Scarlet Spider #23

Posted by Mike McNulty, a.k.a. Stillanerd 06 November 2013

So it looks like that even though the Scarlet Spider will end as a regular series, writer Chris Yost isn't done with him, or Aracely, just yet. Because our favorite Spider-Man clone and his excitable teenagesidekick will soon be joining The New Warriors come next year. But until that happy occasion arrives, we still have a few more issues left until the final issue in Scarlet Spider #25, including the conclusion of the three part “Into the Grave.” Only where we left off last time, things weren't looking too god for either Kaine or his supporting cast as they were at the mercy of Kraven the Hunter and his creepy psychopath of daughter, Ana. And Kraven has given Kaine a sadistic Hobson's choice: that if Kaine wants to survive and save his friends, he must also kill him.

We open with the issue back at the Houston Zoo, with Kaine's friends tied up to posts while lions and tigers encircle them. Kaine narrates how each of his friends, in their own way, persuaded him to stay in Houston and that they're now all in danger now because of his choice. And he's particularly worried about Aracely (still half-unconscious from Kraven's toxin) and Annabelle Adams. He also says how, unlike his friends, Kraven knows that Kaine isn't a hero, but a killer, and that he's trying to get Kaine to prove it by killing him.

Kraven once more demands Kaine kill him. Kaine says there are “easier ways” to Kraven to die, but Kraven explains that, because Kaine's blood was used to resurrect him, they're now bound together. He also says how when he bested Spider-Man (re: “Kraven's Last Hunt”), he had committed suicide with the knowledge that he was superior to him (I think Doc Ock might disagree with that one) but that his family took his victory from him and that now he “intends to have it back.”

As officer Wally demands Kaine to help rescue them, Kaine tells Kraven that if he wants to kill himself so badly to get his daughter, Ana, to do it, and sprints over to his friends. However, Kraven tackles Kaine to the ground, saying that only Kaine must be the one to kill him because “the ritual demands it.” He also says that Kaine will never be the hero that Ben Reilly was or that Peter Parker is, that he is the killer “the other spiders never could be.” Kaine also notes that, despite his being stronger and faster than his “brother,” he's still being “torn apart” by Kraven and thinks how “no one should want to die this much.”

Kaine tries to ensnare Kraven with webbing, only for Kraven to cut it with his hunting knife and then knee Kaine in the face. Ana attempts to intervene, saying how Kaine doesn't deserve the honor of be treated as an equal, and that she should be the one to grant her father's wish. Kraven, however, interrupts his daughter with a back-handed slap across the face, reminding her that she already tried to kill him once before and failed. Again, Kraven says he can only die by Kaine's hand, adding that, because of his immortality, he is “in agony, a hell [he] does not deserve,” and that he's being denied “the only peace [he's] ever known.” Meanwhile, Wally tells Kaine to take Kraven down, while his husband, Dr. Donald Meland, tells Kaine not to, saying how he doesn't have to kill any more.

At last, Kaine says to Kraven that “if [he's] in hell, then [he] can just stay there” and says that, just as he told Ana, he refuses to play Kraven's game. At this, Kraven laughs, realizes that, for all of Kaine's talk about being a “monster,” a “part of [him] actually thinks [he's] a hero.” He then orders Ana to kill one of his friends. Horrified, Kaine tries to run after Ana, only for Kraven to grab his foot, swing him to the ground, saying that Kaine's mistake was thinking this was a “game” when it's really a “the hunt.”

Meanwhile, a giggling Ana approaches Kaine's friends, hunting knife in hand. Finally, she stops in front of Dr. Meland, telling him, “You were my favorite.” Then she slices her knife across his abdomen!

Wally, Annabelle, and Kaine react in horror. Kaine again tries to struggle free and cries out for Dr. Donald, only for Kraven to tackle him to the ground once more, saying how there will be “no rescues” but “death,” saying that since Kaine has once killed Dr. Octopus and Kraven's son, the Grim Hunter, why should he stop now from killing him as well? Ana, licking the blood off her knife, asks her father if she can kill one more. Kraven tells her to kill them all.

And at this, Kaine says then yells “No!” and slams the palm of his hand into Kraven's chest, stopping his heart!

