In purporting to utilize “every Spider-Man, ever,” “Spider-Verse” has certainly done a lot to make sure it lives up to that ambitious slogan. It’s easy to feel weighed down by the sheer number of alternate Spider characters playing their parts in this story, or realize that there are so many characters around that they simply won’t get any narrative justice done to them. So, when groups started splintering off from the main battle in Amazing Spider-Man #10, I was glad other groups of other Spiders would get some individual focus. When Ben Reilly, Kaine, and Ultimate Jessica Drew chose to carry out their own, clone-related mission, I was extremely excited.
I have varying levels of familiarity with each of these characters, but a requisite affection for all of them. Ben Reilly, oddly enough, is who I’m least familiar with, as I stopped collecting comics shortly before the Clone Saga that spawned him, but I’m well aware of how popular he is among Spider-Man enthusiasts. Kaine, having had his most recent adventures in my hometown of Houston, is someone in whose current status I’m keenly interested, though his origins in the Clone Saga still remain mostly unread to me. Jessica Drew is probably the clone I know the most about, having had her run in the Ultimate Spider-Man titles, which I’ve had the easiest access to in recent years. I’ve seen her from inception to her current adventures, and I find her fascinating.
Seeking out the Inheritors’ cloning mechanism after a near-disastrous battle with Daemos, the Spider-Clones come to a lavish, seemingly utopian reality where everything seems to be in great shape–unless, of course, you’re a Spider. It’s a move that makes sense in the context of the greater battle, though I was more than a little flabbergasted that they decided to take this mission on by themselves, and tell no one else. The development of the Inheritor Jennix as their main adversary for this adventure lends this story an air of drama, but not real necessity to the larger narrative. While what these three will do will no doubt be important, it’s probably not going to be considered necessary reading for Spider-Verse readers who are watching their time or wallets.
Mike Costa’s decision to narrate the story from Jessica’s point of view suggests her as the temperamental midpoint between her partners. Not as experienced as Ben or Kaine–but arguably better trained than either of them–she has neither Ben’s quippy loquaciousness nor Kaine’s silent rage and killer instinct, and instead relies on techniques and tactics she’s learned from her universe’s Nick Fury and Captain America. The result makes for a Spider who both adapts well to changing situations, and who can serve as an effective planner as well as a balance point between her compatriots. It’s certainly an intriguing concept, and will hopefully be explored as more of this story develops.
Unfortunately, Costa’s narration does at times impede narrative flow, either by giving us more information than we really need, overstating or restating action, or by simply having so many narrative captions taking up space on the panels. It’s really not a huge crime, but it does occasionally pull the reader out of the story enough to be noticed. I’m also personally curious to see more interaction between the elder clones, as I would think Kaine would have some kind of reaction to having his long-dead clone, Ben Reilly, suddenly at his side after so long. There’s really very little exploration of that particular interpersonal dynamic, and I’d really like to see it before this saga wraps. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this camp.
I was suitably impressed with the artwork in this issue. Paco Diaz draws excellent actions and poses among these Spider-Clones, and his exaggerated, hyper-bendy style both fits with the dynamic aesthetic of these characters and makes for some memorable visuals. He also manages to keep things expressive and detailed where needed, and goes far beyond just the basic physical differences between each of the main characters to give them distinctive visual traits as well, such as Kaine’s perpetual scowl. It leaves readers with art that strongly supports the writing, and makes the storytelling that much more effective.
Overall, I think Scarlet Spiders does the job it promises when these three break off from the main group, which is put the Spider-Clones on a clone-related mission to take down clones. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in this story for exploration into who these characters are, both as individuals and how they relate to one another. While I am fond of Jessica Drew, I hope more balance will be brought to bear on all three characters, and we can get into the heads of Kaine and Ben Reilly as well. The artwork is good, and the writing is decent, having the potential to go further. If Costas can utilize the character dynamics between these three as they embark on their adventure, he and Paco Diaz could have a little gem of a story on their hands. We’ll have to wait and see how polished it comes out.
Though it can get bogged down at times by excessive exposition or narration, the overall concept behind Scarlet Spiders is interesting, and flows pretty well. The artwork is solid and sets up a promising, if not entirely necessary, side story to Spider-Verse.