Last time, readers of the Scarlet Spider got the dark, bizarre, and very satisfying "In the Midst of Wolves," in which Kaine was forced to embrace The Other in a way Peter Parker never did. So how does Chris Yost follow up this tale? Why, with a wacky romantic comedy, of course! And if that seems like an even more bizarre direction to take our resident Spider-clone, not to worry because it will all make sense very soon in this tale called "A Good, Ol Fashioned Rodeo!".
The comic opens by revealing the note that Julia Carpenter/Madame Webb sent Kaine in Scarlet Spider #12. It reads:
"You have to leave. She’s coming back. Everyone will die. You have to leave. Go to Mexico like you wanted. She’ll kill them all. I was wrong. I was wrong. I’m so sorry. Please, please you have to leave Houston."
We then see Kaine waking up in his hotel room, and, as he goes through his morning routine, he has a feeling that something horrible is about to happen. But it’s not Aracely floating in the next room, or of the Superior Spider-Man on TV beating up Jester and Screwball, or even from the Other, whose face he sees in the bathroom mirror. No, the answer turns out to be…Officer Wally Layton and his husband, Dr. Donald Meland, dressed in Western attire and cowboy hats inviting Kaine and Aracely to the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Kaine thinks going to a Rodeo is stupid, but Aracely is ecstatic, telling Kaine that Annabelle Adams will be there and raving about the Bar-b-que contest. But Kaine is determined that there is no way in hell that he is going.
Cue the next scene where, sure enough, Kaine is at the rodeo and feeling completely miserable while his friends are having a grand old-time. Also, via Aracely’s psychic powers, that the star of the Rodeo, Wyatt Taft, is going to announce his engagement to get married. Just as Don and Wally start to ask Aracely how she knows this, Annabelle arrives also dressed for the occasion, which Kaine finds very attractive. Then Annabelle gives Kaine a big hug, saying that she’s very glad Kaine could make it, to which Kaine responds with “That makes one of us.” At this, Annabelle starts to cry and then runs away, leaving a dumbfounded Kaine wondering why she’s so upset. Kaine’s friends point out the obvious: Annabelle likes him, and she thought Kaine sarcastic remark about the Rodeo was intended at her. Kaine, while apologetic, tries to say that he and Annabelle can’t be together, but Aracely orders him to go after her.
We then cut to a reporter named Trevor Noll interviewing Wyatt Taft and his new fiancée, model Daisy Schilling. After the segment is over and they’re off the air, Noll openly complains about how he’s still doing puff pieces after four years of being in the Houston news market and is itching for a “real” story to get him back on top.
Kaine catches up with Annabelle and tries to explain himself, while she tells him to forget what she said. Kaine doesn’t want that, but he also says that a relationship between them can never work because “he’s a bad person.” But Annabelle says that she’s heard all that before and that it doesn’t matter; she knows that, in spite of his insistence that he’s a “monster” Kaine is a good person, and that she, like him, did bad things in her past. As Kaine tries to say she doesn’t understand, a big, muscular dude shows up, asking Annabelle what she’s doing with Kaine. Turns out this is Ray, Annabelle’s ex-boyfriend. He insists on wanting to talk with Annabelle, even though she clearly doesn’t want to, and Kaine tells Ray to leave her alone if he doesn’t want to get hurt. Ray, however, shoves Kaine, and, for a moment, Kaine’s “Other” is on the verge of taking over. Kaine quickly comes to his senses and says that maybe the three of them should talk things out.
Suddenly, there seems to be an earthquake and from out of the ground comes the Armadillo. Apparently, he was fired from the Texas-based superhero group, the Rangers, and thus is now considered a super-villain. At present, he‘s completely plastered, as he tries to ride one of the bulls thinking it’s a horse. While Aracely is excited and Noll thinks he now has a big story on his hands, Kaine tells Ray to look after Annabelle, much to her protest, while he leaves to change into the Scarlet Spider.
