There was a time this was one of the best titles on the shelf, and I recommended it constantly. Sadly, it’s become clear that time is past. All we have left is a plodding march towards the final issue.
“Into the Grave Part 3“
Writers: Chris Yost & Erik Burnham
Artist: David Baldeon
Color Art: Chris Sotomayor
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artists: Stegman & Delgado
Editor: Tom Brennan
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: Kaine vs. Kraven. Fight fight fight. Ana Kraven slashes Donald Meland across the belly but good. Lots of yells. Fight fight. Kaine slams Kraven in the chest so hard it stops his heart, cuts people free, gives Ana a slash across the face she won’t soon forget, and then punches Kraven in the chest so hard it restarts his heart. And then punches him in the face. ‘Cause STFU. Donald’s alive but might not make it. Wally finally decides to look up Kaine’s criminal record. Uh-oh!
MY THOUGHTS: Holy wrist-spikes, this was a complete mess. Where to start?
Well, let’s start with the first thing you see: the art. For the past several issues this book has had often multiple pencilers and multiple inkers. This time we just have one penciler and…that’s it. Marvel has adopted an annoying credit style in the past several months-to-years in which it just credits a person as “artist” instead of being specific about what they did, like “Penciler,” “Pencils & Inks,” and so forth. So David Baldeon is simply credited as “artist” and the next thing we see is colorist. So with that description it COULD mean he inked his own pencils, but it seems pretty clear to me looking at these pages that there was simply no inker, his pencils went straight to color. Now for some artists this works and it’s their usual style. But there IS a reason inkers exist. For many pencilers, their pencils benefit greatly from the enhancement of inks and aren’t ready to be directly colored over. And that is the case with Mr. Baldeon. His lines are sketchy, loose, and thin. Not the kind of sure, strong hand needed from a penciler with no inks. So the whole book comes off looking very weak, and that’s a bad place to start with an issue that doesn’t have great writing to bolster it.
So then there’s an issue that’s been brought up by others before, but I was giving it to the end of the arc for some better explanation. Well, this is the end of the arc. So what we’re left with is that Kraven has intimate knowledge of Peter Parker, Ben Reilly, and Kaine. First off, we’re living in a world where the Green Goblin and Venom don’t know Spider-Man’s identity but Kraven the Hunter does, but I think I have to lay that more at the feet of the Grim Hunt than this story. And I can understand some of Kraven’s knowledge of Kaine. He said he figured out the Scarlet Spider was him, and that’s fair. From the botched ceremony the Kraven family knows there’s a Spider-Man clone, so when the Scarlet Spider pops up in Houston that would be an easy deduction. What I can’t get behind is Kraven’s intimate knowledge of Kaine’s origins and Ben Reilly. He can learn a lot about Kaine from just stalking his prey, following the guy around Houston, but that’s not going to tell him about Kaine’s creation. And who told him about Ben Reilly? It wasn’t his son, The Grim Hunter, who Ben fought. Kraven pointed out in this issue that Kaine killed him. And then he came back as a lion, and lions aren’t known for being talkative. Do we have to assume that one of the other three Kravens was watching at all times and reported on all Spider-related doings when Sergei was resurrected? A) That’s an ENORMOUS stretch, and B) I don’t want to have to figure out crazy assumptions for myself. The comic book should be offering some explanations if it’s going to make big, significant claims like this. The continuity with Kraven, what he knows, and how he knows it is definitely very murky at this point.
Next, let’s talk about Kraven just trouncing the hell out of Kaine. How? Kaine points out near the beginning of this issue that he is faster and stronger than Spider-Man, and yet Kraven is taking him to school. Kaine’s not really even getting some good shots in, he’s just getting his scarlet butt handed to him. Until, of course, it’s time for the plot to move a little and Kaine kills Kraven in one hit. I mean, I like a good fight as much as the next guy, but this just felt like the issue needed to be padded out by a lot of fighting so Kaine needed to be prevented from landing a hit on Kraven until late in the issue and there was no logical way to do that so they were just hoping that no one would question Kraven curb-stomping Kaine. It seems a poor, easy way to do this instead of taking the high road and figuring out something that makes more sense.
