Scarlet Spider continues to deliver an interesting new Spider experience as Kaine begins to settle into his new role in Houston. Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman are doing a great job establishing this book, but there are some problems that are holding it back from being as good as it could potentially be.
In the past two issues, Kaine has made the unlikely decision to don a costume and become the protector of a young women who has been targeted for death by a human trafficking ring. And because he is in unfamiliar territory as a hero, he reaches out to anyone he can for help in this issue. Whether Kaine likes it or not, he’s a Parker, which means he has that unfortunate brand of luck. The situation escalates quickly, putting him in the position of the one with a target on his back.
The more I read this book, the more I think moving Kaine to Houston as the Scarlet Spider was a stroke of brilliance. I’ve been reading Marvel Comics for most of my life, and honestly, I’m tired of New York City. It’s a place I have only visited briefly a few times. I have no connection to it, and so many Marvel characters call it their home that I barely find it to be an interesting setting anymore. Geographic diversity is something DC Comics has always had an advantage over Marvel with. So I enjoy Scarlet Spider so much for partially the same reason I’ve been enjoying Moon Knight. It’s a new setting. It’s a new part of the Marvel Universe getting the spotlight. Scarlet Spider is Texas’ Spider-Man. I kind of love that.
Thankfully, the book embraces the different setting as more than just a change of scenery. One of the best moments of this issue involves Kaine’s realization that Houston does not have as many tall buildings as New York. Also, Yost brings in the Assassin’s Guild for a major role in the story, and this works on more than one level. It makes some sense as part of Kaine’s villainous history. Along with that, it makes sense given the region Kaine now resides in. It’s good to see the book pulling in some of the preexisting presences of the South.
Effort is definitely being directed at making sure Scarlet Spider does not come off the same as Spider-Man. When he fights, he is very different from Spider-Man. I especially enjoyed the move he pulls off to break a shooter’s arm. The brutality suits the character, but more importantly, it differentiates him from his source.
All that said, I remain disappointed that Yost is going for a strict no-kill policy with Kaine. It comes off as artificial and really diminishes his reputation as the darker, harsher Spider. No, he doesn’t need to be the Punisher, but the sudden morality on the issue is pretty forced. This isn’t a big deal with this issue in particular, but it worries me when it comes to how this story is going to turn out. If it ends in the cliched fashion of having Kaine realize his inner heroism and considering his own redemption as a distinct possibility, I’ll be bored and disappointed. It would be much more interesting to end this story arc on a darker and more violent note that cements the idea that Kaine will never be Peter Parker.
The only major problem in this issue unfortunately centers on a big turning point in the story, where Kaine is recognized by the Assassin’s Guild. It doesn’t work. You can’t give a character a complete makeover and then do this. You can’t have someone who apparently knew Kaine from Kaine’s long-haired, bearded and scarred days immediately recognize the guy as he is now. Given that Kaine doesn’t recognize the assassin in return, this scene doesn’t even have the excuse that these two were once close and familiar with each other. There is just nothing believable about Kaine being recognized, and it’s unfortunate that this is such a major plot point.
My other criticisms with this issue are more minor. For instance, am I supposed to have a clue what is up with Kaine’s Scarlet Spider costume? This is the third issue, and it hasn’t been explained. By this point, it’s clearly not just a spandex costume. What is it? Why does Kaine have it? Am I expected to have read about all this in some previous stories? Sorry, I haven’t. I thought Spider-Island was stupid and stopped reading it. I also don’t enjoy the current Amazing Spider-Man, so I haven’t read that. I’m reading this. So how about explaining this to me here? After three issues of no explanation, I don’t think I’m being all that impatient about it. Answers need to come on the costume next issue.
I’m torn on the character of Annabelle Adams, our Texan Mary Jane Watson. I love Mary Jane, so part of me enjoys her being treated as something so intrinsic to Spider-Man than Spider-Man’s clone naturally gravitates toward a redhead. But then part of me finds that a little too cute and predictable. Even if I’m sure than Annabelle will be very unlike MJ in personality, she is what she is, and I kind of think it would have been more interesting for her to be a more unique character.
While I really enjoy Stegman’s art, I remain of the opinion that it just doesn’t suit the book. It’s great superhero art, but this isn’t really a typical superhero book. This is supposed to be about an almost anti-hero, and Stegman’s art really doesn’t lend itself to darker or more serious tones.
Given my low opinion of the Spider-Man franchise at the moment, I realize that declaring Scarlet Spider as my favorite spider book isn’t saying a whole lot. I do truly enjoy this series, though. It could stand some more appropriate art and to not play it quite so safe with Kaine’s darkness, but it does a lot right. I never imagined I would find Houston such an interesting setting for a book, and I am really becoming sold on the idea of Kaine as the new Scarlet Spider.