So last time, Kaine was able to save his friends from the vengeful and suicidal Kraven the Hunter and Kraven's homicidal sociopath of a daughter, Ana, but not without cost. Dr. Donald Meland was gravely wounded and is now in a coma, a traumatizing effect for the entire cast, especially Donald's husband, police officer Wally Leyton. Thus blaming Kaine for everything that transpired, Wally has at last uncovered Kaine's criminal past and the stage appears set for some dour and depressing proceedings for our resident Peter Parker clone. However, as we enter into the penultimate chapter of the Scarlet Spider, the mood becomes a lot more lively and...well, let's just say that as Kaine's day goes from bad to worse, things wind up getting more complicated, hectic, and outright crazy.
We open with Kaine confessing to a priest about a dream he had involving fire, “chaos and carnage,” and swarms of wasps. He says that he believes he was in hell and that “he fit right in.” The priest, however, says that Kaine just had a nightmare, not a vision of the future, but Kaine still believes his dream still had significance, especially in light of recent events. Kaine then tells the priest what happened during the previous story involving Kraven the Hunter, and that Dr. Donald Meland was critically wounded and nearly died because of him. The priest, however, tells Kaine that he can't blame himself, and that maybe his doubts and troubles are in fact signs of him being tested. Kaine, however, says that he's too strong to be tested and still does “the wrong thing every time.” The priest however points out that if this were true, then why did Kaine decide to come to Houston and stay instead of running.
Later, Kaine returns to the Park Plaza Hospital to check on Donald's condition. Anabelle Adams tells him that the doctor's say Donald is doing better, but Kaine is skeptical and continues to blame himself for what has happened. Anabelle points out that they, including Donald, would all be dead if it weren't for Kaine, but he argues Donald wouldn't even have been hospitalized at all if he wasn't around, and says that Anabelle knows this to be true. Later, as Kaine and Anabelle leave the hospital, she tells him that she'll meet Kaine back at the hotel as they are not done with their conversation. Hidden in car across the street, a mysterious shadowy figure makes a cellphone call, telling whoever is on the other line that he has found Kaine.
After entering the hotel and taking the elevator to their floor, Kaine tells Aracely to throw the Scarlet Spider costume away, but Aracely refuses, reminding Kaine that he is still her champion. Just as they enter Kaine's presidential suite, Aracely begins to complain of a buzzing in her head, but Kaine figures she just needs to eat, go to the gym, or “get a massage” if she has a headache. Aracely then asks if Anabelle is coming over, but Kaine, still upset, tells Aracely “not if she knows what's good for her.” However, when Kaine enters his bedroom, he's surprised to find Anabelle waiting for him on the bed wrapped in nothing but a bed-sheet. Anabelle approaches Kaine, telling him that she knows how he's feeling, that he's overwhelmed by guilt and grief, but that he deserves to feel better. Then she passionately kisses him and then, dropping the sheet, says, “I can make you feel a lot better.” And Kaine responds by stripping off his clothes.
Meanwhile, Aracely is in her room, still in pain, covering her ears, saying how she's still awake. Suddenly, she finds herself in the middle of desert and hears a voice warning her not to enter Nahutal. She then sees a flaming Aztec representation of a bird telling her she will die if she enters Nahutal, while a giant rattlesnake tells her if she doesn't enter Nahutal, then everyone will die. Aracely's abdomen begins to bleed, and there is a loud thumping sound. A zombie rises out of the ground and tries to grab her, saying “Mictlan is coming.” Then from out of the zombie's mouth is the rattlesnake, which says that “Mictlan cannot rise without [her],” then opens its jaw and strikes towards her. The thumping grows louder and Aracely screams as she finds herself back in her room.
We then see Kaine on the balcony after having had sex with Anabelle, when she approaches him. Kaine tells her that they need to talk, but Anabelle says “talking is boring” and kissed him again. Then, as she holds him, Anabelle says that Kaine is “everything [she] hoped he would be” and that her “children will love him.” Naturally, Kaine dumbfounded by this, but before he can ask Anabelle about her "children," Aracely calls for him. When Kaine and Anabelle go to Aracely, they find Officer Wally Layton, dressed in full tactical gear, pointing a rifle at Kaine, listing off the many federal charges Kaine is wanted for and says he's placing him under arrest.
In the hotel lobby, we see Anabelle arrive, much to the surprise of the receptionist, who says she saw Anabelle earlier wearing different clothes. Anabelle, however, says she has no idea what the receptionist is talking about as she's only just arrived and that she's going upstairs. As Anabelle gets to the elevator, a dark-haired woman carrying an over-sized duffel bag, darts inside, and tells Anabelle to press the floor for the presidential suite. When Anabelle, knowing the presidential suite is Kaine's room, asks the woman who she is going to see, she matter-of-factually replies, much to Anabelle's shock, “Kaine. My lover.”