And hey, are mystical rituals completely governed by technicalities? This whole story rests on the idea that, because the ritual that brought Kraven back, Kaine is the only one that can kill him. Kraven even states that Ana put a knife through his heart and it did nothing. But after Kaine stops his heart with one hit, then restarts it with another hit, Kaine states confidently that their connection is broken because he was dead. Kaine, the expert on all things mystical and occult. Clearly the authority on what the ritual demands. I’m going to take a second to relate a personal anecdote here. My dad is a prosecutor and he once told me about a hilarious appeal he had to deal with, in which a convict who had been given life in prison had a heart attack and was medically dead for about a minute or two before being resuscitated. So the convict’s lawyer was arguing that he should be let out of prison, because he’d already served his life sentence, died, and was now on his second life. The appeal, of course, was denied. I swear to you, that’s a true story. So, according to this comic book, the mystical ritual that resurrected Kraven is actually less binding than the United States Department of Justice. Somehow I just have a hard time believing that. But maybe it would be easier for me if someone who actually knew anything about the rules of mystical rituals told me rather than a gruff clone who prefers hitting things to thinking and reading books.
This issue also suffers from something that I’m only now realizing is a problem with pretty much all of the multi-part arcs in this book: a lack of the supporting cast. Sure, this story is all about how important his friends have become to him, and they’re THERE, but there’s no benefit of Kaine’s interactions with them, which is part of what makes the single issue stories so great. That, I think, is a big part of where these 3-part stories have been falling down. They tend to toss Kaine into costume and he has to deal with one threat for 3 issues and that doesn’t really leave room for his private life, which I think is what a lot of us were initially drawn to about this series. One of the few things we actually get from a supporting cast member in this issue is Wally yelling out, “Kaine, get us out of here!” while Kaine’s getting actively and repeatedly pummeled in the stomach by Kraven. Great input, Wally. I’m sure Kaine hadn’t thought of that. He’ll get right on that as soon as the scantily-clad lion enthusiast stops using him for a punching bag. And I don’t even want to get into how silly it is for Aracely to just be standing there tied up. This is a girl who’s going to be on the New Warriors next year. She’s some kind of fear god. She’s just going to stand there? I think it might’ve been helpful if Ana Kraven had all of a sudden become terrified when she was about to slice open Donald, don’t you? But again, the story has to be what it has to be, and logic won’t get in the way of that.
And then in the end Wally looks up Kaine in the criminal database and finds his record. Really?! This guy’s a cop and he’s never bothered to look before? And if that isn’t silly enough, am I honestly expected to believe the police photographed Kaine with his mask on? And when exactly was this taken? We don’t see any information on the screen, just Kaine’s picture (with his old mask on) and him holding up a sign that says “NYC Police – Kaine.” Now I remember him busting into the court during the Clone Saga and confessing that he killed Louise Kennedy, not Peter Parker, but my memory’s a little fuzzy there – was he actually booked after that? I’m sure someone’s got the issues more readily available than I do to dig out, so tell me in the comments. But either way, let’s say he was booked and got his picture taken, there are still problems with this. 1) Seriously, his freaking mask is on. Did the artist not know that was a mask and just thought that’s what his face looked like in the Clone Saga? That is unutterably silly. 2) As far as Wally knows, he’s looking for Kaine Parker. The record he found was for Kaine, no last name. Now Kaine isn’t a common name, but that’s still not a definite match. And it’s not like he can look at the picture and say “Well that’s definitely the same guy” because HE’S WEARING A MASK!
UPDATE: I’ve consulted with Zach Joiner and Joshua Lapin-Bertone, two Clone Saga experts, and they tell me that Kaine was booked following that story but very soon broke out again as he was being transferred. According to them, Kaine convinced the police to let him keep his costume on because it was a containment suit keeping him alive, thus negating the problem of having the police see Peter Parker’s face under the mask. So, while it is still incredibly silly to have a mugshot with a mask on, it seems the blame for that must be assigned to the Clone Saga, and this issue’s creative team actually did their proper research to do it that way.
GRADE: D This issue was riddled with problems, many of them serious, and it didn’t even manage to look good. A poor end to an arc that started with a good issue but then went immediately downhill and stayed there. Unfortunately this once great series seems to be limping to the finish line.
And Motley Crue is going to take us out with Kraven’s new themesong: