Written by Christopher Yost
Pencils by Ryan Stegman
Most people remember the Scarlet Spider as one of the punch lines of the much maligned Clone Saga that ran (and ran and ran and ran) through all of the Spider books in the early 90s. He was Ben Reilly; the clone of Peter Parker, who turned out to be the real Peter Parker, who turned out to be a clone of Peter Parker. Before he took Peter’s place as Spider-Man for a cup of coffee, he created his own identity as the Scarlet Spider. His costume was an all red Spidey suit accented with a cut-off blue hoodie and some extra belts, pouches, and straps. It was the 90s, after all. You gotta have extra belts, pouches, and straps.
Anyway, this Scarlet Spider isn’t Ben Reilly. He’s long dead…disintegrated, even. So who is this new masked man? Some other clone of Peter Parker?
Yup, it’s another clone of Peter Parker. The new Scarlet Spider is Kaine, the first Parker clone created by the Jackal. The one that he didn’t quite get right.
Ben Reilly was his only successful attempt at creating an exact copy of Peter Parker. Kaine was more powerful than the original Spidey, but physically deformed and a little crazy. His clinging ability was so strong he could actually burn into things if he held on tight enough and his spider sense was strong enough to occasionally get glimpses of the future. I won’t go into too much detail on his history here, but he was eventually killed by the Kravinoff family, resurrected by the Jackal as a mutated spider monster, then un-mutated by Spider-Man. As a result of all that, his physical deformities and mental issues have cleared up. Swap out spider sense for organic webbing, and Spidey & Kaine have the exact same power set.
So what makes the two characters different? Well, it’s right there in the tag line on the cover of the book: “All of the power, none of the responsibility.” Kaine didn’t have the same upbringing as Peter Parker. He doesn’t have Parker’s sense of morality & responsibility. He doesn’t particularly want to use his powers to help others. He’s also perfectly willing to kill someone if he considers them a big enough threat or if they just piss him off enough. He doesn’t care about upholding the law, only doing what’s right for him.
At the start of the first issue, Kaine’s passing through Houston, Texas when he busts up what he busts a group of what he believes to be drug dealers only to steal their money so he can finance starting a quiet new life in Mexico. He soon discovers that these guys aren’t moving drugs, they’re moving people. And not doing a very good job of it either as the train car full of illegal immigrants they’ve smuggled into the country have all died of heat exhaustion. All except one, a woman who Kaine takes to the hospital. He immediately takes off for Mexico, figuring he has no further toward this woman or the people responsible for her situation.
However, when a large unnamed man with the ability to create & control fire attacks the hospital looking to kill this woman for something she knows Kaine feels compelled to save her. He hates himself for it but something in the back of his mind tells him he has to help. He dons the extra Spidey suit he took from Spider-Man back in New York and goes after the guy, fully intent on killing him. At one point he even picks up a downed police officer’s gun and fires a few rounds at the bad guy. Kaine finally gets the upper hand and is in the process of pummeling the poor bastard to death when he notices that a crowd of onlookers has gathered and are actually cheering him on for saving the day. Again he’s angry with himself for doing so, but he decides that killing this guy isn’t the right thing to do and leaves him for the cops.
Still intent on retiring to a beach in Mexico, Kaine stops to check on the woman he twice saved before leaving. He enters the hospital in costume and actually takes off his mask while talking to the woman. When a doctor and police officer walk into the room, Kaine insists that he wants no trouble and will be leaving town that night. To his surprise, they ask him to stay. There’s no super heroes in Houston and the they claim they could really use his help. Kaine suddenly has the notion that maybe running away from his problems isn’t the best solution and sees this as a possible opportunity to atone for his past sins.
When this book was announced, I had no intention of getting it. I wasn’t terribly interested in Kaine as a character or the Scarlet Spider as a concept. Because I’m reading the other Spider books, it wound up on my holds list. After giving it a couple issues, I’m pleasantly surprised. Yost does a decent job of giving a new reader enough background info on Kaine without getting too bogged down in his crazy history. He also does a good job making Kaine a different character from Peter Parker. I thought this book would be simply “what if Spider-man was an a-hole?” and it is that, but it’s much better than I thought it would be. Case in point, there’s a point when an elderly woman is attempting to cross the street and is in danger of being hit by a speeding car. Where Spider-Man would’ve just swooped down and gotten the woman out of the path of the vehicle, Kaine does this:
He then goes on a profanity laced tirade about how she’s an idiot for trying to cross the street against the light when she’s so old and feeble. Ryan Stegman’s pencils are great. They actually remind me a lot of Mark Bagley, so of course he’s a great fit for a Spider book.
After giving this book a couple issues…I’m on board.