Infinite Spider-Man Part 6.4: Why not Ben Reilly?

Posted by Mister Mets 16 November 2011



If you're unfamiliar with the Clone Saga, the Comics Cube has a good write-up. Basically in the 1990s, Marvel decided to reveal that the Peter Parker who had appeared in the Spider-Man comics for twenty years was actually a clone, while the real Peter Parker had traveled the country under the pseudonym Ben Reilly, believing himself to be a clone following the events of Amazing Spider-Man #149. That decision was reversed within the year, and Ben Reilly was killed off, dissolving into dust, proving that he was the clone after all. There have been quite a few Ben Reilly fans, who suggest that the character could contribute to the Spider-Man comics, as a replacement protagonist for Peter Parker or a supporting character, preserving a "commitment to change" approach.

I read almost every issue of the Clone Saga, and agree with Marvel's decision to disown it. There was some good stuff, but the worst of it was really bad. While some remember it for particularly egregious moments (Peter Parker slapping his wife, the clone reveal) a lot of the storytelling was awful, too. I thought that Live and Let Die, Players and Pawns, Back from the Edge, the Mark of Kaine Part 5 and the Lizard back-up story from the Planet of the Symbiotes crossover were all significantly weaker than anything in the Spider-Man comics since One More Day. Reading the Clone Saga in its entirety (or close to it), I came to realize how much of an improvement current comics storytelling is over the 90s.

If Ben Reilly had a major role in the Spider-Man comics, there would be a major incentive for new readers to pick up material that's best left forgotten. But after reading the clone saga, I also gained an appreciation for why some people loved this period. Between "Blood Brothers" (which was originally supposed to end the Clone Saga) and "Revelations" there was an appealing accidental status quo which lasted for a few months with Ben Reilly as Spider-Man, and Peter Parker as a frequent ally/ family man.

Some saw this as the ideal compromise regarding questions about the directions of the Spider-Man comic. Peter Parker would still be in the book, while Ben Reilly had the chaotic private life. If Peter Parker was the supporting character, he might have overshadowed the main protagonist. But you could also have Ben Reilly and Peter Parker could simultaneously be superheroes, carrying separate titles, as had been the case in the earliest months of the clone saga.

Were he to return, Ben Reilly could have an entirely different role in the present. Many will argue that Spider-Man's supposed to be a loner, but he's currently on two Avengers teams in addition to the Future Foundation. If you think Peter Parker being on too many teams is a problem, Ben Reilly could be the solution. It would also help distinguish the two characters, as one is literally the clone of another.

The clone thing is hard to overcome. Fans of Ben Reilly will cite the subtle ways in which the character is different from Peter Parker, but some things are inescapable. Ben Reilly is as smart, witty and handsome as Peter, and essentially has the same ethics. He was always a good guy, even considering all the trauma. He was a clone who reflected well on Peter Parker.

This may be why Marvel's launching a new Scarlet Spider series with Kaine as the lead. There are more differences between Peter Parker and Kaine, the clone who has been a bad guy and who has killed people in the past. I think Kaine represents something different from Reilly, especially when it comes to Spider-Man. Kaine's done some nasty stuff in his past, so if he becomes a hero, it does suggest that everything Kaine did, Peter is capable of, as well. Kaine also appeared in recent stories, so newer readers would be more familiar with the character.

Kaine is probably more willing to do the stuff that Peter Parker refuses to do, than Ben Reilly. If Marvel's trying to give the book a hook, "A Spider-Man who killed bad guys" is one way to do it. You could argue that he's a much less subtle version of Ben Reilly, but it's something that might interest readers completely unfamiliar with the characters.

I'm ambivalent on the question of whether Ben Reilly should be resurrected. In superhero comics, there are ways to circumvent a character dissolving into dust. That's not the problem. It could always be revealed that another clone, or an entity impersonating Ben Reilly for whatever reason, died in Spider-Man #75. Or Ben Reilly could discover that he also the powers of Sandman, which would further distinguish him from Peter Parker.

