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Back in Black Spider-Man/Kraven/Tarantula

by yo go re

Sometimes you just get the feeling that different parts of a company aren't talking to each other.

Amidst the chaos of the Secret Wars, Spider-Man discovers a new, sleek black costume to replace his tattered threads. This incredible new costume responded to his thoughts and even produced its own webbing. Unbeknownst to Spider-Man, the costume was actually an evil, alien life-form, bent on permanently bonding with his body.

Okay, that's fine, yeah? That's an accurate description of the origin of Spidey's now-iconic black suit. So what's the issue? The problem is, someone chose to name this figure "Back in Black" Spider-Man, and "Back in Black" has nothing to do with Secret Wars or the symbiote suit. If this is BiB Spidey, then the suit is just regular material, not alive, and he's wearing it because he's so pissed about Aunt May getting shot. A pretty substantial difference, and evidence that someone at Art Asylum needs to work on their inter-office communication skills.

The first Black Spider-Man Minimate was among the earliest Minimates ever released, coming in Series 2 way back in July 2003. He was a variant for the Battle-Damaged Spider-Man, and was basically a plain black body with a big white spider. This is the first black Spidey in a two-pack since that early release, and he's... basically a plain black body with a big white spider. Hey, what you want? It's the design. The early idea was to make the spider red, but the white worked better visually.

This Minimate does get a few things to set him apart. For one, there's blue detailing on the stomach and legs to suggest heroic anatomy. For another, his mask is removable to show us Peter Parker's face beneath. The face has a grim determination suiting the "Back in Black" storyline, when Pete was almost willing to kill, and the set gives you a brown hair piece to complete the look. Or leave it off, and pretend he's the old bald version from Spider-Man: Reign, who was sad because he'd killed Mary Jane with his radioactive man-seed.

Suddenly "Brand New Day" doesn't look so bad, now does it?

A maniac with a machete, Kraven the Hunter considered Spider-Man to be his ultimate prey. With his mystical jungle herbs providing superhuman strength, reflexes and slowing the aging process. Kraven even joined the Sinister Six!

Kraven's a lot more famous for being written off than for anything at all he did before that, and even that story wasn't conceived for him: writer JM DeMatteis had previously pitched the idea at DC, where it would have starred Batman and the Joker. And eventually it did - a few years after Kraven's Last Hunt was published, DeMatteis was invited to do a Batman story, and he used his old pitch, a story that was eventually collected as Going Sane. But enough about that, let's talk Kraven!

A big game hunter, Kraven is less of a supervillain and more of a sportsman. He doesn't rob banks or kidnap scientists, he just wants to prove he's better than Spider-Man. For no clear reason, he dresses in an outfit that would make Liza Minelli's pajamas look reserved and tasteful. A vest with a lion's face split in half on either side, zebra-stripe bracelets and belt, leopard print armbands and capri pants... did he kill himself out of shame? The vest is actually a solid piece, with his chest painted on it. Why do that instead of having a cut-out section? Probably cheaper to produce. His other accessories are a knife and, approporiately, a shotgun.

You can remove Kraven's shirt, and in a nice bit of attention to detail, the paint on his chest duplicates what we see on the faux-gap of the vest. Nice work! He has many scars on his chest, and some fresh wounds on his back. He's scowling his unhappy Russian scowl beneath roughly slicked-back black hair. He's painted with a mustache and a little beard, just as he always sported in the comics. How's a guy who lives in the bush keep his facial hair so neatly trimmed?

Now, every series of Marvel Minimates has had a variant - usually it would be an alternate costume for one of the characters, like the Black Spider-Man we mentioned above, or replacing a plain Wolverine with "Days of Future Past" Wolverine. That sort of thing. Recently, however, AA has really been sticking it to the fans, making the chase figure an all-new character: in Series 24, the BiB Spidey/Kraven pack is the one with the variant, and that variant is Tarantula.

Anton Rodriguez was recruited by his South American government be their national symbol - a role Tarantula rejected to pursue a life of crime. With his retractable finger blades and toe spikes, Tarantula can climb almost any surface!

He can also shank the ever-lovin' crap out of people, but the bio fails to mention that. And since he spends a lot more time kick-stabbing people than climbing anything, that's kind of a weird thing to say about him. "With his mighty 20/20 vision, Tarantula can read almost any newspaper!" See, we can say nonsensical things too. And let us take this opprtunity to say how sad it is that we don't get new pointy feet for this figure.

Tarantula is done really well in Minimate form - his costume details are crisp, and actually a bit better designed than the 6" version. Tarantula's mask is more like a bandana, here: it's the same piece designed for Iron Fist, and it works really well. The only drawback is that it's painted blue, rather than black. [Oh, not this again! --ed.]

Pull the figure's mask off (it's tough, but you'll manage; the neck joint is insanely tight, and the mask will definitly give way before that will) and you're treated to Anton's face beneath. Befitting the character's... let's say, "less than stable" personality, the face is that of a wild-eyed madman, throwing his head back and cackling. His black hair is coiffed nicely - much nicer than you'd expect under that do-rag.

Tarantula is a good figure. And for that matter, so's Kraven. But to get both these disparate villains, you have to buy two Back in Black Spider-Men. Spidey's decent himself, but not special enough to be worth owning two of him. Thankfully the recent series of Minimates have gone back to less integral variants, so problems like this won't come up again.

-- 10/26/09

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