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Scarlet Spider has a little fun at Texas’ expense in this light-hearted, standalone issue. Kaine in a cowboy hat, a rodeo and a drunken Armadillo. It’s silly, but issues like this are often a nice break from the big plots going on. This is no different. However, it unfortunately also highlights some of the major problems that keep Scarlet Spider from living up to its premise.
On a concept level, I really love Scarlet Spider. Kaine works perfectly as a darker and brutal Spider-Man while relocating him to Houston sits him on a goldmine of untapped potential since so much of Marvel Comics takes place in New York. The problem is that neither of these things are done very well in the book.
The rise of Superior Spider-Man has kind of undermined Scarlet Spider. It’s hard for Kaine to occupy his role as the less morally inclined version of Spider-Man when... he isn’t. Otto Octavius is actually quite a bit worse than him in that respect. But even so, Kaine wasn’t occupying that role particularly well even before Otto bodyswapped Peter Parker. Kaine’s uncharacteristic aversion to killing is probably the biggest obstacle to taking him seriously as the dark character Marvel promotes him as, but that’s not really a factor in this issue. This issue puts focus on how easily he seems to have made friends despite how he’s supposed to be so unfriendly and tough.
I get it. Having the gruff, antagonistic guy being a bit of a softie to someone is always fun to see. But you can’t do it constantly. Chris Yost seems to do it at every opportunity. That’s basically what this entire issue is. Kaine gets roped into attending a rodeo by his friends. He goes easy on Armadillo once learning what the guy’s problem is. And he makes a move on Annabelle Adams, who thankfully seems to be moving away from being such a hollow Mary Jane Watson clone now. It’s too much, especially when the series already makes too much of a habit of doing this kind of thing. Scarlet Spider would work so much better if Kaine’s softer side was restricted only to Aracely. It would allow him to retain more of the tough guy attitude that is allegedly his defining characteristic.
Another thing that bothers me is how Scarlet Spider seems to be treated as the dumping ground for Spider-Man plots that weren’t good enough for the real deal. There’s the high tech costume, which I don’t think the series has actually explained yet. I know it comes from Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, but I didn’t read it and don’t appreciate being expected to. And now, plot elements from the Other have fallen into the series. The Spider-Totem stuff was nonsense in Amazing Spider-Man, and it’s really not much better here. It’s unnecessary. Kaine is already supposed to have violent and questionable tendencies to struggle with, so having him trying to hold back this monstrous form is just a campy version of what we already should have had with the character.
Really, I just wish Yost would develop more unique stuff for Kaine rather than load the character up with Spider-Man’s unwanted hand-me-downs. I’ve been very underwhelmed with how Houston has been fleshed out. Yost seems more inclined to just include preexisting things like Armadillo, the Assassins Guild and the Rangers instead of really building this region of the Marvel Universe up around Kaine. Hell, he really didn’t do much to improve the Rangers or Assassins Guild and certainly doesn’t with Armadillo here. It’s a real shame. One of my favorite things about Batwing was how Judd Winick developed Africa, and I can say the same for Brian Michael Bendis’ Moon Knight with Los Angeles. I’m not feeling the same with Scarlet Spider and Houston, though.
The humor in this issue is good. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not well balanced with real drama and action. It’s funny to see Kaine relent to wear a cowboy hat and grudgingly ride a horse into battle. The funny beats work.
We get somewhat decent foreshadowing of what’s coming next for Scarlet Spider. Shathra is coming! You know what the means, right? ...Could you tell me what that is? Seriously, I had to look up Shathra’s name on the internet. Namedropping an obscure Spider-Man character from J. Michael Straczynski’s run isn’t all that effective. The appearance of Kraven and his daughter is a bit more effective, though. However, both of these things to tie back to my criticisms of Scarlet Spider being on the receiving end of Spider-Man’s hand-me-downs.
Scarlet Spider has a typical “day off” issue with fun and hijinks to bridge the gap between the last story and the next. But since this book really isn’t as dark and intense as it is promoted as being, this is an unnecessary break that highlights the series’ faults. In the Superior Spider-Man world, Scarlet Spider has lost a chunk of its identity, which it never really managed to full establish in the first place.