This year at New York Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced a new series featuring the Scarlet Spider. The hero's name is synonymous with an era that many Spider-Man fans would rather forget: The Clone Saga! That's right, it was a wild and wooly era when the clone of Spider-Man, birthed in a lab under direction of the villainous Jackal, returned after learning Aunt May was dying. Taking the name Ben Reilly, after his uncle's first name and his aunt's maiden name, he spent five long years on the road, learning about himself and divorcing himself from the name "Peter Parker," but he couldn't resist the pull of family.
All the gory details are available in the tenth and eleventh episodes of The Spectacular Spider-Cast, now or soon available for download on iTunes and on the podcast website. In addition, Marvel is currently rereleasing the entire Clone Saga in graphic novel format, with eight volumes currently produced, and at least two more on the way. Search Amazon.com for "The Complete Clone Saga Epic" and "The Complete Ben Reilly Epic."
We won't know for sure who the new Scarlet Spider is until the release of this week's Marvel Point One, which contains several stories including a preview for this new series. With that in mind, let the rampant speculation on his identity begin. If you don't want to know, go no further!
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Clone Saga was the introduction of an assassin called Kaine. His body hideously disfigured, he hid behind a black mask with streaks of webbing, as well as a tattered pink cloak. When he learned Reilly was in New York, he dropped everything to pursue him. He also found himself plagued by visions of Mary Jane, Peter's wife, dead and abandoned on the street. Who could this man be, and how could he have such close ties to Spider-Man and his clone?
Eventually, Kaine stood revealed as the Jackal's first, failed clone of Spider-Man. Abandoned by his creator, he had mutated to be bigger and stronger than the original Spider-Man. His adhesive abilities changed, allowing him to leave a web-shaped brand on the side of his victims' faces, and his spider-sense became uncanny psychic visions. Having no claim to Peter's life, scarred from a degeneration factor inherent in almost all Warren's clones, he left to live the life of a mercenary.
He and Reilly had crossed paths many times since then, including in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Reilly met girlfriend Janine Godbe and Kaine framed him for the murder of police detective Louise Kennedy. That debacle would form the basis for Spider-Man: The Lost Years, as well as for the arrest of Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #400 and his subsequent trial.
When tests "confirmed" that Ben Reilly was "the one, true Spider-Man," it became clear Kaine had always harbored this belief. He wanted his "perfect" brother to succeed in the role of Spider-Man, and having Reilly, whom he saw as the "original" Peter Parker, return was the worst thing that could happen. Hence, Kaine had dogged Reilly ever since he first left New York, and attacked him soon after his return there. He hadn't counted on the wrong man being arrested, but so great was his hatred for Reilly that he nearly jeopardized Peter's secret in the courtroom before admitting culpability for the murder.
The rest of Kaine's life during the Clone Saga was a blur. He tried to stop the Jackal's mad schemes during "Maximum Clonage" but the clone called Spidercide stabbed him through the chest. He lay dormant in a clone casket until rescued by representatives of the Great Game, a war between superbeings sponsored by wealthy individuals. He soon grew tired of having been recruited into the game, and disappeared, only to surface later in one final series of battles with Reilly, who had by that time become Spider-Man.
Shortly before Reilly's death, Kaine tipped off Janine to his whereabouts. Reilly believed Janine dead as result of Kaine's previous machinations, and was blindsided by her return. They both were ambushed by Kaine, who sought their deaths but relented after seeing their love for each other. He and Janine then both surrendered to authorities.
Ben Reilly died in battle with the original Green Goblin, degenerating into dust which marked him as the true clone. Kaine escaped from prison soon afterward, and reappeared during the "Who Was Ben Reilly?" storyline, stalking Raptor, a colleague of Reilly's who mutated himself into a human/dinosaur hybrid and blamed the change on Reilly. After a fierce battle between Spider-Man, Raptor and himself, Kaine killed Raptor and fled. Eventually, the Kravinoff family captured Kaine during their scheme to return their patriarch, Kraven the Hunter, to life. Kaine masqueraded as Peter, and the family sacrificed him to revivify Kraven. Believed dead, Kaine was buried, only to rise from the grave as a new Tarantula, whom the Jackal mutated into a huge spider-like creature and drafted into his ranks right before the "Spider Island" storyline.
