Just as you start to think Kaine will finally get over his self-loathing, something always sets him two-steps back. In this case, it came from the person who he though was Peter Parker when, in actuality, it was Doctor Octopus in Peter's body (as readers of the Superior Spider-Man are fully aware), thus making him believe he's been rejected by the closest thing he ever had to a family. And now, as we saw in the previous issue, it appears his clone degeneration has returned. Or has it? Well, if the cover for this issue is to be believed, things are about to get a lot worse for him.
At the Four Seasons Hotel, guests are phoning the front desk to complain about the noise. The clerk at the desk tries to assure them that it's just thunder from the storm outside, but when Annabelle Adams asks what's going on, the clerk says the disturbance is really “the man in the Presidential Suite.”
Sure enough, Kaine, enraged over his clone degeneration having returned, is tearing apart the room. Aracely tries to ask what's wrong, which only makes Kaine even angrier. Aracely, in attempt to soothe Kaine, attempts to enter his mind...only for the Other to mentally attack her. Kaine apologizes to a frightened Aracely, and, convinced that he's still just a monster, smashes out the top window and swings away. As he leaves the hotel, we someone watching him from the shadows.
Eventually, Kaine begins experiences headaches and believes it's another symptom from the degeneration. Then suddenly, he blacks out in mid-swing and falls onto the street. When he comes too, a passing pedestrian asks “Rough landing, Mr. Super Hero,” to which Kaine declares “I am not a #$#@ superhero!” and kicks a parked car. Without warning, Kaine is then punched in the face, and when Kaine looks up to see who it is, he sees that it's...Ben Reilly?!
At the Park Plaza Hospital, Dr. Donald Meland is just finishing up in surgery when one of the nurses says he received an urgent phone call from Aracely, and that she sounded scared. After Dr. Meland tells the nurse to call his husband, Wally Leyton, he attempts to call Aracely in his office. However, a flash of lightning causes both the power and the phone lines to go out. Dr. Meland then hears a noise behind him and, when he turns around, sees the flash of a knife.
Meanwhile, a disbelieving Kaine tells Ben Reilly that he should be dead as Peter Parker watched him die. Ben Reilly, however, states that Peter "only saw what he wanted to see," that since Peter had his life back, Ben Reilly decided to make a new life for himself. That is until he heard about the new "Spider-Man" in Houston, the one who was calling himself “The Scarlet Spider.” And as Ben Reilly attacks Kaine, he tells him that, after years of tormenting him, Kaine cannot fool himself into thinking that he's a hero, and has no right to be using Ben Reilly's name. Kaine, needing time to think, swings away and retreats.
At her apartment in Montrose, Annabelle is awakened by her cellphone. When she answers it, she finds that its Aracely, trying to tell her what happened to Kaine. Annabelle tells Aracely to calm down and that she'll be over soon. However, as she enters her bathroom and a closes the door, something startles her and causes her to scream in terror.
Kaine keeps attempting to get away from Ben Reilly, believing that he must be either hallucinatign from head trauma or from his clone degeneration. However, he then gets hit with impact webbing, followed by Ben Reilly punching him repeatedly, saying Kaine cannot get away “that easily...not after you've ruined everything” and taken away his “peace.” Kaine, taking off his mask, says he's sorry, that if he could take everything back he would, and that he was angry because he didn't know what life was really like and that he didn't deserve one. He then says he's been trying hard to make up for his past mistakes, and that the Ben Reilly he remembered would've appreciated this and forgiven him...which makes him conclude that “Ben Reilly” must be an imposter. However, when Ben Reilly removes his mask, Kaine sees that it is, indeed, him.
At Wally and Dr. Meland's home, Wally is on his cellphone leaving a voice mail for his husband. The power is out and, just as he tells Dr. Leland to pick up some dog food for their dog, Buddy, he hears the dog growl, yip, then silence. Wally then goes to the kitchen to find Buddy dead and bleeding on the floor. As he goes to the dog, we see the shadow of someone wielding a knife...then Wally screams.
Meanwhile, Kaine is still being attacked by Ben Reilly. Kaine's, his head still hurting, eventually finds new determination to fight back, thinking how that, since he's already about to die and having paid his penance in full with his life, he's not going to let Ben Reilly finish him the job of killing him. After, at last, knocking Ben Reilly down, the Other tells Kaine that he should kill him. Then someone tells Kaine that he should also kill Ben Reilly, and Kaine sees that it's the Superior Spider-Man, saying that Ben Reilly will only steal Kaine's life just as he tried to steal his, and especially take Annabelle. Then the Jackal appears, telling Kaine that he was always his “favorite son,” knew better than “to fight crime in a sleeveless hoodie” and should also kill Ben Reilly.
