Look, here’s the thing: I’ve always been a huge fan of Scarlet Spider. I know that’s not the most popular opinion on the character that sprung out of the Clone Saga, one of the most ridiculed Spider-Man storylines of all time, but for whatever reason, I can’t help myself. I’ve always had a soft spot for Ben Reilly and the Scarlet Spider persona. Maybe it’s because the character debuted in 1995, I was reading these Scarlet Spider comics when I was probably under ten years old, and you tend to look back on childhood favorites with fondness. However, I like to think that there’s something important and noteworthy about the idea of Scarlet Spider. He’s a Spider-Man without ties to New York City, that iconic metropolis which is practically a character in Spider-Man comics, he’s a Spider-Man without a steady job, without commitments. Scarlet Spider is a Spider-Man with no family, with no Mary Jane, no Aunt May to protect, he’s Spider-man with no life…Scarlet Spider is Spider-Man with nothing to lose, and I think that’s an idea that is worth pursuing. Or maybe I just like Scarlet Spider because everybody loves a cool redesign of Spider-Man’s costume. Anyways. Let’s continue on to the review, true believers…but behold! There are SPOILERS AFOOT!
This issue starts with action immediately as we see Scarlet Spider chasing leads on the whereabouts of a nuclear bomb that’s somewhere in Houston. Scarlet Spider is webslinging his way through a high speed chase, and something that I find extremely interesting about Chris Yost’s portrayal of Scarlet Spider is that this is not funny superhero. As Scarlet Spider tosses a gun toting criminal from a speeding van, crashes said vain, and brutally interrogates the injured driver, we see that Scarlet Spider is prone to neither the witticisms nor the mercy that characterize Spider-Man. Scarlet Spider is merciless in his pursuit of justice, and where Spider-Man would have a lighthearted joke or two, Scarlet Spider is all business. I think it’s a very smart choice on Yost’s part to portray Kaine, the former freakishly deformed Spider-Man clone and murderous supervillain, as a Scarlet Spider that is a dark and somewhat humorless reflection of the Spider-Man concept.
The plot of this issue sees Scarlet Spider and police office Wally Layton (a character that could be a reference to Bob Layton who was an apprentice of Wally Wood) desperately scrambling to locate the nuclear bomb that threatens to destroy the planet Houston (sorry, couldn’t help myself). It’s interesting to see Kaine at work as a superhero rather than the supervillain that he has been since his inception, and the interaction between him and Layton highlights how Kaine is definitely not used to the role of “hero”. Kaine chokes a suspect while interrogating him, and stabs him through the hand with his spider stinger (a wooden stake-like protrusion that comes out of his forearms, a superpower we saw Spider-Man develop in The Other). While Kaine has no hesitation for this kind of torture to elicit information, Layton is appalled by his behavior and tries to hold him back from this sort of thing. It’s interesting to see Scarlet Spider as a Spider-Man with no mercy, with no qualms about getting his hands dirty with torture if it will save lives…he’s a Spider-Man unleashed. It also seems like something of a commentary on the idea of using torture as an interrogation tactic.
The tension of the comic ramps up as time is running out for Scarlet Spider and Layton to locate the nuclear bomb. Every effort to locate the weapon fails until Kaine uses another of his The Other superpowers to locate the device. As well as having these sharp stakes that come out of his forearms, a superpower that is not unlike Wolverine’s claws, Scarlet Spider has the ability to talk to spiders. While this is admittedly a goofy concept, I actually think it’s a cool move to differentiate Scarlet Spider from Spider-Man by giving him unique abilities. Scarlet Spider talks to spiders across the city and his arachnid buddies help him locate the hidden nuclear bomb. The narrative tension ramps up even further as Iron Man is deployed to Houston, but he’s too far away to make it in time, and the President is informed that the loss of the Texas city is all but a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, as the clock ticks down to zero, Scarlet Spider just randomly pulls out wires and stops the bomb, explaining to Layton that, “We were going to die anyway”. Yost resolves the huge narrative tension of the story by having both Layton and Scarlet Spider laugh hysterically at this line, and it’s a really funny and satisfying way to end the issue.
I like Scarlet Spider…I always have. I’m not ashamed to admit my fondness for a character that is emblematic of one of the most convoluted and reviled Spider-Man story lines of all time. Yost is doing a great job of revamping this character as Kaine, and he’s tackling it from an angle that is adding complexity to the character. Originally, Scarlet Spider was Ben Reilly, and while Ben Reilly was a bit unhinged due to his aimless life as the clone of Spider-Man, Kaine is ten times darker as Scarlet Spider than Ben Reilly ever was. The idea of a Spider-Man that has nothing to lose, that is not the wisecracking and friendly neighborhood superhero, but is rather an ex-supervillain and murderous madman who is trying to redeem himself, is an interesting and complex idea for a superhero comic that has considerable promise. This issue in particular was enjoyable to me for it’s practically stand alone story, and the threat of the nuclear bomb was an exciting plot line with a humorous and satisfying conclusion. Overall, I’d recommend this comic, even if you’re not superfan of Scarlet Spider like me. I give this comic 5 out of 5 impact webbings.