Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thumbs Up to the (new) Scarlet Spider

I'll admit, I'm one of those Spidey fans who was burned by how poorly our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was treated with the One More Day/Brand New Day debacle. I get that comics want to shake things up once in a while (*cough*NewDCU*cough*), but Quesada's move was a complete mis-handle*. It was bad enough that I walked away from Marvel as a whole. 'Course, Spidey was the only one I really followed, but still, the incident reinforced my commitment to DC.

And then Marvel cranked out a new hope for the Spidey franchise. 

Scarlet Spider.

Holy carp! Santa's a bad***!
 Now keep in mind, this isn't the first time we've seen the Scarlet Spider brand. Joe Wade, Felicia Hardy, and a team of somebodies all carried the moniker. Most important, it was poor, unlucky Ben Reilly who was the first and most remembered.

Dude, spandex AND a loose sweatshirt? No wonder they bumped you off. 
  For those who didn't follow the Clone Sage, I can't help you. Heck, I'm not sure even the writers of the series can. It was a jumbled mess of WTH plot lines and all sorts of clones of Peter Parker coming out of the word works (including Ben and this real jerk named Kaine). Along the way, Ben does the SS thing while Kaine becomes a villain/anti-hero/assassin/beat-poet/who-knows, etc.

Basically, if you figure out the clone stuff, let me know.

ANYWAY, that was then for the Scarlet Spider and this is now. The "modern" tale picks up during the story arc of Spider Island in the Amazing Spider-Man. Kaine makes a dramatic reappearance, gets healed by Parker (long story), helps defeat the bad guys, steals a high-tech spider-suit (as well as a lot of cash), and makes a run for Mexico.

And lo begins the new Scarlet Spider.

Okay, so now that you're up to date with the confusing background, let's get to the meat of why this new Scarlet Spider is worth checking out.

1) The Motto:

All of the Power. None of the Responsibility.

Gang, this right here was enough to make me want to read issue #1. And you know what? The writers mean it. Although Kaine is a clone of Parker, his powers differ. In addition to wall-crawling, he's sporting organic shooters, spikes, a sexy new suit (complete with stealh capabilities), yet lacks the infamous Spider Sense which means he doesn't see trouble coming. Adding into this cornucopia of awesome, Kaine deals with bad-guys like someone with a chip on their shoulder would and not the traditional, "softer hands" of Peter Parker. Granted, he doesn't kill arbitrarily, but he's not opposed to it if need be.

"Hey, get your own %^&*$*@ sword!" - Deadpool 
2) Location:

I love that Scarlet Spider is set in Houston, Texas for a number of reasons. First, unlike Spidey, who seems to always be on the wrong side of the New York law and media, Houston LOVES their vigilante superhero. He's all over the news, there are action figures and trading cards, and even the cops want his help dealing with crime.

Sorry, Kaine, Houston is going to love you whether you want it or not.
 I've always had a beef with the mindset that the New York cops and media see Spidey as nothing more than a careless vigilante, so it's nice that SOMEONE appreciates their superhero.

And if any state is gonna do it, it's gonna be Texas. Trust me. Some of my family is from there.

The other thing I like about the location of Houston is that it puts Kaine at a disadvantage:

This ain't New York, buddy.

Web-slinging isn't quite as effective in Houston as it is in New York and I like that the writers pay homage to that fact.

3) Kaine:

Kaine is snarky and short-tempered. He's kinda' like Deadpool, but without the manic psychosis or rampant murder (at least now). Yet, he's not afraid to do what needs to be done to put down the bad guys when the situation demands it.

"BLAM! BLAM" BLAM!" sounds waaaay more menacing than, "FWIP! FWIP! FWIP!"

Yeah, that makes way more sense when bad guys are threatening to nuke your city...
 But as much as Kaine is a bad boy, he's also learning how to be a hero to absolve himself of his past as an assassin. Some of the writing goes a little overboard with this, but I like that the writers force Kaine into the position of hero rather than have him suffer an "epiphany of goodness". Starting out, all he wanted was to escape his past by running to Mexico, but got tripped up in Houston. After several incidents (including dealing with a nuke), he's decided that Houston is home. Heck, he even has a few friends. And really, isn't that how most of us wind up where we are? We have one plan that gets completely derailed and the next thing we know, we're where we need to be.

4) Homosexuality

Many, many comics try to handle homosexuality/transgender/etc and do an abysmal job of it. Batwoman, in my opinion, has the best main character in comics today and she just happens to be a lesbian. The writers handle her well, but they also tend to harp on the fact that she's a lesbian. It's almost always in the "bio" breakdown of the first page of EVERY comic.

The writers of Scarlet Spider, however, have taken a different path. Rather than blatantly wave the "Hey y'all, we have a gay character in our comic!", they instead treat it deftly and, to be honest, more accurately for today's society. Early on, Kaine is in the office of Dr. Donald Meland and sees a framed picture of him and police officer Wally Layton on a fishing trip together. When Kaine asks if they are pretty good friends, Donald replies, "Sometimes. He's my husband." And then, "Do you have problem with that?" when he seed the look of surprise on Kaine's face.

What I like about this scene is that there isn't a huge shocker or built-up publicity for it (like Adam Scott over on NewDCU Earth-2). Instead, it's a fact of life, just like in the real world. Sure, Kaine is caught off guard at first, but the entire thing immediately boils down to this: Wally and Donald are simply a great couple.

I agree, Wally. Superhero or not, that'd freak me the crap out, too.
 The no-nonsense, matter-of-fact handling of this couple is, in my opinion, outstanding. The writers don't make a big deal about "ZOMGay characters" and in turn, there's a depth to the comic that is surprisingly lacking elsewhere. Rather than continually state to the reader that these two are *gasp* married men, they simply show it to us and allow us to see what a normal couple looks like. The fact that they are same-sex is immaterial.

Well done, Marvel.


Scarlet Spider isn't without its flaws (seriously, Kaine, get rid of the chip on your shoulder already), but overall it's been an excellent ride. The writing is crisp, the artwork appealing, and the main character (and side characters, for that matter) engaging. In Kaine, we have someone willing to sling a gun as much as a web, someone who isn't perfect but trying to atone for his past, and someone who is able to knock heads when the situation demands it. Granted, there are plenty of complications on the horizon (and opportunities to get sucked into a vortex of WTH plot-lines), but after 7 issues, I think we have ourselves a winner.

Duck and weave! Duck and weave!

*I mean, come ON Mr. Quesada! Want to keep the series alive for another 20-30 years? Why not kill off Aunt May? Why not let Parker try to adjust to a world where he doesn't carry the guilt of Uncle Ben? Why not bring back the whole Spider-Baby arc that completely vanished from the Marvel continuum? Not to mention that when JMS was at the writing-helm, the series was at an all-time high. And really? Telling readers that married couples in comics are pointless and boring? Ouch, dude.

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