Spider-Man 54: Mixed messages Ben! Mixed Messages!

 

Credits: Written by Howard Mackie, pencils by Tom Lyle with Scott Hanna on finishes and edited by Danny Fingeroth.

Cast: Ben ‘Scarlet Spider’ Reilly, J.Jonah Jameson Jnr, Valdimir ‘Grim Hunter’ Kravinoff, Gabrielle, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Dr Seward Trainer, Betty Brandt and Kaine.

 

Plot: Ben Reilly, in his Scarlet Spider costume, breaks into the offices of the Daily Bugle newspaper. He reminisces over the past that he remembers there. He is interrupted in his reverie by J. Jonah Jameson, who reiterates his distrust of masked crime-fighters. Ben leaves after suggesting that he is likely to sue, after being stuck with the Scarlet Spider name that he doesn’t really appreciate. It’s all done in cheek, JJJ’s attitude making him feel a little nostaglic. He is  being watched by Kaine.

At a penthouse somewhere in New York, Vladimir Kravinoff, the son of the late Kraven the Hunter is obsessing over his hunt for Spider-Man. He seeks vengeance for his family. He decides to head to Betty Brandt’s flat, the last place he saw the man he believes to be Spider-Man, but is actually Ben Reilly. This spider-themed hero has no idea who he is, nor why he is being hunted.

 

The next day, Ben arrives home out of costume and runs into Gabrielle, the woman who helped patch him up during his fight with Venom. There are smiles between them and the promise of a date in the foreseeable future. Again, Kaine is watching.

At a local doctor’s office, Mary Jane Watson-Parker is getting dressed after an examination, the doctor comes back in and has something to tell her.

Night time, lost in his own thoughts Kaine is accosted by a street gang, none of which survive the encounter once his attention is on them. He finds a place to rest and he, Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker and Ben have the same dream, which contains memories from the clone’s creation. Ben wakes first, believing it to be the first sign of clone degeneration. Panicking he calls his friend Seward Trainer who informs him that he’ll join him in New York.

 

Needing some air, Ben dons his Scarlet Spider costume and swings over to Betty Brandt’s flat and outside, the pair begin to talk. They move closer to one another, there’s clearly some chemistry that Betty doesn’t understand. It’s all getting a bit romantic, at least until Ben pushes her to one side to avoid a blast from the Grim Hunter’s staff-thing.  Vladimir drops in front of the pair and is ready to attack.

We then cut away to a Detective Raven, who has travelled from Utah to meet with a NYPD detective over a murder in New York that is similar to one he has been chasing for five years, the man who killed his partner.

Okay, back to the actual plot and the Grim Hunter battle the Scarlet Spider. The hunter believes he is fighting Spider-Man, the spider has no idea who this guy is, or what this is all about. When Vladimir mentions his father, it’s then that some pennies start to drop. Thing is, Ben left New York before Kraven’s Last Hunt and didn’t even know that he was dead. The battle continues for a while, until Vladimir realises something, five years of living different lives has changed the body language of the spiders and the Scarlet Spider doesn’t move the same as Spider-Man and when Vladimir realises that, he simply leaves.

 

Ben goes back to check on Betty, she’s keen to get to know the Scarlet Spider, sensing a familiarity between them, but after yet another comparison to Spider-Man, Ben is feeling that who less of a person runs away from something that could help him live a real life. He swings away after the Grim Hunter, leaving a dejected and rejected Betty.

Notes: This is another look at the Scarlet Spider not being Spider-Man. We have familiar characters, Spider-Man specific backstory that goes back to the Silver Age and Ben getting close to a real life only to run away from it, feeling unworthy and less than a person. That’s kind of the problem ‘another’ in that we have been here before. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the plot, it does lack a finer touch and we are left with a bit of a re-tread of another story, a better story. This lacks depth and stakes with the battle ending with a ‘you know what, you might not  be the person I think you are’. It felt a bit middle-chapter filler in the manner of a episode 3 or 4 of a classic Doctor Who story, rather than the Empire Strikes Back sort of middle chapter.

There are parts that I like. The showing of a chemistry between a man who remembers the life of a teenage Peter Parker and his first girlfriend feels authentic as they can. It’s a bit awkward seeing how he knows her and she doesn’t know him, but they don’t seem to really acknowledge that. The motivations of Vladimir also make a lot of sense with the son of Kraven doing anything to  avoid his own sense of loss and in so doing ends up as self-destructive as Kraven was in the end. It’s also good to see Kaine included, but both that and the Mary Jane scene seem to be tacked on as an editorial edict rather than something intrinsic to the plot. But we do learn a bit more about Kaine’s thoughts without actually getting any more facts about him. The art is also solid, Lyle reigns in a lot of the 90’s excesses and his faces are consistent as well as distinctive, not a trait to be overlooked in this era. The inking isn’t too heavy handed either and whilst this pairing has a very house style, its not a bad version of that and I found it working really well.

Art: 3 out of 5 – Solid work from Lyle and Hanna, but the colours seem off and the costume designs for the Grim Hunter are not the best idea.

Writing: 2 out of  5 – Well plotted, but uninspired and the dialogue seems stilted in almost every scene.

Overall: 5 out of 10 – Capable but ordinary middle chapter which leaves a lot for part 3 to do.

Next Time: Drama, sadness and cliff-hangers as we go back to Peter’s life.

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