Spidey Speculation on...the New Scarlet Spider series

Posted by Mike McNulty, a.k.a. Stillanerd 20 November 2011

Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman’s Scarlet Spider doesn’t begin until the beginning of next year, but we did get a “prologue” of sorts in Marvel Point One #1. Not only do we get in-story confirmation that he will, indeed, be Kaine, but we also learned a few things too, apart from what we already knew in “Spider-Island.” Further details of the upcoming series have also provided us with additional details in which to make some guesses about what this series may be like, and what we can expect from the adventures of the one-time villainous spider-clone. With that said, here are some of my outlandish ideas and theories about the new Scarlet Spider.

Before we begin with what may be in store for him, we need to recap what we already know about Kaine up until this point. We know that, thanks to his death and resurrection in “The Grim Hunt,” he apparently went through a similar process that Peter did during “The Other: Evolve or Die,” meaning he now has organic webbing and retractable bone-link stingers. We also know that he “borrowed” Peter’s “Big Time” stealth-suit, and Marvel Point One #1 reveals he apparently re-designed it into a different style and color scheme.

We also know that, when he feel into the vat of Anti-Venom goop during “Spider-Island,“ Kaine was not only cured of his monstrous “Tarantula” form, but that it also cured him of his clone degeneration to the point where he now looks identical to Peter. However, it apparently was far more extensive that we thought; not only is Kaine no longer dying, but we also learn from Marvel’s Point One #1 that he no longer is able to see into the future as he originally did, and since those precognitive abilities were essentially a much more powerful version of his “spider-sense,” we have to assume that his spider-abilities are now back on par with Peter’s as well.

So where does that leave Kaine as things stand now? Well one thing the story in Point One shows us is that, now that he’s no longer dying, Kaine has a new lease on life and realizes he can make it his own. Then again, perhaps due to his “Parker DNA” it still means putting on a Spider-costume and swinging into action--he’s just going to be more ruthless and less chatty about it.

One thing Yost reminds us about in an interview he had on Marvel’s website is that, unlike Ben Reily, Kaine doesn’t have the same memories, experiences, and even the same sense of responsibility that Peter has. He has the same DNA as Peter, but is not Peter himself. This means that while he may have Peter’s high IQ and possibly an aptitude for science, he’s not a scientist himself. Nor does he have skills as a photographer, so no pictures of himself as the Scarlet Spider to sell to newspapers for him earn some extra cash. This means is that Kaine, for all intents and purposes, needs to get a life. And the first step appears to be giving himself a makeover by--what else--getting a haircut and a shave just like another Spider-Man clone did. If taking the Scarlet Spider mantle wasn’t controversial enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaine also dyed his hair blond and called himself “Ben Reilly” as a way of making atonement towards his deceased adversary. After all, he can’t exactly go around calling himself Kaine considering his fugitive status, so he has to have another alias of some kind.

Initially, I speculated that Kaine was going to wander from city to city not unlike another guy with the same Biblical name from the cult classic TV series, Kung-Fu. However, we now know that Kaine will be forced by circumstance to set up shop in Houston, Texas. I have to say, considering how most superhero comics usually take place in New York, Los Angeles, or some facsimile thereof, this is a potentially refreshing location. The state of Texas has its own unique set of values and culture compared to the East and West Coast, which would provide a lot of material for Kaine’s dark sarcasm, I imagine, and help to add to a “fish out of water" feel. We also learn according to one interview that because “Houston doesn’t have as many skyscrapers,” Kaine will be forced to re-think how he web-slings, resorting to having hitch a ride via clinging onto moving vehicles more often and even having his own car by the second issue. Considering how Spider-Man is a superhero tailor-made for New York, having Kaine get around differently helps to further separate him from the original and make him seem more out of place.

In fact, Kaine being an outsider appears it’s going to be greatly emphasized in this series. From Yost’s description, one gets the sense that it’s a Western and not just because it takes place in Texas. We potentially have a story of a mysterious stranger with a dark past who breezes into a town held in the grip of vice and corruption, disrupting the established order of things, and meets kind-hearted people that help to see the good within him and find redemption. Granted, the mysterious stranger in this case is a clone of a superhero with arachnid-like powers, is pitted up against super-powered beings and evil corporations, and it takes place in the present day, but it still appears to conform to classic Western tropes and themes.

