Scarlet Spider #20

Posted by Mike McNulty, a.k.a. Stillanerd 18 August 2013

As recapped bulletproofsponge's excellent review of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2, good 'ol Kaine Parker, still fresh from his recent team-up with Wolverine, figured that so long as he was in New York, he might as well pay his "brother," Peter, as visit.  Unfortunately, Kaine obviously wasn't reading The Superior Spider-Man, because if he had, he would've realized that "Peter" is now the villainous Doctor Octopus having taken over Peter's body and playing the part of the web-slinger.  And that SpOck (as he's now called by fandom) still had bitter memories of the time Kaine killed him way back during the Clone Saga.  And if things couldn't possibly get any worse, the Jackal showed up with his army of half spider/half mutants clones, along with...Gwen Stacy?!  Yeah, I'd say we have to find out what's going on here, don't you? 

We open with Kaine inside a clone vat, apparently a flashback of when he was first created.  He sees the Jackal looking at him from outside the vat, telling him to wake up. Then he sees Gwen Stacy who also tells him to wake up. Then he sees Gwen Stacy again, only this time half of her face is undergoing clone degeneration just like Kaine used to have, and she screams for him to wake up.

Kaine then slowly awakes from his nightmare in the Jackal's secret base and sees the clone of Gwen Stacy. At first, Kaine believes he's still dreaming and has a flashback of when he was falling into a large pit full of naked Gwen Stacy clones that the Jackal has disposed of. The Gwen clone tells Kaine that she and the other clones were glad when Kaine was able to escape and apologies for the Jackal having abducted both him and SpOck. SpOck, who is chained up along with Kaine, belittles both her and Kaine, telling him to stop “mewling” and start thinking about what may be his upcoming death.

The Jackal then arrives, along with Carrion and the Miles Warren clone. He tells both Kaine and SpOck that the chains have been calibrated beyond the strength levels of either of them and that neither of them can escape. Kaine vows that he'll kill the Jackal, but Jackal laughs, saying how he thought Kaine didn't inherit Peter's sense of humor. SpOck demands to know what the Jackal is planning, saying that, for a “minor annoyance” such as him, his lair and the new clones seem bigger than what he usual obsessions. The Jackal says that wants to harvest “Peter's DNA and place it “into every thing that [he] allows to live.” SpOck says that he refuses to let this happen, that is DNA is his and his alone, but the Jackal says that Peter's DNA is the key to his plans as it always has been, that he needs a fresh sample “from the source” before making his next batch of clones. He then reminds Kaine of how he's failed experiment and a “disappointment,” and that not every clone can be a “perfect specimen” like Ben Reilly. Then the Jackal explains that with his new batch of mutant-powered spider clones, he can replace the entire human race. SpOck tells the Jackal how he's not a scientist but a madman, as well as pathetic, saying that after capturing him out of “extraordinary fortune,” he could have already carried out his plans instead of wasting time prattling on about them. However, the Jackal tells SpOck that he's “not a Bond villain” and has already taken samples of SpOck's DNA while he was unconscious.

At this, Kaine struggles against his bonds until he actually breaks him. He then tells the Jackal that while he may not deserve to live, the Jackal also deserves to die and charges towards him. However, Kaine gets blasted by one of the mutant-powered spider clones. The Jackal then says maybe he'll now dissect Kaine before dumping him back into the pit, and orders his clones to attack. During the fight, Kaine manages to grab one of the clones' head and uses its optic beams to free SpOck. As SpOck joins in attacking the other clones, Carrion attempts to take possession of Kaine. However, in doing so, Carrion encounters the Other, thus Kaine is able to resist and knock him out. As he's ready to deliver the finishing blow however, the Miles Warren clone hits Kaine with a laser blast. SpOck, however, is able to punch one of the mutant-powered spider clones into the Warren clone, and then turns his sights on the Gwen clone and attacks her. The Gwen clone tries to defend herself with her own laser guns, only for SpOck to knock it out of her hand. Kaine manages to prevent SpOck from killing her, saying that she doesn't deserve to die for something that's not her fault. SpOck, however, counters by saying that the Gwen clone is “an abomination” and “a worthless mockery of humanity...just like all clones.” Struck hard by these words, Kaine decides he has to make sure the Jackal can no longer create any more clones ever again.

Meanwhile, SpOck thinks how much of mess the situation is and how much he hates clones. For a moment, he seems to recall that Peter had a memory about a smokestack that gave him “considerable angst” but then dismisses this as he sees the mutant-powered spider clones regrouping. SpOck concludes that there is no one worth saving, that he should just leave and let Kaine, Jackal, and the other clones kill each other. However, realizing he cannot allow the Jackal to have any of “his” genetic material, he sees a tank filled with hydrogen and, using the tanks own valve, ruptures it, causing an explosion. Kaine, while surprised “Peter” would do this, believes this is part of some larger plan, while the Jackal freaks out and rushes toward the flames to “save his babies.” As the fire rages, Kaine sees the Gwen clone and tells her to come with him. However, the Gwen clones refuses, choosing instead to perish along with the other clones in the flames.