As Ana rushes over to her slain father's side, Kaine leaps over to Dr. Donald, bleeding and barely conscious. He tells Kaine to bind and pack his wounds, which Kaine attempts to do with webbing. The pain makes Dr. Donald scream in agony, and a tearful and enraged Wally demanding Kaine to stop and cut him loose. After freeing Wally and Annabelle, they attend to Donald, while Kaine heads back to Ana cradling Kraven's body. Furious, she says Kaine shouldn't be worthy enough to kill her father and charges at him, only for Kaine to slice her across the face with his stinger.

Kaine, narrating to himself how Donald believed in him and wanting to be the hero Donald wants him to be, attempts to revive Kraven with chest compressions. Finally, with a punch to the chest, he restarts Kraven's heart and bring him back to life. 

Kaine then tells a weakened Kraven that, since he's already killed him, the connection the two of them had has now been severed and that it will be “the last death on his hands.” To which Kraven smiles and says “Are you sure?” To which Kaine turns his attention to Donald being attended by the others. He tells Wally to call the hospital, that he'll take Donald to them, but Wally bitterly tells Kaine “you've done enough!” When Kaine turns his attention back to Kraven, he finds that he and Ana have vanished.

At the Park Plaza Hospital, Donald is in critical condition as Aracely attends to his bedside. The attending surgeon tells Kaine and Annabelle that, while Donald survived the first operation, he still suffered massive blood loss and is unsure if he can survive the next one. He also adds that even if Donald lives, he will never be able to fully recover. As the surgeon leaves, Kaine and Anabelle embrace one another for comfort, neither knowing what they can do. Anabelle is also worried about Wally, as he's left the hospital and that he needs their help.

We then see that Wally has gone to the police station and is busy searching through the SHIELD's superhuman criminal database. After Wally then types in Kaine's name on the search prompt, he is shocked to see Kaine's mugshot and NYPD arrest record displayed on screen.

I've enjoyed the way Chris Yost and co-writer Erik Burnham have been steadily increasing the tension and sense of sheer terror and dread over the course of "Into the Grave." You just knew something really, really horrifying was about to happen, something which would also reinforce how different Scarlet Spider was compared to the title it spun off from. So when I first read the scene in which Ana Kravinoff gleefully gutted Dr. Meland, and then Kaine actually killed Kraven the Hunter to save his friends, my reaction towards both was, “Holy crap! They aren't fooling around! They really are pulling out all the stops and going out with a bang!”

But then Yost and Burnham wind up pulling two massive cop outs--first with Kaine reviving Kraven, and then with Dr. Meland being sent to the hospital and placed in a coma.

Granted, given how Kraven is a notable Spider-Man villain who was just brought back to life, the odds of him being killed off again so soon was going to be very low. But having Kaine stopping and then restarting Kraven's heart with a well-placed strike to the chest, and then claiming that because he technically still killed him, their mystical "bond" is now severed even though Kraven is still alive and presumably still immortal? Not only does this come across as an incredibly lazy "resolution" of the conflict that's building up between them even before the Scarlet Spider series began, it's outright ridiculous. 

And as for Dr. Donald Meland? Well, when you have a regular recurring fictional character hospitalized and is "touch and go," 9 times out 10 that character will “miraculously” survive. Because if they really were supposed to be killed off, they wouldn't have been placed in a coma for the other characters to be worried over. And if that character does end up dying, then it just raises the question of why the writer didn't just have them die to begin with? Don't get me wrong, I'm not one for killing off characters for the sake of it, only look at where we are by issue's end—Kaine is now wracked with guilt over having failed to protect Meland from harm, and Wally, believing Kaine had the power to prevent this, is motivated to uncover Kaine's criminal past. In light of this, wouldn't it have made just as much sense if Dr. Meland actually had been killed?

Also, at no time throughout this story were we ever provided with the answers for how Kraven not only learned all about Kaine and who he really was, but also how he learned about Ben Reilly and discovered that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. That last part alone should be really be deal seeing how Spidey's secret identity is now known by one of his more notable enemies as opposed to just being taken for granted like the story seems to make it.

In spite of my criticisms however, much of this issue, and “Into the Grave” in general, was still very well done. The characterization is solid, particularly with Kraven and how he, in his need for death, has become more ruthless, cunning, and insane than before. Also, unlike the previous issues, we have single artist in David Baldeon, and his illustrations are very good in showcasing action, movement, and facial expressions. So for two-thirds of the issue, Scarlet Spider #23 is absolutely top-notch. Too bad the remaining third ended up being so disappointing.

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