Stegman brought a unique physicality to Kaine. Since this clone was a Peter Parker who had to fight constantly for survival in a world that was even harsher to him than it was to the original, that meant we got someone with a similar build but brought a lot more street-brawling tactics to his repoirtoire. For his burning building fight with Kraven’s daughter Ana–mirroring so many ‘baptism by fires’ that dominate hero narratives–Kaine takes a more hulking stance, lowering his head and tensing his arms and fists like they were clubs, as opposed to Peter who would assume a more graceful, defensive posture. Suggestion of the kind of lifestyle he’s used to is scrawled all over the man’s posture. Notice that the same character drawn by Neil Edwards last issue had more traditional Spider-Man poses, defeating some of the impact that this was a different character, and I imagine we’re going to be seeing a loss of that subtly when Khoi Pham and whoever else Marvel plans on rotating onto the book start drawing it. Stegman’s Kaine is a man drowning in his misery and self-pity, a notion enhanced by Yost’s purposefully overwrought narration when Kaine declares that “Dark Spider” would be a better code name than Scarlet Spider.
Kaine’s ‘dark’ thought process, as well as his annoyance at immigrant Aracely’s telepathic/empathic abilities (because sharing feelings is not cool) almost parodies the currently fashionable trend of dark and gritty comics that the industry and its fans are fawning over, but Yost and Stegman go beyond simple mockery when they reveal his guilt over the death of fellow (“better”) clone Ben Reilly, the original Scarlet Spider. Unlike the biblical Cain, he wasn’t directly involved with the death of his ‘brother,’ but that feeling that somehow Ben didn’t deserve it but Kaine does, plays out a more universal truth about guilt and loss. The setting of the climax in a church, while typical, manages to throw a few curveballs into the story: first of all, it more directly relates Ana Kravinoff and the title of this issue, A Mighty Hunter Before the Lord, to the Bible (Genesis 10:9 to be precise, a passage about Nimrod), which is fitting since Kaine himself is steeped in Biblical themes (hates his brother, Ben, for being favored by their creator the Jackal, was scarred, etc.); second, the reason Kaine is there, to see bartender and friend–in as much as he allows himself to have friends–Annabelle perform a rock concert, affirming music as a spiritual, uplifting force (something I very much appreciate). It’s here that Kaine, seeing people enjoying themselves, begins to have a revelation about himself just as Ana strikes; finally, the fight itself is, as I said above, a baptism because, even though he’s not cleansed of his sins, Kaine starts to realize he can be a better person and that he might even be worthy of becoming one when Annabelle refuses to leave him when he’s injured (sidebar: even though her attire is a bit provocative, I have to admire Stegman for defying industry practice and not making her a fetish object).
There’s such a wealth of material in these pages, and even more promised just in Kaine’s attempt to better himself, not even mentioning the teasers for future storylines in the epilogues, that it feels like a waste for Stegman to leave. He’s defined the look of these characters and this title, and it’s a shame we won’t be seeing this level of craft brought to further tales of Kaine’s redemption. Be sure to grab yourself a copy of the issue from our digital store to see for yourself just how much depth Yost and Stegman have brought to a nearly forgotten character.