As a piece of the larger Spider-Verse event, “Scarlet Spiders” is shaping up to be an entertaining but not independently compelling miniseries. Its strength is in the enjoyability of its team-up, bringing together Ben Reilly, Kaine and Jessica Drew (Ultimate Black Widow) to take down the Inheritors’ main clone laboratory. Issue #2 builds on that strength, focusing on how these three problem-solve together while still expanding the Inheritors mythology. In addition, Paco Diaz and Israel Silva’s art creates an uber-defined, artificially slick world that feels as spiderlike as it does futuristic. Unfortunately, writer Mike Costa is still over-obvious, with predictable plotting and ham-fisted narration that detracts from what would otherwise be a brisk, accomplished book.
Whatever my other reservations, Costa writes a well-balanced trio with a smart, believable dynamic. It’s such a pleasure to follow them through the laboratory as they alternately debate with and turn to one other. From Ben telling Jessica, “You need to get premium cable” to Kaine immediately offering “destroy the whole building” as his solution, the dialogue is natural, funny and practical. Many “team” stories are ultimately about the team drama; “Scarlet Spiders,” on the other hand, is ultimately about collaborative problem-solving, and the book moves fluidly as a result.
Paco Diaz’s hyper-detailed art adds to this fluidity. Aggressively defined arms and abs are everywhere, making the comic feel very ’90s. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of this style, but when combined with Israel Silva’s colors, it actually looks sinewy and rubbery, futuristic in an unnatural way. As a result, the capital-S Spiders’ physiology looks more like lowercase spider physiology — an effect I can get behind. When they’re scaling walls and scurrying across ceilings, they really look like their powers came from some creepy eight-legged thing. (That said, Diaz’s approach also makes for some awkward crotch shots, and I’d like to see the framing get away from that pose in the future.) All told, my only major issue with Diaz is his approach to Johnny Storm, whose flame-on is wild and directionless. While it makes for an impressive splash page, it also makes the action difficult to read.
Unfortunately, Costa’s narrative captions are less enjoyable. Just as the first issue focused on the psychology of Jessica Drew, issue #2 focuses on Kaine — and the results are just as overly dramatic. Costa doesn’t show even a glimmer of subtlety in these captions, and the phrases are often self-indulgently writerly. Descriptions like “the lights of the city that faintly paint the heavy air” and references to a poem literally titled, “Death Self,” are distractingly ham-fisted and sorely in need of an editor. Even without the stylistic issues, they also weaken the storytelling. Kaine’s emotional and psychological layers are reduced to broad, simple statements and pseudo-psychoanalysis that’s far less rewarding for the reader.
As I mentioned above, Israel Silva’s bright and sleek-shiny colors really complete Diaz’s linework, creating a concrete look and feel for this world. It reads as a futuristic dystopia without losing the fun and energy of a multiverse team-up book. Silva also does clever work with Kaine’s invisibility. That’s always a difficult power to portray effectively in such a visual medium, and Silva accomplishes it without getting too hokey. Rather than adding wavy edges to the lines or having Kaine disappear entirely, the colorist simply washes the colors and lines out.
All told, “Scarlet Spiders” #2 is a fine second installment in this miniseries. Without the clumsy captions, it could have been a real pleasure, but as it stands, it’s simply fine.