It makes sense that, in order to have an ongoing series, Kaine would need people around him in spite of his more solitary nature. Yost mentions that one of the “breakout characters” of the new series is going to be Aracely, an amnesiac 16-year old girl Kaine rescues when he first arrives. Mention of a “language barrier” and the art from issue #1 showing Kaine rescuing her suggest she’s a Mexican immigrant smuggled, along with others, into the country but essentially left for dead. In any case, it appears that she’s slated to become Kaine’s “kid sidekick” and that she’ll regard him as a surrogate older brother. It wouldn’t surprise me if Aracely is also the only supporting character to know that Kaine is the Scarlet Spider.

Another character that gets mentioned by name is a Four Seasons bartender/singer named Annabelle. While it’s difficult to tell from the preview art, I get a sort of “Mary Jane” feel about her, which, if this indeed the case, Yost may purposefully invoke. Perhaps, if Kaine is going to be living in the Four Seasons, he may do some part-time bartender along with her. In any case, she definitely appears to be “potential love interest” material.

There is also mention of a character Kaine will met who is a doctor after he tries to take Aracely to the emergency room. If this doctor, who is so far unnamed, is going to be a recurring character, one idea I can see is that Kaine, if he’s not going to be a bartender, could get a job as an orderly at the same hospital the doctor works at. Since it would be a hospital in a large, metropolitan city, this would be an avenue for a lot of victims of crime and law enforcement intel for Kaine to use as the Scarlet Spider, as well as hiding in plain sight from the authorities.

Speaking of which, there’s also mention of another, nameless character who is a police officer. It’s likely that this character could be a primary antagonist for Kaine, someone who attempts to apprehend the Scarlet Spider as part of a task force. It stands to reason this would be the case given Kaine’s status, not to mention calls back to the original Spider-Man being distrusted by the authorities.

Being a spin-off of Spider-Man, it’s a given that Kaine will have to cross paths with some of Spidey’s villains, and according to Yost, Kaine will go up against one of the “great“ villains in the near future. Out of all of the webhead’s assorted collection of colorful rogues, the one that springs into mind is Kraven the Hunter. Why him? If you recall back to “The Grim Hunt” storyline, you will remember it was Kaine’s death which brought Kraven the Hunter back to life; and you will also remember that Kraven is immortal and can only be killed by Spider-Man. Or a clone of Spider-Man. This, along with the back-up stories of that arc showing how Kaine and Kraven first met, established them as archenemies, two sides of the same coin forever linked, destined to eventually kill one another.

Mention is also made in this same Marvel article that other villains from various corners of the Marvel Universe will also be stopping by, including “a group from the X-Men comics” (which makes sense, considering how Yost used to write for various X-Men series). Since most of the villainous mutants have now sided with the X-Men, that organizations like the Purifiers, U-Men, the Sentinels, and now the new Hellfire Club are specifically focused on eradicating mutants, and that the parasitic extraterrestrial Brood are too outer space for a series like this, we can probably discount those. That leaves one group in particular: the ruthless cyborg criminals known as the Reavers. Granted, they were supposedly destroyed during the X-Men crossover, Messiah Complex, although one of them, Lady Deathstrike, was able download her consciousness. Perhaps the rest were able to do the same. And they seem like the type of characters who would easily fit into the high-tech, modern-day Western that the Scarlet Spider series appears to be adopting.

There also appears to be a greater emphasis placed on organized crime and shady corporations for this series as well, with Roxxon being mentioned. For those who aren’t up on their Marvel lore, Roxxon is an oil company which has a long standing history in the creation and hiring of super-villains, so it stands to reason that, as an oil company, they would have a headquarters =in the Lone Star state. I suspect that Roxxon Oil will be for Kaine what OsCorp was for Spider-Man, or more or less what LexCorp is for Superman; that is while the company provides jobs for the city and is involved in several philanthropic and humanitarian ventures, they are still at the heart of a vast, international criminal organization. Naturally, this makes for a formidable opponent for Kaine in that Roxxon is “untouchable” and “protected” while he’s a wanted criminal.

It is because of him being regarded as a criminal that Kaine would also be an enemy for other superheroes, and Yost mentions that the Rangers would attempt to apprehend him. For those who don't know, these are a group of superheroes from the American Southwest who decided to get together to help the Hulk rescue Rick Jones, and are currently the official superhero team of Texas under the Avengers Initiative. Not only does it show Kaine is essentially having to deal with threats from all sides, but it also allows for an opportunity to show that all superheroes are not strictly confined to the New York and California.

