Obviously this cover is an homage to the Superior Spider-Man #1 cover (original AND homage both drawn by Stegman) but it is also the second cover of this series to pay homage to a Spidey #1 issue. Scarlet Spider #1’s cover was in homage to Todd MacFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 from 1990. So does this cover signal a new era? Read on.
“A Good, Ol’ Fashioned Rodeo”
Writer: Chris Yost
Pencils: Khoi Pham
Inks: Pallot & Olazaba
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artists: Stegman & Delgado
Editor: Tom Brennan
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: Wally, Donald, and Aracely drag Kaine to a rodeo, which is the last place he wants to be. When Annabelle shows up, Kaine makes a faux pas and is forced to confront the fact that she likes him. When he goes after her, her very large ex-boyfriend named Ray shows up to talk. Before this can escalate much, everything is interrupted when The Armadillo drunkenly crashes through the rodeo pining for his true love – who just got engaged to a rodeo star. Kaine manages to talk down the Armadillo (and he gets the girl!) and then follows the example of that couple to go punch Ray and kiss Annabelle. From the crowd, Ana Kraven asks her father, “Well, father?” to which he replies, “Soon, Ana.”
MY THOUGHTS: Thank God. Thank God this comic is back to form. I was so disheartened last month that my faith in this comic was actually shaken. But lo (what the hell theme have I started here? Lo?) – Kaine is on a horse fighting a drunken Armadillo!
Right off the bat in this issue we get a lighter tone with Kaine talking very ominously about the rodeo coming up. Now, I’m not saying this comic needs to have a lighter tone. I’m a guy that definitely goes in for a darker tone in my comics, and I’ve enjoyed some issues of this one that were dark. But the lighter tone at the start of this one signaled two things: 1) A definite break from last issue, and 2) Scarlet Spider being firmly in its own wheelhouse. We know this comic does lighthearted superheroics well, because, to be blunt, if your favorite issue isn’t #12 where Kaine fought a bunch of fake Santas, then I just don’t know what to tell you.
Aracely continues to develop here, as we get her blue glowing eye thing at the rodeo when she seems to read the mind of the rodeo star, going instantly from never hearing of him to knowing all about him, including what he just did. This is a nice way to keep an ongoing subplot going while making it actually relate to the story. Where sometimes these sorts of things can really feel shoehorned in as if to say “Don’t forget this from last month, it’ll be important again later!” this use of her power felt natural and organic in the telling of THIS tale, rather than being slave to any other.
I also have to complement Chris Yost on pulling off a brilliant bit of exposition here. Comic book fans all know that exposition in this ongoing monthly format is necessary for many reasons, but often feels clunky and can turn into just a page of a hero recounting his own origin for no particular reason. But here, when Armadillo shows up, it really does feel 100% natural that Wally and Donald would have a quick exchange about just who he is. Because he’s the freaking Armadillo! The panel goes like so:
Aracely: “It’s a giant roly-poly. That is @#$% AWESOME.”
Donald: “Jar! That’s the Armadillo, isn’t it? I can’t remember if he’s a hero or a villain.”
Wally: “He WAS a hero till the Rangers fired him. I better get down there.”
The average comic book reader’s exposition sense will still go off when reading that brief exchange, but where that is usually followed by annoyance, here it should be followed with a smirk for the ingenuity in getting that bit of background in quickly and cleanly. I know it was for me.
And oh, the poor Armadillo. The guy is drunk and riding a bull (which is much smaller than him) to try to impress his girl. And when he falls off the bull, what does he exclaim? “No! Horsie! Don’t you leave me too!” Saddest. Guy. Ever. For being such a monstrous, hulking guy, Armadillo is immediately established as someone we do not want to see get wailed on by Kaine. Because he’s just too pathetic. And Kaine, who is initially looking forward to a physical release, sees that pretty quickly too when he notices…the Armadillo is crying. Saddest. Guy. Ever.
