Strange things are afoot in the land of the spiders these days at Marvel. The real deal Spider-Man is now possessed by Dr. Octopus, and will remain so for the forseeable future, meaning that the Superior Spider-Man is essentially a morally-challenged bad guy struggling with the concept of legitimate heroism. Then there's Dan Slott's recent teaser that Miguel O'Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, will show up in the pages of that book as well – and if you're familiar with that character, you know he was created in the 1990s as a harder-edged Spider-Man who bristled quite a bit against the responsibility he never wanted – and he even went so far as to let a particularly creepy enemy die instead of saving him (although, to be fair, he was a skeevy cannibalistic version of the Vulture) before eventually realizing his 'with great power' calling. Yet, he was still kind of a dick about it.
Perhaps part of the reason this big new twist in Superior Spider-Man has some people feeling it's kind of unnecessary is because Chris Yost's Scarlet Spider is kind of already covering all that ground. We've got a morally-challenged '90s character hating every second of conscientious superheroing that he feels nonetheless compelled to do. The only real difference between Kaine and Otto Octavius is the egomania. Kaine knows he's not a "superior" Spider-Man – hell, he doesn't want to be a Spider-Man at all. It's that damn Parker conscience that keeps him at it – just like with Otto.
In Scarlet Spider #13, Kaine is taking on an area of society where you don't mind that brand of ruthlessness out of a Spider-Man – the underworld of human trafficking. A while back, he rescued a girl named Aracely from them, and he's now trying to dismantle their operation in his adopted home of Houston. But he hates it, because it's frustrating and he can't find a solution to the problem – all he can do is hamper their efforts. Kaine is a man who is easily frustrated, and has never liked the fact that he's compelled to get involved. He's compelled to care, and it drives him nuts.
Aracely (and we're soliciting suggetions on how to pronounce that, if you'd like to weigh in) has been a bit of a mystery, what with apparently having telepathic powers and often speaking cryptically, but we get some more information about her now – she's got some empathic/mystic/something-or-other kind of connection to Aztec history, having visions of Aztlan, dreaming of being called "the left-handed hummingbird" and seeing her parents murdered with strange assertions that "Mictlan Rises!" We may not know what any of it means, but at least we're probing deeper into the question of who she is.
The fact that The Lobo Cartel is out to reclaim their enigmatic escapee makes it a Scarlet Spider problem. Because the Lobo Cartel is led by werewolves and they're pretty damn nasty about it.
Yost has had some fun with Kaine's reluctance to be a superhero, whether it's squaring off against the Texas Rangers or cussing out Venom, but it's getting darker now, giving us a mood of impending doom. That tonal shift so far is appropos, given the subject matter, and Khoi Pham's artwork is game for establishing that heavier vibe, although we do miss Ryan Stegman (who's moved on to Superior Spider-Man). Pham's version of Kaine is too barrel-chested and his bodies a little too inconsistent for my tastes – although when it comes to visceral emotion, he's got it, and that's where it counts.
Scarlet Spider has been a very good book about a morally-compromised character trying to fight the good fight anyway. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Dan Slott wanted a piece of that action in the flagship book. However, we can't help but feel Superior Spider-Man is biting off too much of Scarlet Spider's niche. Hopefully, they can make it different enough that one won't doom the other.