In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Ben Reilly isn’t Peter Parker, he isn’t Spider-Man, and he definitely isn’t always a hero So, why do fans find themselves drawn to this version of Spider-Man and what’s his history?
Let’s talk about that: Ben Reilly one of Marvel Comics’ best versions of an off brand Spider-Man, and how he has come to have an endearing place in our hearts.
Ben Reilly’s history begins with issue #149 of Amazing Spider-Man, published back in October of 1975; Ben didn’t even have a name, he was just a foil in the original clone saga of the ’70s and had one whole issue before his “death.” The original clone saga was a way to bring back Gwen Stacy without undoing her original death in issue 121 of Amazing, so Gerry Conway played with clones and figured if he could make a Gwen, then why not a Peter? This was to help the story live up to the title: “Even if I live, I Die” and the clone was just there to get Peter Parker to second guess himself if he was the original or not. Eventually Peter comes around to thinking himself the real deal and tosses the clone body in a smoke stack to be cremated.
But, the story wouldn’t end there; the idea of a Spider-Clone would pop up again in #30 of What If and that would finally be the end of it…for a while.
Then the ’90s came along and Spider-Man was just too grim and almost as off the hinge as his villains, so the offices needed something that would shake up the book and of course get those sales. Thus, the Clone Saga was reborn and brought the clone back and even gave him a name, Ben Reilly; Ben for Uncle Ben Parker and Reilly for Aunt May’s maiden name.
When Ben Reilly first made the scene back in 1994, he was a genuine good guy and was very reminiscent of the Peter Parker that many fans were missing. Granted, Ben had his mystery, but it was refreshing to have a character that was carefree. Ben did feel the responsibility and eventually donned a costume which made the character that much more dynamic. I also believe fans found themselves drawn to Ben as it was fresh, but had the history as well. The ’90s found a lot of changes to classic characters and newer characters came from that, for example the four Supermen, Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, and Azreal from DC Comics. Now it was nice for new fans to be there at the beginning since the Death of Superman and Knightfall drew in so many new fans, so Marvel had the Clone Saga take off. These storylines were a “spring cleaning” and such a great way to get new fans into these legends and make it their own.
How exciting to be there and discover a new character and have the advantage of being able to get all his stories brand new off the rack instead of having to hit the back issues. Many fans cite the Clone Saga as their break into the Spider-Man lore; I remember buying issue Web of Spider-Man 119 and it was packaged with a Marvel Milestone reprint of Amazing Spider-Man 150. This led me to collecting the rest of the Exile Returns story-arc and getting a Marvel Milestone reprint of Amazing Spider-Man 149; so now I had the first Scarlet Spider arc and also the conclusion to the original Clone Saga…I had all I needed. This was at the genesis of my fandom and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. These were exciting times, fans still had Spider-Man as Peter Parker and we were also exploring new ground with Scarlet Spider’s adventures. This would introduce us to new characters like Kaine and Lady Doctor Octopus, new match ups with Ben taking on Venom, and give us a sense of new hope in place of once gritty Spider-Man comics.
Ben was just what the Spider-Man books needed, he wasn’t as obsessed or depressed as Peter had become. Ben could still draw on why responsibility was important but wasn’t as weighted down with Harry’s death and wanting to be Spider-Man 24/7 like Peter Parker was at the time. With Ben’s popularity and powers, it was nice to think about Peter Parker having a happy ending; being able to settle down with Mary Jane and start a family with their upcoming baby. So that idea helped to graduate Ben from derivative hero to the main star. Which I feel hurt Ben’s uniqueness…it was nice to see him get the spotlight but it also meant inheriting all of Spider-Man’s woes but without being Peter Parker; he had the rogues gallery but didn’t have the Daily Bugle bullpen or history.
Eventually, the Clone Saga would get out of hand and become two years of stories that changed Spider-Man’s history; in which it would be revealed that Ben was the true Peter Parker. Yet this wouldn’t last as fans weren’t happy with how things were being played out and felt robbed of the history they had come to know of Peter Parker.
So, in Spider-Man #75 (volume 1, 1990) they killed off Ben Reilly, revealed that Norman Osborn had been the mastermind behind all the drama and trauma of the past two years. Fans were happy to see that the story of Spider-Man wasn’t a fake and that we had been reading about Peter this whole time; but some of us did miss Ben. It would take years and lots of teases from Marvel before Ben would come back.
