I know what some you were probably thinking after you read the end of Scarlet Spider #13: “Oh that’s just great! First Marvel kills off Peter Parker, and now they kill off Kaine...again? What the hell is wrong with them?!” Of course, as has often been the case, death in comics is never always what it seems, especially given how this story also features mutant werewolves and prophetic dreams about Aztec deities. So lets find out how Scarlet Spider and part 2 of "In the Midst of Wolves" can continue when the star of the series is apparently dead.
After we open on Kaine’s corpse, we get a narration of Kaine attempting to remember and recite Psalm 23. Meanwhile, a tearful Aracely is fleeing from the Lobo siblings, her thoughts, emotions and even speech unintentionally being projected into other people. Aracely eventually gets cornered, but then tells Carlos Lobo that he’s scared and will die just like his brother, Eduardo. Carlos panics, but his sister, Esmerelda, realizes what Aracely is doing and attacks. Aracely attempts to flee into a taxi only to have one of the Lobo siblings leap on top of it.
We then see Kaine wake up, somehow uninjured, out of costume and inside a church. He then sees as confessional and an awaiting priest who knows Kaine by name. Kaine asks for forgiveness, but the priest wants Kaine to tell him of “the innocents he’s killed.” Suddenly, the priest changes into Louise Kennedy, Kaine’s love interest from the Spider-Man: Lost Years mini-series, who says “tell me of the woman you murdered.” Then she turns into Ben Reilly and finally the Jackal. Kaine reacts violently and, grabbing the priest, demands to know what he is, only for the priest to reply “The real question is, what are you?” As Kaine’s chest wounds suddenly reappear, and the priest tells Kaine that he’s really dead and transforms into a humanoid creature made entirely out of spiders.
Kaine attempts to fight the spider-creature, but it’s no use. The creature tells Kaine that he “always been him” and that Kaine has denied the truth all this time: that Kaine is not a man, but a “spider,” that he is “not one, but the Other.” The spider-creature then reveals to Kaine that the Great Weaver originally chose Peter Parker, that he was supposed to have embraced “the spider within him” only to reject it once he saw what he would become (as we saw in "The Other"). However, the spider-creature says found a more suitable replacement in Kaine; moreover, the spider-creature reveals he was the one who originally brought Kaine back from the dead at the end of "The Grim Hunt." Back in the real world, we see that Kaine’s body is being increased in webbing by an ever-increasing clutter of spiders.
Meanwhile in the Third Ward, Aracely is still being chase by the Lobo siblings as the taxi was in speeds away. However, Carlos grabs her and Esmerelda warns him about what the “Coyote” said about her. Carlos lets Aracely go when he tries to get into his mind again, and Esmeralda states how “the serpent” told them she has amnesia, while Carlos thinks Aracely still remembers.
When Aracely demands to know what the Lobo siblings want, Esmerelda reveals that Aracely’s full name is “Maria Aracely Josefina Penalba de Las Heras” and, quite possibly, the reincarnation of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. Carlos states Aracely is “the most dangerous of them all” and must be killed, but Esmerelda thinks they could use Esmerelda against “the trickster.” Carlos protests, saying that can’t betray him as he was the one who returned their powers and could bring back their brother, Eduardo, when he is suddenly shot. We then see it came from members of the Third Ward street gang known as the Sharks, who state the werewolves are trespassing, and the Lobo siblings realize that Aracely purposefully lead them there.
Back in the afterlife, Kaine has been webbed up by the spider-creature, who tells Kaine that, unlike Peter who “was a man who dreamed of being a spider” Kaine is a “spider who dreams of being a man” and that he needs to embrace his nature. Only then can he have real power and survive what is coming. Kaine, however, that he knows he’s a “monster” and refuses to be one, and, retracting his stingers, frees himself and slices the spider-creatures head off.
Meanwhile, as the Lobo siblings are fighting one another, Aracely attempts to use their fight to escape. However, one of the Lobo siblings sees her trying to flee and slices her in the back, wounding her. However, the Shark’s leader attacks and pummels the werewolf, allowing Aracely to hobble away.
Kaine continues to attack the spider-creature as it gradually reforms itself into a giant spider. Kaine shouts that he doesn’t care about anything the spider-creature said, and that if he’s supposed to die, then he should just die. But as Kaine is about to deliver the killing blow and thus seal his own death, he realizes that Aracely is still alive and that she needs him. Thus Kaine says “Yes” and the spider-creature begins to wrap him in a web. As this happens, Kaine reflects on how he’s tried so hard to fight the “monster” within himself, how he’s tried to be something he’s not. But what truly frightens him now is “how good it feels to stop fighting it.”
We then cut to the rooftop as Kaine's inner monologue continues. Where Kaine's body once was is a web cocoon. Suddenly, Kaine's fist with a protracted stinger bursts out of the webbing. And when we finally see Kaine...well...let's just say he looks very different, as he says to himself "My name is Kaine. Not man, but spider. Not one, but the Other."
To be continued…
I've touched upon this in my last review, but I feel it needs to be more elaborated given the revelations in this issue. One of the more fascinating aspects about Chris Yost’s Scarlet Spider series is that it was built upon and takes it’s cues from one of the most divisive and controversial eras in Spider-Man’s history, the Clone Saga, and somehow makes it seem like a proper fit in the character of Kaine. Well apparently, Yost believes he can recapture lightning in a bottle twice by relying upon yet another divisive and controversial story, this time "The Other," the story which took J. Michael Stracynski’s once ambiguous concept that Spider-Man’s origins may be, in part, rooted in totemic mysticism more so than pseudoscience and, unfortunately, confirmed it to be true. Granted, Kaine’s has shown he has the powers Peter Parker had during the Other such as organic web shooters and the retractable Wolverine-esque bone spears, but it’s never been directly addressed until this issue.
The interesting thing is that Yost uses the spider-totem angle to examine Kaine’s character and suggests that his being a “monster,“--the very thing Kaine’s been struggling with and trying to put behind him ever since the first issue--is actually a good thing. Given just who Kaine is, the question of whether he is more “spider” than “man” which "The Other" had raised is far more thematically proper here than it ever was for Peter in that story. It also, however, creates some trepidation in that Kaine, given the sacrifice he makes here, is now going backslide into his old ways given how much progress he‘s made in seeking redemption.
And speaking of character development, we get quite possibly the biggest revelation about just who or what Aracely really is, and it’s definitely a doozy. We may not have the full answers yet, but now it seems very clear what is going on if you do a quick reading of Aztec mythology, especially in regards to Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. Although I do find it interesting that Huitzilopochtli who is usually depicted as a male god has apparently reincarnated himself into a teenage girl but whatever. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes there is an Aztec spider-diety who is also, interestingly enough, a goddess of the underworld and creation. Hmm…The Great Weaver anyone?)
I know in past reviews I’ve been hard on Khoi Pham’s art, but here it looks quite good, particularly in the scenes where Kaine in the afterlife. Yes, he still has problems when it comes to anatomical proportioning in long shots, but his facial expressions and close-ups are, hands down, excellent in this issue, conveying the proper emotion when necessary. Maybe I’m just warming up more to his style, but Pham work appears to have undergone significant improvement.
All in all, "In The Midst of Wolves" is, so far, firing on all cylinders and is shaping up to be the best of the Scarlet Spider series to date. It may be hyperbolic and premature to suggest this story will be a “game-changer” and that “nothing will ever be the same,” but here, it feels as though this may actually be the case.