In the fifth issue of Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, the audience begins to see some of the seeds that were planted earlier in the series pay off. Ben Reilly and Kaine, whom writer Peter David has kept apart until the last issue, finally have the all-out brawl that was inevitable from the beginning of the series. This issue provides cover to cover action, following two separate altercations taking place over the course of the story. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #5 delivers on the promise of an epic clash between two ruthless, morally ambiguous characters.
The main attraction for this issue is the fight between the two Scarlet Spiders. Much of the series has built up this fight, and while I never quite bought into the personal stakes for the fight, the confrontation is enjoyable for what it is. The fight continues for the length of the issue. The fight serves, among other things, to highlight the differences between the two Spiders. It too often errs on the side of telling rather than showing, however, as Ben spends the first page highlighting those differences: the spider-sense, the tendency for over-analysis. Underlying this list is Ben’s own hubris, as he underestimates his clone brother’s ability to compensate for his lack of spider-sense. Neither clone is angel or devil; both are flawed characters apparently conforming to some standard of justice. Ben, whose characterization has ranged all over the place since his resurrection, comes off as the more rational of the two in this fight, even refusing an opportunity to kill Kaine.
Despite the fact that this issue mostly consists of action scenes, it feels as if this is the most the plot has progressed in quite a while in this series. The past four issues never ventured very far from the originating premise of this story: that Ben Reilly, to make amends for, or to at least escape the consequences of, his actions in “Dead No More”, promises to heal Cassandra Mercury’s daughter, all while being hunted by Kaine. Little progress has been made on anything, particularly in curing the girl.
After the series spent most of its previous four issues in the same casino, this issue makes better use its Las Vegas surrounding. Ben and Kaine’s fight spills over into some sort of Medieval Times themed restaurant while Mercury and Slate find themselves in a casino full of Ninjas. The series felt like it was repeating itself before the first arc had even completed, so it’s good to see the story move past the same beats and get a bit more comfortable in its surroundings. There has been more of an effort in the past few years within Marvel to move their characters outside of the crowded super hero market of New York City, such as Daredevil’s temporary move to San Fransisco. It is a trend I hope continues, and I hope that writers continue to make use of the idiosyncrasies of each city their heroes inhabit.
In addition to the primary conflict, the issue also follows Cassandra Mercury and Slate as they confront the man responsible for attacking Mercury’s casino. They face a series of henchman on their way to encounter Thorne, the man behind the attacks. Much of the fighting happens in The Forbidden City, a “Pan-Asian” themed casino. There’s ninjas involved, as well as some meta commentary on the insensitivity involved in such ad hoc cultural appropriation. All the violence culminates with a soap opera-worthy twist that does little to make the reader invested in characters who were already too generic to care about as villains, much less as deuteragonists.
This appears to be Mark Bagley’s last rodeo as the interior artist for Scarlet Spider, at least for now. Bagley’s art has been a major highlight for me in this series, if for nothing else than for providing the proper feel for the Clone Saga-era characters involved in the story. Inker John Dell and colorist Jason Keith work well with Bagley’s pencils. The combined work of the art team pops on the page and works particularly well for a story with this much action.
The issue is one of the most enjoyable yet. We await next issue to see how genuine Ben’s statement to Kaine about his intention to cure Mercury’s daughter. His own internal monologue from earlier issues places some doubt over that. The story seems to finally be moving forward, though it will, unfortunately, move forward without artist Mark Bagley. Putting the two Scarlet Spiders together opens up a lot of narrative possibilities. As far the secondary storyline is concerned, Mercury and Slate are not yet compelling characters. They are barely even characters. That said, this issue doesn’t exactly wrap up anything, but it hopefully pushes the narrative in the right direction. More than any other issue so far, I’m looking forward to see where the story goes next issue.
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Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #5 delivers a fun, action-packed clash of the Spiders with one more round of killer art from Mark Bagley. Unfortunately, some of the characters, specifically its supporting characters, are simply too underwritten to care much about.