When Kaine, Ben Reilly, and Ultimate Jessica Drew went on a clone-related clone quest to take out what they figured were a bunch of clones, it reeked of “side quest reading,” with the potential to go either in the very contrived and ho-hum direction of non-essential reading, or to be a vital piece of a much larger puzzle. While I won’t yet presume to call the Scarlet Spiders mini-series a must-read companion piece to “Spider-Verse,” I’m happy to say that this second installment makes for a strong middle to a story that could have a very wide impact on the larger story. The clones have taken it upon themselves to destroy the Inheritors’ own cloning facility, and while this setup has a few of its own problems, it’s also allowed for an interesting glimpse into the minds of the heroes, and that of Jennix, one of the more enigmatic and unique Inheritors that make up Morlun’s twisted family.
Laying to rest the question of whether or not the Inheritors are able to re-spawn due to the use of clone technology, the clone Spiders locate the building where Jennix carries out his manufacture of spare bodies for his family. Kaine and Ben Reilly are quickly discovered by security, and end up making their way in by force once Kaine decides to start beating up the guards. This has the effect of diverting the guards from hunting Jessica, whose role in this issue is essentially that of a talking head. She guides them to the main cloning storage and struggles with breaking back into their foes’ security system while Kaine and Reilly figure out how to disable or destroy it permanently.
Mike Costa does his readers a narrative solid by talking about this issue from Kaine’s perspective, suggesting that he’ll balance things out by ending the series with Ben Reilly’s point of view. He also demonstrates a solid understanding of Kaine by touching on a number of the newest Scarlet Spider’s many tropes: his quick temper, his brusque attitude, and his dislike of being compared to Peter Parker. These make for some amusing, if somewhat predictable character moments that are nevertheless fun to read. Perhaps the crowning moment of the issue for him is when Kaine finds the twisted failures in Jennix’s attempts to clone Spiders, and, seeing the parallels to himself and his life in the failed clones, destroys one of the vats housing them.
I do feel like the writing does less to clog the flow of action than it did in the previous installment. While I know there has been some continued grousing about Costa’s text-heavy script, I simply haven’t noticed it as much in this issue. I don’t know if it simply reads better, or if I’m just dense, but neither the dialog nor the text boxes portraying Kaine’s thoughts pulled me out of the story in any particular way.
While Kaine may get the spotlight in this issue, the other players are still given their moments to shine. Trying to serve as a quippy counterbalance to Kaine’s direct brutality, Ben Reilly gets several amusing remarks in, from his reactions to Kaine’s use of force to an exchange with Jess over pop culture knowledge. Jennix, the villain for this mini-series, is the typical mastermind, smug in his supposedly superior position over the heroes, yet displaying more patience and forethought than his combat-oriented siblings in trying to clone the Inheritors’ food source, a feat he has been unable to accomplish. His delight at finding two Spider-Clones in his facility shows that, for all his intelligence, he may be even more twisted than the rest of his family.
Continuing another theme from the previous issue (as well as “Spider-Verse” in general), we also get to see prominent characters from Spider-Man’s life, reflected in this new dimension to resemble Jennix’s warped world-view. Whereas we saw a crazed Tony Stark in the first installment, here we get a hyper-militant Human Torch who serves as the head of security for Jennix’s world, and a lapdog version of Miles Warren that’s subservient to Jennix. While it’s not explicitly stated, it looks like Kaine and Reilly are unwillingly helped by a timid (and thinner) version of Max Modell as well. It’s a mixed bag of obvious and not so obvious Easter eggs that, while somewhat interesting, is starting to feel repetitious and contrived as the narrative continues.
I continue to enjoy Paco Diaz’s art in this series. The exaggerated poses, the hyperkinetic action, and the ultra-expressive faces do a good job of serving the script’s premise that this is a high-stakes mission the clones are on. Jennix looks like a more gaunt version of Sebastian Shaw, and Diaz does a good job of making him appear both sinister and contemplative. Aided by Israel Silva’s stark, vibrant colors, the artwork continues to support the story admirably. My only nitpick is with his depiction of Kaine in places. Kaine’s eye pieces on his costume are displayed as bulbous, which while an interesting artistic choice, doesn’t square with my recollection of how the new Scarlet Spider costume should look. As I recall, the eye pieces should be flat, like they are on virtually all of the Spider-Man costumes Peter Parker has ever designed. Again, it’s a nitpick, but something that I noticed while reading.
When I picked up the first issue of this mini-series, I was very excited, but also had some apprehensions about the direction it was going, and whether it would be able to hold my interest as a reader. The action, plot development, and characterizations in this issue have advanced the story nicely and made things personal enough that I’m eager to see their resolution. Jennix’s reveal about the fate he has in store for them adds a last-minute twist that is both horrifying and intriguing, and while it may not boost this mini-series up to the level of required reading, it makes for an enjoyable read for Spider-Fans who are liking “Spider-Verse.”