Friday, 27 September 2013

Scarlet Spider Vol 1: Life After Death *Updated*

Conisder this the official hello!

Although I've always loved pop culture and superhero stories, reading the comics is a fairly new hobby to me. I know that's going to make me sound a little naive on this subject, but hear me out. My goal in this blog is not to promote comics to the hardened comic reader. Rather, I aim to give new readers some handy reviews that may help them get their feet wet.

With that said, let's start with the first trade paperback I have bought. And that's this little number from Marvel;

Scarlet Spider Volume 1: Life After Death

In case you can't tell, he's kinda got a
connection to Spiderman.
The Facts:

Writer: Christopher Yost

Artist: Ryan Stegman/Neil Edwards

Owned as Trade Paperback

Background Information:

In the 90s, Marvel published a Spider-Man event that would live forever in infamy. That event would be known as the Clone Saga. The premise was fairly simple; a villian known as the Jackal attempted to clone Peter Parker. It sounds like a story that should have only lasted a few issues.

Yeah, try a few years, actually.

Along with everyone's favourite web-slinger, the event followed two clones of Parker; one, by name of Kain, was a monstrous-looking, defective clone who generally went crazy; becoming more the spider than the man (which somehow translated to killing everyone he knew as he went through the process of slowly dying). The other, taking the name Ben Riley, began swinging through the streets of New York as the Scarlet Spider.

The former survived to change his ways, and the latter, put simply, died.


So now we have 2012's Scarlet Spider, which focuses not on a resurrected Ben Riley, but on Kain, the man who was formally a monster.
And that formally thing is a big deal here. If you read 2011's Spider Island in, you’ll no doubt know that Kain has been more or less cured of the genetic defects that he had beforehand and now looks a lot more like a regular human being. On top of that, Kain’s no longer dying. So what do you do with this new lease on life?

Why, move to Mexico, of course.

If that doesn’t sound very hero-ey, it’s because it isn’t. But that’s what makes this story written by Christopher Yost (X-Force, Red Robin and, apparently, Thor: Dark World) so interesting. Yost has taken some pains to point out to us that this isn’t Peter Parker. In fact, Kain’s kinda’ a jerk. He starts off with no heroic intentions at all- all of the power, but none of the responsibility, as the jacket blurb tells us- and winds up in Houston where he gets a little sidetracked after rescuing an immigrant girl named Aracely who seems to have some sort of mysterious history (enough to attract the fire-throwing Salamander). Making Houston at least his temporary residence, Kain finds that he has attracted a slew of enemies that force him to choose between heroism and selfishness, ultimately allowing heroism to win.

And that’s the genius of Yost’s storyline: it’s not a story that focuses on one “big” bad guy. Rather, the focus is on Kain’s internal struggle, and the result is actually pretty satisfying. Yost writes this character well. Kain’s no Peter Parker; he often finds himself using scare tactics on some crooks and barely resisting the urge to brutally kill others. He interrogates using physical pain (read; using bone-like “stingers” to pierce a gunman’s arm) and doesn’t straight-up “like” anybody he comes into contact with. At the same time, though, Yost realises that Kain is still Parker’s clone- and no Parker can be completely humourless. There are moderately funny lines here. Lines like “This guy has some nice ink but what really grabs my attention is that he’s throwing fire... This may take more than a few minutes”. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny like what you may read in Spider Island, but they definitely put us right back in the spider-community.

But for all that Yost does right, there is plenty he gets wrong. Excluding Kain’s personal journey toward becoming a hero, only two of the issues in this volume have much of a connection to each other. In fact, if you were to read them as single issues, I imagine the story might even be better. What’s more the last issue in the story-arc is just too anti-climatic to really satisfy readers (and yes, I have a basic understanding of the events in Grim Hunt and still wasn’t all that impressed). The whole trade gives hints of cool things that may happen later in the series without actually doing that many cool things itself. It’s enough to get you to take up the series, but honestly, you could probably start at a later volume without missing out on too much.

And it doesn’t really help that the art is pretty average. It works, but it’s standard comic book fare, and sometimes fails to communicate the darkness of Kain’s character. That said though, it does portray some entertaining action. Each scene is simple enough to follow and at no point are you left wondering what happened between panels.

Life After Death is an interesting title that gives us a deep look into the psychology of an anti-hero turned hero and gets 3.5 out of 5 tickets to Mexico.

*** ½

+ Clever look at the psyche of a hero.

+ Yost’s Kain has plenty of depth.

- Art a little light for a character like Kain.

- Issues don’t work as well together as they could.

Alternate Pick: Venom, Volume 1

Not one that I’ve read (yet), but if this is anywhere near as good as his parts in Spider Island, you’ve got a winner here.

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