Thank goodness Scarlet Spiders came along to breathe some life into “Spider-Verse.”
When I walk away from “Spider-Verse,” I will remember several distinct details. The overall disappointment with the narrative structure and flow is almost inevitable and will probably stay with me for some time, particularly since this is an arc for which I had such high hopes initially. The editorial inability to figure out what the story actually was and consistently manage its various parts has put a damper on my enjoyment that will likely take a while to recover. But I will also walk away with my memory of Scarlet Spiders, and how it ended its own arc in a satisfying way that made it one of the few bright spots in the “Spider-Verse” saga.
My overall enjoyment of Scarlet Spiders has grown steadily during the run of the mini-series, as the story built in such a way that made it separate from “Spider-Verse” while still managing to serve the plot of the larger narrative and prove itself a pivotal bit of storytelling in its own right. We’ve seen the story told with a different emphasis on each of the involved Spiders, and their quest to topple the machinations of the mad Inheritor, Jennix, and his cloning facilities has given readers an interesting glimpse into their characters as things have gotten progressively more complicated and the stakes have steadily risen. With this final installment, Mike Costa writes an action-packed, emotional denouement that Paco Diaz illustrates in vivid, kinetic lines and is brought to life with Israel Silva’s lively colors.
I don’t usually include covers as part of my reviews, but this is one instance where the cover contributed significantly to my enjoyment of the issue. David Nakayama’s image of the three Spiders’ silhouettes does a masterful job of immediately establishing tension and setting the tone and pace for the story inside. While a genre-savvy reader shouldn’t have much difficulty figuring out who the red silhouette is (I won’t spoil it), it makes little difference in terms of demonstrating that the stakes in this issue are high indeed, and that readers will be interested in the outcome of this story.
Character moments were also very strong in this segment of the story. Costa demonstrates a deft understanding of his three protagonists, and does an excellent job of giving them distinct personalities, dialog, and moments to shine during the final struggle with Jennix. Kaine’s surly to-the-point attitude may be relatively one-note, but his struggle to retain his humanity during the battle and not give in to the Other is as compelling as Ben Reilly’s quippy snark and ability to improvise distractions in a fight where their lives are in very real danger. Jess continues to serve as the balance point between the two of them, but also contributes significantly to the action, first by cleverly turning Jennix’s automated defense systems against him, and then by showing herself more than capable of taking care of herself in a fight with that reality’s Human Torch.
Continuing the tradition of telling the story from a different Spider’s perspective per issue, we get a third-person look at Ben Reilly’s thoughts as well as a strong glimpse into what this particular Ben Reilly’s reality was before he became involved in “Spider-Verse.” This adds an immensely intriguing take on who he is as a person, and how he handles situations that escalate into no-win scenarios establishes him as a worthy successor of the Spider-Mantle in any reality. His devotion is to the mission and to his teammates, and because of that, this character, with whom I am the least familiar, quickly wins me over as a result.
I mentioned earlier that this issue was action-packed, and it truly was. As far as fight scenes go, Scarlet Spiders #3 delivers an intense, well-paced battle that strikes me as one of the better fights I’ve read in some time. These three are clearly outmatched by Jennix physically, and they’re on his home turf, making things even more difficult, but they use every bit of teamwork, resourcefulness and sheer power at their disposal to make the fight as even as possible, and it comes off both believably and dynamically. From blinding Jennix with webs, dropping vats on him, incinerating him with a turret, and flinging him away from a teammate with a web-line, the Spiders turn in an epic, memorable struggle against a comparative Titan of a foe, demonstrating just how well they can work together when the stakes have gotten so high in this story.
It would of course be impossible to talk about the action without mentioning how it was depicted in the artwork. Paco Diaz is at his action best in this installment, delivering kinetic, highly stylized fights called for in the script, while also capturing effectively the narrative beats underlying the battle. Jennix’s surprised horror is as hilarious before Ben drops a vat on him as the depiction of the actual vat dropping. Jess’s battle with Johnny is told in a relatively few panels, but shows readers just enough action to drive home the point that she can both out-think and out-fight the Human Torch. And as the battle rages on, everyone’s facial expressions are memorably conveyed, from Ben’s sneering resignation to Jennix’s desperation once he realizes he’s about to lose, to Kaine’s baleful determination. It’s all rendered in a hyper-posed, cartoony style that really comes into its own in this issue, vibrantly infused with Silva’s wide-ranging color palette.
It all makes for a satisfying, if somewhat bittersweet conclusion to a story that could have gone anywhere, given the overall focus of “Spider-Verse” so far. When our three Spiders reach the end of this issue, a story is told, a conclusion is reached, and the actions in this mini-saga have had a noticeable impact on the bigger story. Scarlet Spiders will stand out to me as one of the “Spider-Verse” stories that retained strong narrative focus, demonstrating how good the larger arc could have been, had the writers and editors managed the various story elements better. I believe readers of “Spider-Verse” would be doing themselves a favor by checking out this gem.