First Impressions – SCARLET SPIDER #1

Time once again to dive into the vaults of the Spiderman franchise and see what kind of ghosts from the Webbed Wall-crawler’s past can be scrapped from obscurity. Or in this case infamy. Let’s talk about the Scarlet Spider.

Back in the 1990s, Marvel desperately needed to bounce back from its economic woes, competing against DC’s Death of Superman and Knightfall events. Poorly. So in the Spiderman books, they decided to bring back a clone of the hero from a seventies story that was thought to be dead. This clone, Ben Reilly, would ultimately be the first Scarlet Spider. And the storyline Marvel came up with in the nineties came to be known as the Clone Saga.

For a more in depth analysis and retrospective of the infamous Clone Saga, I recommend reading the Life of Reilly, a blog that details the story and publishing sides of the Clone Saga over its three year run, and just what made it such a fiasco. In brief however, the Clone Saga was a story that was originally meant to last three parts at best, and ended up being stretched for so long as to leave readers more confused and frustrated than when it started (no easy feat with Peter Parker calling himself “The Spider” for a period beforehand). Before long, fans walked away rapidly and writers struggled in vein to find a good way to end the thing. Finally, they settled on having the whole confusing ordeal be the doing of a (previously thought dead) Norman Osborn, the first Green Goblin. And Ben Reilly died.

So if Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider died, how does SCARLET SPIDER #1 work? Well, resurrection is involved, but not of Reilly. There was another clone (technically hundreds, but let’s not get into that here) named Kaine, who ran around during the Clone Saga. A flawed clone of Peter Parker, he possessed more powerful versions of all Spiderman’s powers, but suffered from clone degeneration that left him scarred and mentally unbalanced. He acted as a villain and antagonist throughout, but due to his condition remained a tragic figure. He also died in the story arc Maximum Clonage.

Recently, in the Marvel event Spider Island, through mystical forces of some variety Kaine returned to life, unblemished by the physical scars that plagued him in his old life, but unable to forget his villainous past. Here’s where we pick up in the new series.

Given a new lease on life, Kaine would like nothing better than to flee and retire to some Mexican beach, finding his way to Houston, TX. But despite wanting to mind his own business and escape the life of the mask, he finds himself drawn to helping people. And while he debates putting on his new Scarlet Spider suit, a hostile force descends on Houston. Kaine stopped some human traffickers and saved the only surviving kidnapped person. But a mysterious man wants all of them to burn, whether dead or alive. And worse yet, Kaine may not even care about what happens to anyone, including the one he saved.

The thing I like about this book is that it takes the time to get the reader up to speed on who Kaine is, and where the Scarlet Spider came from. Which is good, considering how esoteric such knowledge is. The first issue even ends with a few pages devoted to summarizing the Clone Saga is it ultimately turned out given that the writers spent many long hours figuring out how to end it. Confusing is the word for it, but only because it’s trying to make sense of something that was thrown together.

Taken for what it is, SCARLET SPIDER #1 left a good impression on me. The protagonist leans more to the dark than Peter Parker, but doesn’t possess the maudlin sensibilities of many such “dark” characters. Artistically, it’s a solid book, though at times I can’t be sure what I’m looking at because the meaning behind the imagery is obscure. How exactly did Kaine shave without a razor? I can only guess he was using some power, but what exactly was supposed to be happening was vague at best. For once, I think I could use some telling in addition to showing.

Something odd about this book’s production. There are five variant covers. Why? Right now, there’s only two: the main cover and the blank white cover that Marvel uses. Which still confuses the hell out of me.

Not entirely sure if whether I’m staying with this series or not. It certainly looks very promising, but I have more than enough books to buy as is. What I’m certainly going to do is be more discerning about the miniseries I follow from now on. Fans of Spiderman however won’t be let down by this offering. SCARLET SPIDER gets my recommendation.

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