The lead story in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #617 features The Rhino (Aleksei Sytsevich) and his much beloved lady friend, Oksana. For the etymologically curious, "Oksana" is a Ukrainian form of Xenia. It has roots in Russian, Hebrew and Greek, and means either "Welcoming" or "Praise God".
If her name is "Welcoming", then it is perhaps appropriate, as she works in the diner closest to the bus stop which drops off prisoners freshly released from Rykers Island. Aleksei is one such prisoner, having been prematurely "evicted" from Rykers prison after serving only a fraction of his sentence.
So why the early release? The simplest explanation is that Aleksei has been a truly model prisoner, refusing to join any of the prison gangs - even the Russian ones. Despite having lost his Rhino "skin", he retains much of his former strength and mass, and the other inmates decide to leave him alone.
When an escape occurs, he sits and finishes his meal, ignoring the hole in the prison wall. Even so, while no real explanation is given for his very early exit, perhaps the most cynical might suggest some outside pressure having been exerted on the system. In any case, that is not our immediate concern, nor is it that of Aleksei.
In fact, Aleksei's primary concern upon disembarking from the bus is something to eat that doesn't stink of prison. In the diner, his waitress is Oksana. She pours him coffee, and correctly divines where he has come from. She suggests he stick to ordering the cake, as everything else the diner offers is terrible.
She also has other advice to offer. At least, other forecast. She predicts that, like all the other men from Ryker, Aleksei will have fallen in love with her by the time he has finished his meal. But in this she is wrong. Aleksei knows that love is never again to be part of his life. He pays for the coffee and leaves.
Returning to the world, Aleksei finds many challenges. He manages to find an apartment, but struggles to gain an honest job. He is, however, offered employment by Doctor Trama, working in the field of "post-human ordanance". But as Aleksei and Trama sit in the diner discussing the opportunities, Aleksei spots Oksana. She has been fired for... being too honest with the customers at her diner.
Aleksei abandons Doctor Trama and invites Oksana to dinner. "But..." he warns her "...do not expect me to fall in love with you."
This is good stuff from writer Joe Kelly. The story is only seven pages long, but it is densely and effectively scripted. The concept is refreshingly original, and the dialog rings true throughout. An example: When the Rhino declines to join the prison escape, the guards ask him why he is not running. "I do not quit what I begin," he replies.
Very rarely do the "villains" get given any depth in their character. Rarely are they painted as anything other than "pure evil", or "pathetic", or sometimes both. The Rhino's transformation from bad guy to just plain victim of circumstance reminds me of the earlier effort to do the same for Sandman, or perhaps even Venom. But Kelly's attempt is much more successful than in either of those earlier cases.
The only thing that could spoil it is if Oksana was merely some sort of lame plot device, a disposable love interest to be killed at a whim, purely to provide an excuse to get Sytsevich back into costume. I sure hope that doesn't happen. That would (a) be lame, and (b) ruin the entire subplot.
Five webs for now. Just... don't screw this up, Joe. OK?