So begins the task of trying to praise this issue without just saying, "OH, HELL YES!" and calling it a day. There's a big plot development in this issue, so I'll do my best to keep it all spoiler-free. Prepare yourself for vagueness.
SCARLET SPIDER is diving into some pretty tricky territory with its cover and solicitation for this issue. The return of Ben Reilly? How can that be? This has gotta just be another clone since we saw Jackal in the last issue with Kaine's blood, right? There's no way I'm going to give away what actually happens, but I will say writer Christopher Yost has planted the seeds for a super promising plot which utilizes all of Kaine's supporting cast (characters I've grown to legitimately care about). I was able to put together the pieces before the big reveal, but it's still a moment that delivers big time and is well-executed. I'd love to further elaborate, but again, there's about a zero percent chance I want to spoil this one for you (to be fair, the story title is a big giveaway if you've been following the book).
Meanwhile, co-writer Erik Burnham also does a fine job lending a natural voice to the numerous characters who fill the clone's world. And in case you're wondering: yes, a proper jab is thrown at Ben Reilly's fashion choice. It's also great to see this story is going to be a 3-parter. This gives me confidence they have the room to do everything they'd like to with this narrative instead of simply rushing all of the pieces together into an abrupt conclusion.
Despite having five sets of hands working on the art, this is a great looking book which never delivers a distractingly jarring transition. The style is definitely more animated and polished, but it really shines when Kaine spends some time outside during a thunderstorm. There's some exceptionally badass panels with rain pelting the characters, superb shading and lightning cracking behind them. Chris Sotomayor deserves a round of applause for the coloring in this issue, offering a consistent look throughout the entire issue. Even if the pencils and inks undergo a change, the coloring remains solid and appropriate for each scene's tone.
I still find myself on the fence with Kaine's initial freak out. After all that he's been through, it's tough for me to believe he suddenly thinks he's a monster all over again mainly because the degeneration issue has returned. I get "Spider-Man" was hard on him and seeing Jackal brought back memories, but he seemingly walked away knowing who he is and even put SpOck in his place (or at least I think so). It just feels like repeat material to me.
In showing that Arcaley is okay after the attack, it seemingly reveals Ana has taken the rest of the characters hostage instead of killing them. It would have been cool to see Ana slashing and then leaving the status with Aracely unknown -- that way I'm left wondering if they're still around or have been abruptly removed. I'm now heavily leaning towards the former, but I could of course be dead wrong (for a lack of better words).
If you've ever considered giving SCARLET SPIDER a chance, now is most definitely the time to do so (I couldn't bear to see this canceled after we've lost VENOM, dammit!). There's a more than adequate intro page which will bring you up to speed on what Kaine has been through and who the people in his life are. Once you're done with that, it's time for an action heavy issue which also lays the groundwork for some very troubling times ahead for Kaine. Seeing as Yost and Burnham have 3 issues to flesh this tale out, I have more than enough reason to believe this has the potential to be seriously grim and compelling stuff. Can we please have the next issue right now?