Now, as result of "Spider-Island," Kaine has been cured of all previous afflictions including, it seems, his clone degeneration factor. For some reason, he's not six feet four inches and built like a brick outhouse anymore. For the first time since the day he emerged from one of the Jackal's clone caskets, he looks like Peter Parker. A long-haired Peter, but Peter nonetheless.
And because New York isn't big enough for two Spider-Men, Kaine is taking his show on the road beginning in the "Spider Island" epilogue, The Amazing Spider-Man #673, on sale now. And you can bet that he'll be the guy behind the mask in Christopher Yost and Ryan Stegman's brand-new Scarlet Spider series.
The Scarlet Spider will be doing his share of wandering, which keeps in line with the original Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly. Kaine will obviously be out for a share of redemption for all the dastardly things he's done in the past, both to the late Ben and to many others. I sincerely hope Chris Yost remembers the character's rich history and complex psychology, and that Ryan Stegman ably illustrates this "twisted" Spider-Man.
How twisted could it get? I'm thrilled you asked!
We start with an intellectually intriguing angle: Kaine is taking on the costumed identity of the man who, for five long years, he really, really wanted to kill. I don't think that point should be lost on the creators. Does that screw him up? That's a good question. Thank God there's an easy answer, if they want to go that way.
Yes, it's true that Kaine hated Ben Reilly. But it's also true that thanks to the Jackal's machinations, he falsely believed Reilly was the real Spider-Man when in fact he was another clone like him. How does that revelation strike him? Especially when you consider that Kaine can't ever make up for his actions because Ben is dead? Does taking on the Scarlet Spider identity become a form of penance, a way of paying back Ben since he can't tell him "I'm sorry" in person?
Let's also not forget that Kaine, unlike Peter and Ben, has been a very, very bad man since the Jackal kicked him out. He's been an assassin. He's killed people. He's clearly shown underworld ties. He's made decisions that Peter Parker just plain wouldn't. He's not Peter, and he's not Ben; he's the anti-Spidey. Look at what he's done to Doctor Octopus, to the Grim Hunter, to Louise Kennedy, to Raptor. These actions shouldn't be forgotten. It isn't about "wallopin' websnappers"; this Spider-Man is mean. Let's see how he got that way, and his attempts to deal with how different he's become from Peter Parker, the man with whom he shares all his memories up to the moment of cloning.
And yes, we have that "redemption" angle on the table. After the events of "Spider Island," he's cured of being the Tarantula, and it would also appear he's cured from the clone degeneration that's caused him such intense pain over the years since his creation. What effect will that nugget of an idea have on him? Surely he won't turn all "sunshine and rainbows." He can't, else it would defeat the purpose of even having another Spider-Man out there wandering the country.
Kaine probably still has underworld connections in some parts of the U.S., but come to think of it, they wouldn't recognize him anymore. He's not scarred anymore, nor is he wearing the garish pink-and-black costume we first saw him in. In fact, looking like he is--just like Peter, only long-haired and scruffy--he's a dead ringer for "road warrior" Ben Reilly. And we know how much baggage he carried over the years. So, who will he be: Kaine "Parker," or Ben Reilly?
When all else fails, the Scarlet Spider creators should ask themselves one important question whilst travailing their own path: "W.W.J.M.D.D.?" ("What Would J. Marc DeMatteis Do?") After all, the man who gave us the most psychologically complex Clone Saga stories must have been doing something right, if we're still talking about Kaine all these years later...
|Kaine, by Ryan Stegman, artist of Scarlet Spider! From NYCC '11.|
(Recommended Reading: Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Vols. 1-3; Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat; Spider-Man: Grim Hunt; Spectacular Spider-Man #231; Sensational Spider-Man #2; Amazing Spider-Man #409, 666-673; Spider-Man #66; Spider-Man: Redemption #1-4; Spider-Island: The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man #1.)