Scarlet Spider #4: Assassins Guild Gauntlet

Chris Yost's new pseudo-hero continues his intense journey from killer to... well, killer with a code.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Scarlet Spider #4

There's something weirdly exciting about seeing a guy dressed in spider-togs being a hardass anti-hero – without the slobbering prehensile tongue and brain-eating. In Scarlet Spider, Chris Yost seems to have stripped away the annoying parts of '90s comics and isolated the cool stuff, and the result is a pretty intense journey of a guy with a dark and completely messed-up past trying to figure himself out while dodging even harder-assed killers.

Scarlet Spider #4 opens with a flashback to the past, when Kaine was still a disfigured, deranged clone with no hope for any kind of normal life having resorted to contract killing in Detroit – which means he runs afoul of the Assassins Guild run by Belladonna (which hopefully won't result in Gambit showing up in this book, fingers crossed) since he's not a member and he's on their turf. Back then, he told them to screw off, starting an enmity that's come back to haunt him now that he's been ID'ed in Houston, where he's sort of attempting to reluctantly settle down a bit. Thus, most of the issue is some dynamic Ryan Stegman art showing Kaine running the gauntlet against a whole troupe of killers, including a Hand Ninja (and you know the rules – one ninja is scary, many ninjas are pathetic), a guy calling himself The Smithy who can apparently summon guns, a psycho maniac powerhouse tween girl and a skull-faced machete guy that might be named Harvester. The latter of whom prompts the normally morose Kaine to actually spout off some Peter Parker-style smack-talk. So maybe that's genetic, too.

It's tense, it's exciting, and just cool to have a Spider-Man who's not really the tried and true guy, but some lone wolf bastard having trouble reconciling his desire to live with his guilty acceptance of the fact that he doesn't deserve to survive. A Spider-Man who will cut a guy's leg off and punch a guy through the head. Now I love the joie de vivre of Amazing Spider-Man as much as anybody, but it's also just viscerally awesome to have the flipside of that coin to enjoy as well. Yost makes everything compelling, including the weird mystery girl Aracely, who seems to have no memory of anything, but is manifesting strange knowledge of everything – including multiple languages and maybe some low-grade telepathy – and who may have just outed Kaine as the Scarlet Spider to the hot bartender that's into him. Not that his identity was really all that secret in the first place.

Stegman's art is also pretty stellar, and manages to make Kaine look like Peter Parker just enough to invoke the spectre of great power and great responsibility, especially while he's looking in the mirror and regretting his evil past. With Stegman knocking the art out of the park and Yost refreshing old concepts and distilling them to their coolest forms, Scarlet Spider is a series to check out – chances are the best is yet to come.

8.5