However, new villains are also the name of the game in a series like this. One of them mentioned specifically by name is Xiuhcoatl, named after the Aztec serpent god of fire. While we don’t know much about this new villain (other than he presumably have fire-based powers, of course) I imagine that since we’re told that he’s the first villain Kaine will fight as the Scarlet Spider and taking into account what I’ve speculated about Aracley, my guess is that Xiuhcoatl will be a “coyote” (the slang-term used for smugglers of illegal immigrants), and that after he collects payment from his “cargo,” he purposefully kills them.

Finally, Yost states there will be a possible love interest who is also a "crazy psychopath." The first thing that occurs to me is this could be someone from Kaine's past, someone he used to work with back when he was a mercenary, a former lover perhaps. Or maybe, it's the Jackal's proto-Gwen clone from the Spider-Island: Deadly Foes issue having somehow survived? She seemed like a great concept that was too easily thrown-away, and if brought back, would provide a twisted revamp of the Peter and Gwen romance between their two clones.

One last thing we have to ask ourselves: will this new series be successful? Hard to say. Traditionally, spin-off titles of well-established superheroes do not do as well, particularly if the main character is seen as a copycat of the original hero. That being said, the latest Venom series has done particularly well, proving that a spin-off title can be popular given the right concept. Also, Kaine does have a following among Spider-Man fans, particularly those who have an affinity for the Clone Saga, and the Scarlet Spider does have a soild creative team behind him. Considering the state of today's market, a new series that can last for 12 issues or more can be considered a hit, so as long as this title can last that long, I'm optimistic enough to think that we'll still be following Kaine's adventures in Houston this time next year. Until then, we'll see how things do turn out when it begins.

If you accept the possibility that the marriage was a problem for the Spider‑Man books in some way, there is the legitimate question of why a magic retcon of any sorts was necessary at all. In a society where the majority of marriages end in divorce, why not have Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage come to an end that way? There’s also likely an excellent story to be told in the death of Mary Jane and the aftermath, so why not do that?

Either way, the stories fans have read since Amazing Spider‑Man Annual 21 still happened the same way. This avoids the current continuity problems and questions about how such a significant event could have no discernible impact whatsoever. And the character of Spider‑Man can grow and evolve, as can Mary Jane (in one of the two scenarios) while new readers won't be confused when forced to reconcile the never married Spider‑Man of the new books with the married Spider‑Man in some reprints.

The problems with killing Mary Jane

When the initial rumors about “One More Day” began to circulate, there was some concern amongst fans that Mary Jane would be killed. This intensified thanks to the the cliffhanger of the penultimate chapter of the Amazing Spider Man’s Civil War tie in, which showed Mary Jane in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. I was never concerned that Joe Quesada would kill off the character for a few reasons, namely that making Peter Parker a widower is not the way to make him more accessible or "younger" which is one of Joe Quesada’s chief goals in undoing the marriage. I was also convinced that Marvel had a big plan to undo the unmasking, and could not imagine how killing Mary Jane would solve that problem.

Because it would exist in a world where the dead can return, it just makes the story far too emotionally complicated to be taken seriously. Most readers understand that major and minor deaths can (and likely will) be undone, and that would be difficult to address this in the actual story. It was essentially done before (see Howard Mackie’s last year and a half on Amazing Spider‑Man) and any future story would have to acknowledge that, which will limit and obscure Peter’s grief while maximizing the disbelief of the readers.

The story would also have inevitable comparisons to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” Odds are that it would fall short of that standard, and would lack the impact of the original.

With Mary Jane’s death, too many bad things would have happened to Peter for him to be relatable to anyone aside from the survivors of genocides. Consider what the guy had already been through, before One More Day began. He lost his parents, uncle/ foster‑father, another father figure (Capt Stacy), the love of his life (Gwen Stacy), his best friend (Harry Osborn), his next best friend/ brother‑figure (Ben Reily) and his child, in addition to the loved ones who came back from the dead (Aunt May, Mary Jane) or recovered from severe comas (Flash Thompson.)