Outside, we see that SpOck has escaped and is watching the Jackal's lair explode and burn to the ground, marveling how “one well-placed action” was able to destroy “his” DNA samples along with the Jackal, the other clones, and apparently Kaine. Unfortunately for SpOck, he soon sees Kaine has survived, leaping out of the wreckage. Kaine then demands from SpOck why he did what he just did, and SpOck states he took the most “efficient path,” citing how not only has the Jackal been defeated but that they will no longer have to deal with any more clones. At this, Kaine punches SpOck in the face, saying how SpOck could've killed him, to which SpOck flatly says this was a “calculated risk.” When Kaine, while understanding why “Peter” is angry at him, demands to know “what the hell is the matter with [him,]” SpOck replies with, “You think pretending to be a hero changes anything between us? After what you did?!” Kaine--not realizing SpOck is actually talking about the time when, as Doctor Octopus, Kaine murdered him—tells him that while he's knows he's no hero, that SpOck is one, and for him to “act like it.” And as Kaine leaves, SpOck proclaims that “this isn't over!”
We then get the first of two epilogues, the first being Kaine and Aracely returning to Houston. Kaine refuses to talk to Aracely what happened, barely even noticing what he believes is a mosquito bite. Later at the Four Seasons Hotel, Kaine still thinks of how he still can't get over what “Peter” said, how the man who used to believe in him and called him his “brother” now calls him a “monster.” Kaine thinks that if someone like “Peter,” who gave him a second chance, doesn't believe in him anymore, then what does that mean for him? Kaine, experiencing a headache, goes to the bathroom and turns on the light. And when he looks into the mirror, he sees that the facial scars he once had are back, and realizes that his cellular degeneration disease has returned.

In the second epilogue, we see that the Jackal and Carrion have managed to survive the explosion, but everything else has been destroyed. When Carrion states how their plans have failed, the Jackal states they haven't, that while all of Peter's DNA sample have been destroyed, all the samples provided to him by Mr. Sinister are intact. What's more, he managed to salvage one more DNA sample—Kaine's. And with that, the Jackal proclaims, “Who's ready for Spidercide 2.0?” The end.

Bulletproofsponge observed in his review of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2, that Doctor Octopus, as Spider-Man, would sever all trust between "Peter" and Kaine to the point where Kaine would begin to question his own new-found purpose in life.  And sure enough, that transpires here, with Kaine believing that the closest thing he had to a brother, the person who he, deep down, actually admired and looked up to, has turned his back on him.  It's one thing for the Jackal to call Kaine a "monster," but to hear from whom he thinks is Peter is obviously devastating.  It's also fitting on a dramatic level, given what appears to be in store in upcoming issues as it appears Kaine will be forced to face even more of his past demons.

One of the aspects about this issue and with "Sibling Rivalry" that I enjoyed overall is seeing not just the sharp contrast between Kaine and SpOck, but how, unbeknownst to themselves, they're now in a place where they've actually switched roles.  Kaine may still be rough around the edges and not have the same degree of scientific genius, but he is now far closer to who Peter Parker was, not only living by his creed of personal responsibility, but also his willingness to protect the innocent at all costs, as he wanted to do with the Gwen clone.  By contrast, SpOck may have everyone else convinced that he's the real Peter Parker, and is even more efficient and smarter than him, but he certainly shows that he's not nearly the hero Peter was or that he thinks himself to be.  Moreover, Otto reminds us what a truly selfish hypocrite he still is, particularly when he expresses moral outrage over the Jackal taking samples of "his" DNA when 1) it's actually Peter's DNA, and 2) this is the same Otto who still has no qualms about having literally stolen Peter's body and life to claim for his own.  One can't help but feel SpOck got exactly what he deserved when Kaine punched him in the face, even though it's also a sad moment for Kaine himself.

Although one can't really disagree with SpOck in his assessment of the Jackal.  Once again, it's yet another hair-brained "replace the human race with clones" scheme, which only serves to underscores the Jackal's status as the one-trick pony of Spidey's rogues gallery.  We're weren't exactly sure why the Jackal wants to replace the world with clones back in the Clone Saga, and we still don't know why in this story other than "he's freaking insane."  Also, it is kind of disappointing that we get yet another clone of Gwen Stacy who dies, not to mention that Chris Yost didn't explore more with her character, especially given the presence of SpOck.  After all, she would have the real Gwen's memories of Peter, and one would imagine that her seeing whom she thinks is Peter turning on her the way he did would've been heart-wrenching, and this is something I believe Yost should've placed greater emphasis on.

What really stands out in this issue is the outstanding art from In-hyuk Lee.  As you can see from the images, it is incredibly detailed and realistic while maintaining the same level of exaggerated action poses and gestures one would see in a regular comic.  You can actually see that both Kaine and SpOck's costumes have genuine texture and form over their bodies as opposed to appearing to having a "spray-painted" look, showing just how much care for detail he has.  This isn't to diminish the other art in the issue, as both the dream sequence opening and the epilogues are quite good, but it is a bit jarring (although not distracting) when placed alongside with Lee's illustrations.

Overall, I feel "Sibling Rivalry" was a decent two-parter, but I do kind of wish that it had somehow been a three-part story instead, if only to better explore Kaine and Otto's reunion and forced alliance of convenience.  Still, it served it's purpose and was quite enjoyable.


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