Recently, it’s been announced that Christopher Yost’s Scarlet Spider is on its way out, ending in December at issue #25. Even with the news that Venom is ending at the end of this month, Scarlet Spider‘s cancellation hits harder. It was really a better book, starring a character who will probably fade into obscurity, while Venom will continue to be a staple in the Marvel Universe.
Scarlet Spider stars Kaine, clone of Peter Parker and co-star of the infamous Clone Saga from the 90’s. After that editorial horror ended, Kaine vanished in the public eye, only appearing in the alternate future series Spider-Girl as the grizzled mentor character. A few years ago, Kaine reappeared during Spider-Man’s Grim Hunt storyline for the sake of being killed off immediately. Then he was resurrected as some kind of spider creature during Spider-Island and when everyone was cured of their spider powers, it reduced him to a less scarred and super-jacked version of Peter Parker for the first time since his birth, curing him of his madness.
Now, when you go through all that backstory, it’s not hard to understand why the series didn’t last. Fresh take or not, he’s a toxic character with a longwinded origin. Still, Christopher Yost was able to make it into one of my favorite Marvel titles.
A lot of the fun is explained in the tagline of “All the Power and None of the Responsibility!” Superhero comics are about escapism, but sometimes it can be frustrated when you see your favorite character held back morally. It’s necessary, but when people call out Peter Parker for being a flake or a coward, there’s part of me that just wants him to go, “You know what?! I’m Spider-Man! That’s why I was late! Suck my balls!” Instead, he has to shut his mouth for the greater good. He lets people talk down to him, he refuses to ever kill and he’s overly selfless out of guilt. It’s what defines him and I would never want to change any of that, but there is that desire to see the catharsis of Spider-Man completely cutting loose.
That’s really what Scarlet Spider is. Kaine doesn’t really care about the Uncle Ben or Gwen Stacy situations because that wasn’t really him. He’s his own person and he’s selfish and doesn’t think of himself as a very good person. When he sees an old woman about to be hit by a car, he stomps down on the car’s hood (sending the driver flying out the windshield) and proceeds to scream in the old woman’s face and curse her out for being so stupid that she almost just died. All while he’s in his street clothes because he doesn’t care that he looks exactly like Peter Parker with a crew cut. After all, who’s going to care in Houston, Texas?
Kaine plays the hero role due to his own conscience, even though he tries to believe that he doesn’t have one. One of the better examples is when there’s a fire at a lab or Carnage is on a killing spree or something and Kaine swings into action, admitting that he found out about it on the TV at a diner and it was only halfway into his omelet that he realized that he should probably do something about it. Or this time he stumbles upon some kind of Roxxon criminal plot. He washes his hands of it and decides that it isn’t his problem. He spends the next day, doing his normal routines while continually thinking about how it isn’t his problem and he doesn’t care. Then in the middle of the night, his psychic sidekick Aracely busts into his room and yells at him to do something because she’s sick of hearing with her mind how much he “doesn’t care” and it’s driving her crazy.
Aracely is part of Kaine’s awesome and optimistic supporting cast that keeps this from being a mopey sulkfest. It’s kind of brilliant. Aracely is a teenage girl who jumps at the superhero lifestyle and even makes herself a costume and identity as Hummingbird. Other friends of Kaine include police officer Willy, Willy’s doctor husband Donald and Kaine’s love interest Anabelle, a singer who works as a bartender at the hotel where Kaine lives. Yeah, since Kaine is super rich from stealing money from criminals, he lives in a suite at the Four Seasons because he’s totally skipping off to Mexico ANY DAY NOW. REALLY. HE TOTALLY WILL AND THEN HE’LL FINALLY BE ABLE TO LEAVE THIS STUPID SUPERHERO CRAP BEHIND. NOT JOKING, GUYS.
What makes the characters great is that they offset Kaine’s whining in what would normally drag down the series. Every now and then, he’ll go on about how he’s a monster and no hero and that if they really knew the kind of stuff he had done in his former life, they’d be right to run away. Then they usually go, “Yeah, that’s nice. You’re a pretty cool guy, Kaine, so shut the hell up and put on this cowboy hat because we’re all going to a rodeo.”
It’s that attitude that makes this so entertaining because Kaine is reluctantly forced to get in touch with his inner-Parker. Kaine has every right to be down about his past. Not only is he a clone, but he’s the lesser clone compared to his “dead brother” Ben. He can never live up to either’s example. That doesn’t stop him from being shoved into goofball superhero situations that are made better by the fact that he really wants nothing to do with them. When the Texas Initiative team offers him a spot on the team, he punches the leader and tells them to get off his back. When trying to save someone from a drunken Armadillo, he ends up riding a horse while using his webbing as a lasso. That would be completely at home in a Spider-Man comic and Spidey would have some kind of one-liner to show he’s totally into it, but not Kaine.
Hell, he didn’t even call himself the Scarlet Spider. He simply wore these bootleg Spider-Man tights in public and the media called him the new Scarlet Spider. Kaine immediately groaned at the cosmic joke of it all.
One of the more interesting, redeeming factors of the series is that it’s a haven for hated Spider-Man concepts. I mean, look at it. It’s a series starring Kaine using the superhero name that Ben Reilly used in the 90’s. We already have a double-dose of Clone Saga right there. There’s a team-up with Venom against Carnage named Minimum Carnage, named after the reviled Maximum Carnage. Not only does Kaine have the organic webbing and wrist spikes that Marvel wants us to forget Spider-Man ever had, but he’s also given himself to the spider-totem creature from the Other.
Kind of interesting that there are three Spider-Men out there and each has a monster living inside them, whether it be the Other, the alien costume or Doc Ock.
It’s a cocktail of bad ideas made to show that a good writer can make just about anything work. That said, Minimum Carnage is the low point of not only the Scarlet Spider series, but for Venom’s series and Carnage’s recent appearances. That’s too bad. If anything, I blame the use of the Microverse as a backdrop, as it just doesn’t really suit the characters well. Plus Carnage isn’t really seen as such a threat on his own anymore, so when Venom and Scarlet Spider are both just as capable of taking him down solo, it loses its appeal to see them team up.
My absolute favorite issue is Scarlet Spider #12, taking place after Minimum Carnage wraps up. It’s a Christmas issue with a gang of robbers dressed as Santa barging into the hotel. Anabelle tells one of them about how there’s a guy in the suite with a whole lot of money as a way of setting a trap. Meanwhile, Kaine gets drunk and whines to Donald about how he’s actually a terrible person who’s done some terrible stuff blah blah blah. Donald gives him a pep talk, the door is kicked open and this happens.
Suffice to say, an amazing scene of Scarlet Spider destroying an army of Santas in the lobby follows. Oh, Reilly Brown. You rule so much.
So with Scarlet Spider and Venom losing their titles, does that mean we’re getting Eddie Brock in his own Toxin series? Maybe a team series of all of them with Arana/Spider-Girl tossed in there? No?
Well, I can dream.