Back in Kaine's room, Aracely tries to get Wally to lower his gun as Kaine is their friend, but Wally refuses, and demands to know if Kaine will continue to lie or admit that he's a murderer. Kaine confesses that he is, that everything Kraven said about him was true, that he fought super-heroes, killed for money, and even killed those he thought he loved. As Kaine offers his surrender, “Anabelle” pleads with Kaine that she needs him, while Aracely tells Wally that Kaine saved their lives. Wally, however, says Kaine didn't save Donald's life, and that Kaine is a criminal and murderer who needs to be punished. Kaine then says he never wanted any of this to happen, wants no one else to get hurt because of him, and says that if he could trade places with Donald, he would. Then he knells down and places his hands behind his head. Wally then says how he just doesn't want to lose Donald, and we see Aracely using her powers to convince Wally that Kaine isn't to blame. Wally, however, realizes what Aracely is trying to do, saying if she doesn't stop, he'll bring her in as well, and that no matter what, Kaine is coming with him.
At that point, there is another knock on the door, and Aracely says Anabelle is at the door, which confuses both Kaine and Wally while the "Anabelle" in the room mutters "no." Despite their protests, Aracely gleefully races off to get the door, and sure enough, the real Anabelle enters. She demands Kaine to tell her who the dark-haired woman is claiming to be his lover, and Kaine sees that its Zoe Walsh, the daughter of Roxxon Oil's CEO from way back in Scarlet Spider#7, #8, and #9. Then Anabelle, upon seeing both Wally holding Kaine at gunpoint and her double already in the room, demands to know what is going on. Anabelle's doppelganger tells her that she, like Zoe, has also slept with Kaine, but that she's "keeping him" and that “her children are waiting.” Then the other "Anabelle" transforms to reveal herself to be Shathra the Spider-Wasp from Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #46-#48 (Remember what Julia Carpenter's letter said in Scarlet Spider #16 and what the black letters spelled?) At that moment, Zoe says she hates to interrupt, but that she has “come for a reason,” then pulls out of her duffel bag an RPG. Wally and Kaine tell her to put the rocket launcher down, but Zoe says even though she thinks she loves Kaine, he still put her father in a coma. Then she pulls the trigger, and the last page shows a massive explosion from the top floors of the hotel.
As regular readers of the Scarlet Spider are well aware, there have been many subplots throughout the run which, as the series wound down, needed resolution. Among these have been Acarely strange visions of an upcoming Mayan Apocalypse, Kaine's former psychotic one-night stand Zoe seeking revenge, and Julia Carpenter's message warning Kaine to leave town and Anabelle burning the letter before Kaine ever saw it. Well it seems that these story lines, some of which go back several issues, are finally being brought to fruition and result is sheer chaos for Kaine and his supporting cast, and sheer chaos for the reader.
On the bright side, you really have to admire Yost and Burnham for how they were able to weave in all these desperate elements together, and it's actually quite hysterical to see Kaine not only having to deal with not only facing arrest but also three different women who have fallen for him showing up at the same time. Unfortunately, it also feels incredibly rushed and cramped, as it's painfully obvious that the subplots involving Wally, Zoe, and Shathra were intended to have far more time and development devoted to them. One can only imagine what these would've been like had the series not been on the verge of cancellation and thus been given more time to breathe.
While it makes sense in the context of the story, seeing Kaine yet again having angst and not considering himself a hero after his realization in the last story arc how being a hero or a monster was matter of choice feels like he's regressed as a character, and this characteristic has become long past tiresome at this point. However, the very fact Kaine was willing to turn himself in to Wally and not run away from his darker past does show that he has come a very long way since the first issue. Also, the twist on his attempt at “Spider-Man No More!” was extremely funny, as the series has always worked best when it tweaked the more traditional aspects of Spider-Man and turn them on its head.
Equally enjoyable, once again, is Aracely, as her overly-cheerful deposition and innocent frankness is used to great effect throughout. It's another reminder of how terrific a character she is and what a great dynamic she has with her more moodier, self-loathing champion.
Finally, David Baldeon once more turns in some very good and serviceable illustrations. After having seen the title go through a series of multiple artists ever since the departure of Ryan Stegman, Baldeon, I believe, has a style that suits the title perfectly and, in hindsight, would've been fine as the regular artist. All the more of a shame that the series is about to come to a close with the next issue. I just hope with Scarlet Spider #25 the finale, while I'm sure will be a fun romp, will not be so bittersweet.