Back at the Four Seasons Hotel, Aracely is sensing what Kaine is experiencing, trying to reassure Kaine that what he's seeing is not real and that he can fight it. However, someone tells her that “the time to fight has not yet come.” Aracely comes out of her trance and sees that it's Ana Kravinoff, the daughter of Kraven the Hunter. Ana then pulls out her knife dripping with some greenish fluid, and with a swipe, the fluid lands on Aracely, paralyzing her and knocking her unconscious. Ana stand over her, saying that “The hunt has only begun.”
Ben Reilly has regained his wind, and attacks Kaine again, saying that Kaine is not only slow, but that he cannot beat a real hero. Kaine, however, manages to get Ben Reilly in a chokehold and is about to stab him with his stinger. However, Kaine realizes he can't do it, and tosses Ben Reilly aside. However, Kaine then finds himself becoming sick and falls to the ground. Then, when he touches his face, he finds that his scars are gone, and Kaine realizes he's not suffering from clone degeneration but has been drugged. Ben Reilly taunts Kaine about how Peter would've figured out what was wrong with him sooner, revealing that he shot him a blow dart containing a hallucinogenic at the airport when Kaine returned to Houston from New York. And Kaine at last sees who “Ben Reilly” really is—Kraven the Hunter, wearing Ben Reilly's Scarlet Spider costume. Kraven tells Kaine they have unfinished business between them and proclaims that “One of [them] must die!” To which Kaine says, “Couldn't agree more.”
Those of you who deduced that the “mosquito” that “bit” Kaine last issue was really one of Kraven's blow darts, and that Kaine's “clone degeneration” was really a drug-induced hallucination, give yourselves a pat on the back. Some of you probably even saw someone who looked an awful lot like Kraven amongst the crowd at the airport (seriously, check out the first epilogue of Scarlet Spider #20 again, and you can see someone who looks like him at the airport in one of the panels). So the twist that “Ben Reilly” was really Kraven in disguise may not have come to a shock to you (especially once Ana Kravinoff showed up), and I imagine that those who were hoping this was somehow the real Ben Reilly found this reveal to a be a disappointing "bait-and-switch."
All that being said, I would argue that the cliffhanger at the end of this issue is a far more satisfying outcome. After all, a rematch between Kaine and Kraven has been building ever since “The Grim Hunt” story way back in Amazing Spider-Man #634-637. We also know that, because of that story, Kraven can only be killed at the hands of Peter Parker or by one of Peter's clones. It's also no accident that much of the imagery is reminiscent of the classic “Kraven's Last Hunt,” with the constant presence of rain, the dramatic flashes of lightning, and that Kraven is, once again, donning a “Spider-Man” costume. It all conveys a sense that this really will be a fight to the death between Kaine and Kraven, although I would be shocked if Chris Yost and co-writer Eric Bernham actually goes through with killing off Kraven yet again after Marvel went through all the trouble in bringing him back.
Another sense of finality comes from the as-of-yet unknown fates of the entire supporting cast. We can assume that Aracely is still alive given there's still much to be explored surrounding the mystery of who she is, but Dr. Meland? Officer Wally? Annabelle? Since Ana Kravinoff only knocked-out Aracely, it's possible they were captured, as well. After all, we didn't see them actually die on panel, so there's still hope they're still alive. Even so (and perhaps it's because they are part of a Spider-Man spin-off title) there is genuine suspense about whether or not they will actually live or die in this story. It certainly would make sense that one of them would.
As for the art, both Carlo Barberi and David Baldeon do some decent work here, but given the content of the story, I feel their work needed a bit more of a punch. I chalk it up mostly to Pallot and Olazaea's inking and Chris Sotomayor's coloring more so than I do the penciling, however. The shadows and lightning effects didn't seem harsh enough, and the colors were too vibrant, and for a story like this, the art really needs to underscore the moody atmosphere and sense of dread the narrative is trying to convey. I will say, however, that the scenes in which Ana goes after the supporting cast members were definitely the strongest moments.
All in all, I would say this story is off to a very promising start so far. We've had a few lingering subplots being resolved over the past couple of issues and this appears to be shaping up into another resolution of another. If you've been a regular follow of the title, then I would say this you'll be very satisfied with this issue as it seems your diligence is being rewarded.