began reading comics during the David Michelinie / Mark Bagley ASM run, I was excited for this series. Sadly, this is another case of Costa not doing anything necessarily wrong, just not doing enough to emphasize a point. He fails to put any fun dialogue or story points that reflect (fondly or negatively) the era and the storytelling is fairly modern all around. This isn’t really helped at all by the art, which I will talk about below.
On another hand, I think Costa does a terrific job tying this story into the overall Spider-Verse event. He uses three Spider-People from different dimensions, and while he doesn’t have the characters interact well, he shows that he at least knows their personalities and has researched their characters. Additionally, Costa does a great job picking up where Slott started the characters’ adventure in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 3) #10, and his characterization of Jennix matches Slott’s. (As a side note, I just wanted to say that I really like how Slott has been running this event as far as tie-ins go. Instead of having writers grasp at straws as to what to write about in the tie-ins, he sets them up and incorporates them in the event. It actually makes the stories interesting in oppose to typical tie-ins. Kudos to Slott!)
Last and certainly least is the Paco Diaz’s artwork. It truly makes the pages of the issue difficult to read because it’s so poor. On every page, the characters are awkwardly stale with hilariously elongated limbs. The battles flow weirdly and the facial expressions are bad, often contrasting with the words of the script. Now, as I noted above, I was really hoping that this series would mirror on the 90’s and what I just described of the art really would have been good if it was a satirical analysis of the artwork of the 90’s. (Rob Liefeld, anyone?) Sadly, it isn’t. I wonder why Marvel didn't think of bringing in an actual artist from the 90’s such as Mark Bagley or Ron Lim to draw this series. (I know Bagley has said he would like to work on Spider-Man again…)
Spider-Verse: Scarlet Spiders #1 fails to provide any fun character interactions and nostalgia of the nineties. The artwork is horrid, and the only saving grace is how well it ties into the main event.