If the second love of his life were to be killed as a result of his Spider‑Man hobby, it would also become irresponsible and morally reprehensible for Peter Parker to ever date any woman, or have any sort of social life, as this risks the lives of any acquaintance. The only people he could socialize with in any way would have superpowers, which would hurt Spider‑Man’s everyman appeal and prevent him from interacting with one of the best supporting casts in comics. Anything else would make him unlikable as a character.

The Problems With Divorce

Marvel also had the option of divorcing the couple, which I don’t believe is a viable alternative. Although there are young divorced guys, a generic divorced man seems older than a generic bachelor, or a generic married man, due to the added experience.

A divorce would also contradict every story about how Spider‑Man and Mary Jane's marriage is strong, and there were many of those. Millar's twelve issue run, Reign, Web of Romance, Sensational Spider‑Man Annual One and even Sins Past serve as recent examples. Given all they've faced in the past, it'll take a hell of an offense to convincingly write the story in which they get divorced.

Granted, if there was a severe enough infraction, most fans would probably approve of an ending to the marriage. From the Post-Civil War vitriol against Iron Man I had seen on many message boards, I am convinced that if someone wrote a story in which Mary Jane cheated on Peter, the majority of fans on message boards would have demanded a divorce (especially if Mary Jane cheated on Peter with Tony Stark). Although this would completely contradict the portrayal of the character for the last twenty years, far more than One More Day, or most other retcons.

While readers would likely hate MJ with a passion if she cheated on their favorite comic book character (and one many identify with) I also doubt they would accept of a scenario in which Peter cheats on her. They would likely blame the writer, as male readers tend to identify with Peter, and I doubt they believe they're the types of guys who would cheat on a nice girl, so therefore Peter wouldn't do the same. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I suspect that's the way the majority of the readers think.

The inevitable bad publicity a divorce would bring would be more damaging than ending the marriage in a less believable manner (although in a world with Thor, the Sentry, “No More Mutants,” Galactus and radioactive spiders granting superpowers the question of what is less believable is open to interpretation.) Divorcing Peter and Mary Jane will become a news item for various reasons, in a way that much maligned events in "The Other" and "Sins Past" were not. The media didn't report on "The Other" because superheroes killing isn't seen as unusual, given how many heroes in movies and TV shows kill. The media didn't report on "Sins Past" because the majority of the general public didn't know who Gwen Stacy was, or her relationship to Spider‑Man, and the appeal of a story for newscasters is limited, if too much time has to be spent putting the story into some context.

But if some newscaster on Fox News reports that "Spider‑Man got divorced from Mary Jane" that's going to poison the opinions of potential buyers for all sorts of Spider-Man merchandise. Given how convoluted it was, One More Day wasn’t something a newscaster can sum up in a five second sound bite as easily as a divorce story (which would make for a nice two minute fluff piece, with a few clips from the movies, and brief interviews with concerned parents, and religious leaders.) The Comic Book events that got media attention: Civil War, Spider‑Man’s unmasking, Captain America’s death, the lesbian Batwoman and even the electric Superman suit all could be summed up easily, before some media personalities spend a few minutes discussing what it means. Likewise, who thinks younger kids with divorced parents want to read about that as the major subplot for Amazing Spider-man for some time?

There is the probability that some kid who just started reading the new issues of Amazing Spider‑Man five years from now will also buy some Spider‑Man Trade Paperbacks or back issues in which Peter and Mary Jane were married, and assume that they got divorced. This would not have the same level of negative impact as an actual divorce. Even if the kid assumes that the couple broke up, the magic retcon still avoided the initial bad press of a divorce, and had a limited impact on whether new readers are interested in the books. Eventually some comic book would probably reference the exact nature of the magic retcon, or a website (wikipedia, Spiderfan, Newsarama, message boards, thecomiccrypt.com, etc) will set the kid straight. An actual divorce would make it less likely that the kid will pick up an issue of Spider‑Man in the first place.

Problems With Either Solution

Death and divorce both have the disadvantages of being milestones for the character. With a magic retcon, the strangeness of the break‑up would make Peter appearing physically older less of a concern, especially as it’s something that would rarely impact future storylines, or Peter’s interactions with others. Supporting cast members are expected to reference a divorce or death every now and then, along with Peter’s new marital status. In both cases he’ll seem older (and less identifiable to younger readers) and it’ll be obvious how much time has passed since the end of his marriage. Even if Peter (or Mary Jane) becomes aware of the magic retcon, it’s not expected to come up often in conversation, which would ensure that it gets referenced less.



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