But it’s ok! Because the sad Armadillo got the girl, which I think warmed all our hearts. Is the metaphor here a bit heavy handed? A guy who’s a monster (and refers to himself as such) pushed away a redhead but ended up with her in the end? Yeah, there’s no veil to this one. But in the end it’s alright. We all see what Yost is doing quite early on, but it’s just really not the sort of thing where you mind. He’s moving his characters forward with a fun, silly story that never stops entertaining and that’s what’s important.
We may still be a little heavy on teases for the future here, though. You remember last issue there were multiple epilogues with multiple teases for the future which by and large told us not really anything. In this issue there are two more big ones. First, we finally see, at the beginning of the issue, the letter Julia Carpenter (current Madame Web, current coma patient) sent to Kaine several issues ago, which is really a lot of rambling about “She is coming back.” And then oddly at the end of the issue we see that two days before the events of this issue, Annabelle took possession of that note and burned it. So what does this mean? Knowing the only real relationship between Kaine and Julia Carpenter comes from The Grim Hunt and Spider-Island, if there’s a “she” who is coming “back,” then it would be fair to say it’s probably either Ana Kraven or The Queen. Now Ana Kraven doesn’t seem like she, by herself, would warrant this terrified-sounding note written by Julia. So The Queen? And then we have to wonder why Annabelle burned it. Clearly this scene is meant to establish she’s not who she says she is and she’s probably someone sinister. So is Annabelle the “she” in the note? Is she – god forbid – actually The Queen? Personally I’ve utterly hated both of the two stories that character has ever appeared in, so I’m going to cast my vote hoping that’s not the case. But who knows. I’m sure one of you will point out in the comments the obvious thing I missed that holds the key to this whole thing anyway.
The second tease in this issue, of course, is the return of Kraven and his daughter. This is something that’s been building for most of the series, so here’s hoping it’s leading to something big. As it is, though, I admit the teases have ceased to really tantalize me because they have come to nothing for so long. I’m sure I will enjoy the story when it gets here, but we’re past the point where the mere appearance of these two characters and the word “soon” really carries much weight for me.
I feel like I’m wrapping up and I haven’t talked enough about how awesome the whole Armadillo thing is. I mentioned Armadillo rode a bull – did I mention the Scarlet Spider rode a horse? Hell yes – our hero came riding in on a horse. And his narration caption was, appropriately, “I swear to God, this was the fastest way.” And to truly complete the big cheesy hero moment there is a large burst of someone off-panel yelling, “It’s the Scarlet Spider!” Brilliant. Just exactly what you wanted out of this issue.
The last thing I’ll comment on is to bring us full circle – the cover. This is a great cover. I loved it when it was Superior Spider-Man #1, and frankly I love it even more with the Scarlet Spider. I do not, however, understand why it is on this issue. For a few reasons, really. 1) Using an homage to another Spidey #1 issue could mean this was the beginning of an all-new era for the book, a sort of Marvel NOW! Scarlet Spider. But that’s not what this was. 2) Mirroring a Superior Spider-Man image could have signaled this is where Scarlet Spider, like Spider-Ock, gets darker and more dangerous. This is where the monster takes over. But that’s not what this was. 3) If someone wanted to pick up an issue of this book that was a little bit lighter in tone and more fun while exemplifying what’s great about this book, this is the wrong cover to advertise that with. All in all, I think this cover should have appeared on Scarlet Spider #15, in which Kaine WAS the monster. Frankly I wasn’t a fan of that issue’s cover and this would have fit much better there. Here it’s just a beautiful piece of art wanting for a context.
GRADE: A+ This was a great issue of Scarlet Spider, and really the kind of thing we keep coming back to this book for. I may have found the cover to be an odd choice, but I don’t really tend to factor the cover into an issue’s grade in general. And while the Kraven tease didn’t do anything for me, it also didn’t detract from the great reading experience. So full, above and beyond points for this one!