As the police start to close in, Armadillo calls out for Daisy, telling her he can be a cowboy like Wyatt if that’s what she wants. But before he can approach the couple, a strand of webbing snags and, riding into the arena on horseback, is Kaine as the Scarlet Spider, who swears in the narration captions that this was the fastest way into the arena, while Aracely says “this is like her birthday and Christmas rolled into one.” As Wally tells the cops to stand down, Kaine attempts to subdue the Armadillo and avoid his razor-sharp claws, and notices that the over-sized ex-superhero is crying. As the Armadillo attacks Kaine, he says that, despite being in love and happy together, Daisy left him for Wyatt because he was a big monster instead of a “dreamy rodeo star.” At this, Kaine tries to tell Armadillo that, if he truly loves Daisy, that he should do what is best for her and let her go so that she won’t wind up getting hurt.
Suddenly, Daisy runs towards Armadillo and embraces him, saying how sorry she is. She explains that the reason she left was because she thought Armadillo didn’t love her anymore, saying he became so distant after the Rangers fired him and that, because he told her to leave because he was a “monster” that she thought he would be happier without her. Armadillo tells her that she is the only thing in his life that ever made him happy and, after they profess their love for each other, they kiss much to the delight of the crowd. Speechless, Kaine begins to realize his own feelings, and swings away. Noll, watching from the stands, realizes that he’s now found his real story: he’s going to find out who the Scarlet Spider really is.
We then see Annabelle being dragged away by Ray, who tells her that they’re supposed to be together, and that she just needs time to clear her head, when Kaine appears and blocks Ray’s path. Ray warns Kaine “do you know who I am?” when Kaine suddenly knocks him out with a punch to the face. And before Annabelle can ask what about what Kaine said earlier, Kaine takes her in his arms and the two of them kiss. Aracely senses this and declares “Best. Rodeo. Ever.” As Donald attempt to find Wally for him to get Kaine off the hook (while Aracely cryptically states that Ray’s brother is worse) we see that, somewhere in the crowd, watching everything unfold, is Kraven the Hunter and his daughter, Ana.
We then flashback to two days earlier at the Four Seasons Hotel, where a female desk clerk informs Annabelle about Julia’s letter. Because Kaine was never registered under the name “Kaine Parker,” no one on staff knows who the letter is really for. After reading it, Annabelle tells the clerk she’ll ask around to see who it's for, but says that it’s probably nothing important. However, as soon as the desk clerk leaves, Annabelle takes out a cigarette lighter and burns the letter.
What an absolutely fun issue this was. Given the seriousness of the previous story, “In the Midst of Wolves,” it only makes sense for Chris Yost to follow it up with a more light-hearted, done-in-one tale such as this. And unlike the atypical single-issue story in which the plot could be regarded as just an amusing aside, Yost, just like he did for Scarlet Spider #12, takes the opportunity for some significant character development and tease upcoming and more significant story arcs.
I think most readers of the series knew Annabelle was cast as a love interest for Kaine, so the two of them officially becoming a couple in this story wasn’t much of a surprise. However, it’s the subtext of how their relationship becomes established which makes for some interesting commentary not just about Kaine relationship difficulties, but also Spider-Man's. Ever since One More Day, the Spider-Man comics have made the case that Peter and Mary Jane could never be together because his being Spider-Man would always put her in danger; similarly, Kaine thinks he and Annabelle can never be together because of his past, and that he puts her in danger because he’s a “monster.” So I’m sure it wasn’t lost on the other readers that the subplot involving Armadillo and Daisy deliberately echoes not just Kaine and Annabelle’s relationship, but also Peter and MJ’s (the fact that Daisy also happens to be a red-headed model further just underscores this even more) and used to make an effective counter-argument: that the only obstacles that get in the way of the person we love are self-imposed, and that, like John Lennon used to sing, “Love is all you need.”
Also, Khoi Pham’s artwork looks particularly good once again. I know I’m repeating myself but I think Pham is proving to be one of those comic book artists who improves the more he does, or perhaps it’s because I’m becoming more accustomed to his art style. Whatever the reason, he’s come a long way since he took over the art chores from Ryan Stegman.
As for what appears to lie ahead, certainly the prospect of Kraven the Hunter returning peaks my interest, as is whoever Julia was trying to warn Kaine about, and why Annabelle really burned Julia's letter. Was it because she just didn’t want Kaine to leave, or was it for far more nefarious reasons? One thing’s for sure, it did give us an interesting clue at who Julia was trying to warn Kaine about, if you take a closer look at certain particular letters in Julia’s message.