The new Scarlet Spider series has been building up steam, but it stumbles hard in this issue that features a fill-in artist and, even worse, what reads like a rushed fill-in story. It’s such a startling change in quality for this book that I can only suspect something has happened behind the scenes. A few poorly shoe-horned in guest stars adds to that sense.
There is a loose nuke in Houston, and it’s up to the Scarlet Spider to prevent its detonation. This leads to Kaine yelling and torturing his way through the nuke’s trail. What? Did you think I was kidding about the 24 comparison? This is totally a cliched Jack Bauer plot complete with Kaine portraying the Jack Bauer cliche. For the most part, I actually enjoyed 24. But this is a vasly inferior product.
Seriously, why is there a nuke in Houston? What’s happening? I need some explanation about how this came about. It’s a nuclear device. You can’t make it seem like such things are easy to get and set up to destroy a major U.S. city, even if this is a superhero comic book. That is just lazy storytelling. A nuke is a big deal. I need the story to sell me on the idea that someone could set this up, but instead, the story skips right over all that stuff. Come on, Christopher Yost. I know you’re better than that.
Characterization has been the strong point of this series as Yost has walked the line of keeping Kaine’s dangerous edge while letting him me heroic enough to work as our protagonist. Characterization is not the strong point of this issue, though. Like I said, Kaine is doing a generic Jack Bauer impression. It’s almost a parody, really. It’s mostly just Kaine shouting and hurting bad guys while his straight-laced cop buddy acts shocked. The only fun moment is when the Scarlet Spider moniker starts to finally catch up to Kaine and he reacts to it. That, and I have to admit Kaine’s solution to dealing with the nuke had a charming bit of humor to it. Besides these two moments, it’s a chore reading through Kaine’s Bauer impression.
The story oddly and clumsily drops in some guest stars as well. Iron Man is one of them as he almost arrives in Houston to help with the crisis, and then, he doesn’t. And... okay then. Thanks for that. Is Iron Man’s almost-trip to Houston going to be a factor in a later story or something? Because it comes off as annoyingly pointless in this issue.
S.H.I.E.L.D. gets the other cameo, and it almost makes sense to show Director Daisy Johnson checking in on the situation. But standing behind her for some reason are Agent Coulson and Nick Fury. I mean, the black Nick Fury. I mean, Nick Fury Jr.? This is stupid. He’s Marcus Johnson. We can’t call him Nick Fury. It’s confusing. He’s not Nick Fury. And it’s especially confusing here, because he just makes a quick appearance. No explanation. I guess the expectation is that we all read Battle Scars, despite the sales of that book indicating that most of us certainly did not. If the ridiculousness of what Marvel did there hadn’t made the rounds on the internet, most of us probably wouldn’t even have a clue.
Scarlet Spider is kind of guilty of having those expectations of readers already, though. Kaine also shows off the bone spikes that come out of his forearms in this issue. Because he has those. I guess. Why does he have those? Is this another case where Marvel thinks I’ve been regularly reading Amazing Spider-Man for awhile? I don’t. I try from time to time, but I don’t get far. I only made it a couple issues into Ends of the Earth before getting bored of Spider-Man’s hokey Batman impression. Scarlet Spider is a new series. I am a new reader. Give me a break, guys. You still haven’t even explained what the deal is with Kaine’s high tech costume.
While I’ve never thought Ryan Stegman’s style was the right fit for this book, it was a better fit than Neil Edwards’ art is here. Stegman at least put effort toward distinguishing Kaine’s physicality from Peter Parker’s. Edwards mostly foregoes that whole thing. Scarlet Spider looks just like Spider-Man in another costume. Kaine’s greater muscle mass is absent. It’s a shame to see details like that get lost when a new artist comes on board.
This is a really disappointing issue of Scarlet Spider. It’s not awful. It’s not broken. It is just badly mediocre. Nothing is done to explain or make the canned plot of a loose nuke in the city interesting. The tactics Kaine employs to chase down the bomb honestly come off as boring and tame given the cool and brutal stunts we’ve seen him pull off in previous issues. The art is solid but lacking when it comes to the character details. The cameos are pointless and in one case, potentially confusing. If Yost’s name wasn’t on the book, I would have guessed this is a rushed filler issue done by some other creators. That may not be what it actually is, but it certainly reads that way.