“In the Midst of Wolves Part 2”
Writer: Chris Yost
Pencils: Khoi Pham
Inks: Palmer, Pallot, Bit, Wong & Kesel
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artists: Stegman & Delgado
Editor: Tom Brennan
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: After being killed by Los Lobos last issue, Kaine is confronted in limbo by the spider-god from all those J. Michael Straczynski stories, particularly “The Other.” Meanwhile, Aracely is running from Los Lobos, who reveal that she may be a reincarnation of a god named “Huitzilopochtli.” Aracely manages to lure the two into gang territory where all-out war breaks out and she seems to get away, though wounded. Back in limbo, the spider-god has been trying to convince Kaine to embrace him, to embrace the monster. He was failing in his pitch until Kaine realizes that he can’t just die – Aracely still needs him. And so Kaine accepts the spider-god, embraces the monster, and is reborn as “not man but spider. Not one, but THE OTHER.”
MY THOUGHTS: Chris Yost has one gigantic, adamantium-lined set of writer-balls. If you asked a Spider-Man fan before One More Day hit, “What is the most radioactive Spider-Man storyline you can think of?” some of them would have said “Sins Past,” but I think most, or at LEAST half, would have said the spider-totem storyline, especially “The Other.” The spider-totem elements themselves divided fans, but not so much between love and hate. The sides tended to be more like hate and acceptance. I never spoke with anyone who really loved the spider-totem (I’m sure they’re out there, but a majority they are not), but there were folks like myself who were at least alright with it, especially because it was written in a way that allowed it to be completely ignored. But if the spider-totem elements had divided those fans, “The Other” managed to reunite them in near-unanimous disapproval. A story that was originally conceived by JMS simply as the climax of his spider-totem arc, it became a bloated mess of a 12-part crossover with two other books it was never supposed to involve. The very idea of a story element called “The Other” actually wasn’t even part of the original story and is reported to have come from Reginald Hudlin. JMS has said he hated the title (though never revealed what his would have been).
So, given all this, what does Chris Yost decide to do? Why, dive right in, of course! I feel like he’s thrown down a gauntlet with this issue, saying, “I’m aware you all hated ‘The Other.’ Now watch me make it good.” It’s arrogant in a way that is absolutely necessary for great writing. And personally, I am riveted.
In Kaine’s transition from death to rebirth, we are also treated to some really great references to his Clone Saga origins. In the spider-god’s initial manipulations, it briefly appears as Louise Kennedy from the character-defining Spider-Man: The Lost Years (“The woman you murdered”), Ben Reilly (“The brother you tortured), and the Jackal (“The father you betrayed”). And it’s great that seeing the Jackal’s face is what breaks the illusion, leading to a “Kaine has had enough of your ^$%&” moment that we were all waiting for. Sequences like this that respect and utilize the character’s history are why Clone Saga fans are so happy that not just any good writer is handling this book, but specifically Chris Yost. In the midst of an issue so progressive that it sets out to reclaim “The Other” of all things, Yost makes time to remind us that this is still the man from “The Lost Years” we’re dealing with.
The art of Khoi Pham cannot be praised highly enough in this issue, either. Particularly in the difficult rendering of a humanoid made of spiders, this is one where the art could have and WOULD have gotten muddy under a lesser artist. But Pham not only makes it work, he makes it sing. The first full-page image of the spider-god, all made up of spiders, is gorgeous and enough to knock your socks off. This is a big issue for Scarlet Spider, and Khoi Pham definitely brought his A-game.
It has to be noted, as well, that this issue actually delivered on the previous issue’s cliffhanger. It’s become so common in any ongoing fictional medium, be it comics or TV or anything else, to see a cliffhanger where the hero apparently dies only to be followed by said hero being just fine after a fake-out that I think most, if not all, of us have come to expect the fake-out. I know I did. I may have started my last review by saying: “Well crap! Our hero is being EATEN, guys!” but I never actually expected Kaine to be dead. I assumed some sort of playing dead or extreme new healing factor or SOMETHING was going to come into play, but no. The hero died at the end. But because of how accustomed I’ve become to the fake-out, I had no idea how big the following issue was going to be. Thus, Scarlet Spider #14 was able to take me by complete surprise, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Kudos to Yost for taking an oft-employed cheap gimmick and turning it on its head.
It’s great to see Aracely’s story continue to progress here alongside the earth-shattering stuff going on with our title character. The Lobos refer back to this series’ first villain (“the fire serpent”) and reveal that she is more related to him than we ever imagined. At the beginning of the issue we saw more of her seeming empathic powers, projecting her emotions onto other people, but it seems she is much more than an empath. She may actually be a god. Chalk up another one I didn’t see coming. Either Yost’s doing really well with the surprises here or I am WAY off my game at intuiting what comes next. Frankly either way makes for a fun ride for me.
So, at issue’s end, we are left with Kaine reborn as a monster (figuratively AND literally – that is not a proper number of eyes). Basically, the game just changed entirely. And I, for one, could not be more excited to see what happens next. If you haven’t been reading Scarlet Spider, now would really be a good time to start!
GRADE: 5 dead heroes out of 5. I try not to give out the perfect scores too lightly. Scarlet Spider often gets a 4 or a 4.5 from me, but this is the kind of issue I save those 5’s for. It’s a game-changer, and I can’t imagine it being done better.