**** (four of five stars)
Favorite Quote: "God, were you a serial puppy strangler in a past life or something?" -- Arachne to Spidey, after he reveals that, in addition to fighting Aly and Ana Kravinoff, he's fighting off swine flu
Summary (I'm going to try to be really brief, because a lot happens in this arc.)
Peter -- who has the flu -- finds a half-dead Kaine on his doorstep. Before he can help him, he goes to investigate the sound of explosions, only to find Arachne (Julia Carpenter, formerly Spider-Woman) escaping Aly and Ana Kravinoff. The two flee to Mattie Franklin's apartment, where they discover a resurrected Ezekiel. Franklin, meanwhile, is sacrificed to resurrect Vladimir Kraven, who returns as a beast; Sasha realizes that only Peter can fully resurrect Kraven. Ezekiel convinces Spidey that the Kravens are going after all the "spiders" and leads him and Arachne to Arana, who's being attacked by Aly, Ana, and Vladimir. Arachne and Arana are kidnapped, but Peter is stopped from pursuing them by Kaine, who's cut his hair and shaved to look more like Peter. Kaine tries to tell him that he needs to save himself, but Peter hits him, calling him selfish and telling him to get over his hurt like Peter did. Ezekiel tells Spidey he'll lead him to Venom and Anti-Venom, but, in reality, leads him to the Kravinoffs, revealing he was actually the Chameleon in disguise. (Mysterio helped with the creepy parts.) The Kravinoffs chase Spidey, who falls into a grave, but then goes on the offensive. He's stabbed by Aly and then killed by Sasha, who then successfully raises Kraven. Kraven, however, is displeased at being resurrected; he reveals that Sasha has killed the clone, not Peter, leaving Kraven undead. In a flashback, we see that Kaine knocked out Peter and stole the Spidey costume; he then buried Peter in the grave. Peter claws his way from the grave (again) and sees that Kraven wants him to hunt him, because only by the real Spider-Man killing him can he die. Spidey, in the black costume, stalks and incapacitates all the Kravinoffs before almost killing Kraven; he's stopped by Arachne, who's taken on Madame Web's powers after she was killed by Sasha. Arachne reveals the dark future in store for Peter if he kills Kraven. Peter buries Kaine, and Julia (who's now blind) gives her Spider-Woman costume to Arana. Kraven takes his family to the Savage Land, kills Sasha and Vladimir, and sends Ana after Aly, telling her that whichever one of them survives will rebuild the family with him. In the epilogue, Kaine rises from the dead as the Tarantula.
OK, one of the great things about this arc -- if not the greatest -- is that it really lets you put aside all the annoying aspects of "The Gauntlet" -- all the confusion, all the "how does this fit in the larger story they're trying to tell here" -- and enjoy a story told based on its best aspects. It's a dark story, but it doesn't veer into the "horribly, terribly depressing" category of some of the 400s "Amazing Spider-Man" issues. Kelly undoubtedly creates a new status quo here -- maybe our first since "Brand New Day" started -- delivering us a Spidey more similar to the late 200s/early 300s then the one we've seen in "Brand New Day." I loved that Spidey -- a little dark, but no too dark -- and I really hope he stays. I don't know where exactly we go from here, but this storyline helps us shed some of the baggage of both "Brand New Day" and "The Gauntlet" and gives us a good place to start for some really great new stories. Peter's been through the ringer, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he starts to rebuild his life.
1) One of the things that rang the most true to me was the behavior of all the Kravinoffs. First, I'm glad that Sergei was displeased at being resurrected. After all, as the Chameleon himself notes, he did kill himself. It wasn't like Spidey put a bullet in his head and Kraven's happy now that he has a shot at revenge. I couldn't help but think about Buffy being brought back to life by her friends and admitting to Spike that she wished they wouldn't have done so, since she had been in Heaven. Kraven's displeased here and, truthfully, he's got a right to be. Moreover, I'm also glad that Sasha is pretty stunned that he's not thrilled with her, and we see her get angrier and angrier until their final confrontation. Aly and Ana's reactions also totally gel with their personalities and how I think they'd react to the events of this arc. This attention to character is what really makes this arc great.
2) I like that Spidey got to channel our rage over the role the Kravinoffs played in some of the tragedies of the last few issues. As I said in my review of "Shed," I really, really wanted to see Spidey kick Sasha's ass, and I'm glad that Kelly channeled that feeling in Spidey. I loved watching them all get scared when Spidey cuts the lights and starts to hunt them. Kelly really does a great job here creating an almost "Scream" sense of dread as the Kravinoffs wander through the dark. I will note that I was a little taken aback when Spidey disfigured Sasha (more on that in the "The Bad" section). But, I think it went a long way toward conveying his rage, which was key to believing that he was actually on the brink of killing Kraven.
3) I was really excited to see all the "spiders" pulled into this arc. I was a huge "Avengers West Coast" fan, so I was happy to see Julia Carpenter and see where she winds up finding herself at the end of this arc. It also gave Kaine a connection to Peter's life beyond his usual "I hate you because I don't get to be you" schtick.
4) The twist that the Chameleon was Ezekiel was awesome. I honestly totally didn't see it coming. Also, in the "didn't see it coming" category is Kaine rising from the dead as the Tarantula. Awesome. I don't know how they're going to explain that, but the whole feel of it was cool, appearing on the last page after another story, almost like a scene in a movie after the credits rolled.
5) I loved Mary Jane looking at the rats in the street and being reminded of the "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline.
6) The black suit!
7) I thought the passing of Madame Web's gifts to Julie Carpenter, her intervention to stop Spidey from killing Kraven, and the awesome splash page of the future post-killing Spidey was really well done. Dealing with the "with great power comes great responsibility" schtick can be really hokey, but Kelly does a great job here staying just on this side of hokey, instead making it feel honest and respectful. Really well done.
1) OK, I missed the Ezekiel/totem/The Other era of Spider-Man so I don't know who Ezekiel is, really. All I know is I'm glad that I don't have to worry about fitting Peter's lack of organic Web-Shooters and other natural powers into the "Brand New Day" continuity. His appearance here is one of the ongoing problems we see when we're reminded of the old status quo, because it reminds us that, in all likelihood, we're just never going to get a straight answer about how the new status quo meshes with the old. We'll get some hints and brief explanations, but we're never really going to know everything. I know it's a necessary evil, because it's always going to be awkward when you have to re-insert someone like Ezekiel into the new status quo. But, it doesn't mean it's any less annoying.
2) OK, again, it was a necessary evil. But we all knew that Kaine was in the Spider-Man costume when he was "killed."
3) The art in the last issue was a little uneven, often at really important points. I'm still not entirely sure what Peter did to Sasha. Did he use his webs to rip off part of her face? He almost seemed to use Kaine's acid powers, which, last I checked, Peter didn't have...
4) I'm not exactly sure why Mattie Franklin more or less goes willingly to her death. I mean, why not try to escape when they open the door? If I understand correctly, she essentially had all Spidey's powers and then some. The scene between her and Madame Web was touching, but I'm still not sure why she went so willingly.