Ben did get a hero’s death but it had once again reduced him to being a plot device; a puppet designed to drive Peter Parker and destroy his life and sanity. This was tough as Marvel Comics was going through many changes…Heroes Reborn was returning to Marvel 616 and publishing felt this would be good for Spider-Man too. So that was the end of Ben, but part of his legacy did live on with MC2 comics; May “Mayday” Parker was Spider-Girl and she wore Ben’s old Spider-Man costume and we also had Darkdevil who was the son of Ben, which was a nice consolation prize.
Years later the day would come and we would get a six issue mini-series from Marvel called the Spider-Man: The Real Clone Saga and it would be the way the original Clone Saga should have been done, before all the needless extensions. What was nice about that mini-series was the fact that we finally get to see Ben again after being gone 13 years and this mini-series gave us hope because this ending had Ben live. So was the mini mainstream continuity or was it just for fun?
Marvel would tease us again with a Scarlet Spider book coming, but this would be the adventures of Kaine; who was another Peter clone but was horribly disfigured and very, very angry. Thanks to Spider-Island, by Dan Slott, we would have the return of the Jackal and Kaine, who would have a big part to play in this story arc as well; which was his redemption arc and him taking on the name Scarlet Spider to honor Ben.
This version of Scarlet Spider would be the bad boy as his tag line — “All of the power, none of the responsibility” — showed, but still some fans weren’t happy. To get all these characters back but still be missing Ben Reilly felt wrong. Clone Conspiracy, also by Dan Slott, did it for us. This time Ben was back, but as a sympathetic villain; he would bring the dead back to life. Not a bad idea, but then again who gets to play God? Dan Slott did a good job, in my opinion, of how he brought Ben back and also the troubles that Ben had went through with 27 deaths and resurrections at the hand of Miles Warren, the original Jackal and clone creator.
Once Clone Conspiracy was over we found ourselves with a Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider ongoing series, which was just amazing news to fans! There was a divide of course some fans were happy to have Ben back and some fans were upset with the actions of Ben, as the Jackal, and really felt it was out of character. Now I found myself on the side of being happy Ben was back and honestly it was nice to see him have a path of redemption to walk.
Some fans were upset with Ben’s new actions, but I felt they were still in character…yes off center for sure, but it wasn’t like Ben was going mad with power. Ben was giving everyone a second chance to live their lives or even return to their loved ones; he didn’t see these people as good guys or bad guys, all he saw was life. For Ben this would be a part of his character that I felt really shined through in this story; he wanted people to have life, which was something that had been taken from Ben multiple times.
What the Jackal did to Ben at the start of Clone Conspiracy was pretty horrendous and helped to make sense of why Ben became the new Jackal. This was a great foil to Ben and was nicely explored in his own comic book at the start. Peter David did a good job with Ben, but in my opinion did get stuck in the same story. The Cassandra Mercury and Casino bits were just being used and used, but it was nice to see Ben’s chat with Death and how he views life and the human soul. The ending of that series did leave a bad taste in many fans mouths as it really didn’t help Ben come full circle; since this was Ben’s path to redemption. It was a shame that the book didn’t bring Elizabeth Tyne back into Ben’s life, but it was nice to see how Ben and Kaine came to an understanding of their relationship.
As soon as the Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider book was canceled we were facing Spider-Geddon and this didn’t sound good. Spider-Verse was nice and fun and introduced a lot of new characters and variations of Spider-Man, “Geddon” didn’t feel like it would embrace all the extra Spider people running around. We did see Ben captured and was killed by the Inheritors, but luckily this sacrifice would help stop the Inheritors and led to a calmer Scarlet Spider.
So what does that panel hold for Ben Reilly’s future? So far we haven’t seen much, but this is very promising. Showing that the cool, carefree Ben is out there and hopefully we will see him soon. There is much love for Ben Reilly as we’ve seen that the MCU Spider-Man “hoodie” outfit is inspired by Scarlet Spider and the PS4 Spider-Man game even has a skin for Ben so you can make your own adventures. Also keep an eye out for the Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley as they touch on the Clone Saga and Ben Reilly.
Maybe, just maybe, future solicits will give us some great Ben Reilly stories after a long history of ups and down, yeses and nos, and far too much clone confusion.
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