If the writers have no plans for bringing back Ben Reilly, I wouldn't mandate it. If the writers and editors want to so it, I wouldn't stop them. At some point in the next ten years, I suspect Ben Reilly will return, as popular characters in comics rarely stay dead. The kids who grew up on the Clone Saga are going to be the next generation of Spider-Man writers, so it's almost inevitable that someone will have an effective pitch.

Ed Brubaker had a good pitch, and now Bucky's back. If Chuck Austen had mismanaged Bucky's resurrection, when he was on the series, it likely would've prevented the good Bucky stories from being told.

Another recent example would be the return of Kraven in Grim Hunt. It's something that was considered unlikely for a variety of reasons (the esteem Kraven's Last Hunt was held in, the way Kraven was essentially replaced by his sons) but one of the web heads/ brain trust had pitched a way to make Kraven's return a big deal, while giving the character a new direction.

One question would be where the story of Ben Reilly's resurrection should occur. Some have suggesting a Ben Reilly mini-series, akin to DC's various Geoff Johns penned Rebirth mini-series, but the problem is that the only audience is people who are already fans of the Clone Saga, a number that may be increasing thanks to the trades. I think it's better to reintroduce Ben Reilly in another book first, be it Amazing Spider-Man or something else.

I believe the story in which Ben Reilly comes back and interacts with Spider-Man should be written by someone intimately familiar with Brand New Day, so it wouldn't seem like a story which exists solely to bring back Ben Reilly (while possibly being at odds with events in Amazing Spider-Man).
If that's a hit, a Ben Reilly monthly becomes a lot more likely, and it can be written by someone else.

One possibility: Ben Reilly could be resurrected in one of the two spinoff Spider-Man monthlies: Venom or Scarlet Spider. It would provide those books a good chunk of attention (and those books will probably need that to survive), while giving the writers an opportunity to demonstrate to new readers that Ben Reilly's a different character from Peter Parker. Maybe the new Spider-Girl series would have lasted more than eight issues with Ben Reilly as an instructor.

In the Venom monthly, Ben Reilly can serve as a sort of mentor to Flash Thompson. They could have a somewhat complicated and interesting relationship, as towards the end of the Clone Saga, Ben was getting along well with Flash's current girlfriend. Ben Reilly is also a plausible host for the suit, if things don't work out with Flash Thompson. That could be a source of potential conflict.

Ben Reilly could also be introduced as the mysterious member of an ensemble, similar to Ronin the New Avengers. This way you could get fans to be interested in the character and encourage the skeptics to give him a chance, before revealing his identity, which would guarantee a shitload of controversy/ discussion on comic book websites. For example, he could be introduced as a witty masked superhero working for the Initiative, with the writers slowly revealing his powers (amazing agility/ speed/ strength, tremendous intelligence, the ability to avoid danger, etc.) I'm under the assumption that the people who would buy a Ben Reilly monthly book would also buy whatever team book he appears in. Thus Marvel would increase the sales of a book they're currently publishing (or a book they were going to publish anyway), and they'd introduce Ben Reilly to some readers who weren't around during the Clone Saga.

If Ben Reilly joining a team is a hit, Marvel could test the waters for a regular series with a one shot or a mini series. JM Dematteis is available for a solo book. You do need an artist who can handle superhero stuff, and flashbacks to Ben Reilly's days as a wanderer. I think a slower approach to reintroducing Ben Reilly would be effective to build up anticipation, and confirm that there's a market for a new regular series, as it's rare to see a new monthly succeeding.

One reason not to bring back Ben Reilly is that there have already been so many deaths and resurrections in the Spider-Man comics. If JM Dematteis hadn't unnecessarily killed off Harry and May, those resurrections would not have been necessary. Fans might not be as cynical, which means that it would be easier to make the case for resurrecting Reilly.

Ben Reilly is arguably redundant when the original Spider-Man is still in the comics. There are elements of the Clone Saga arguably best left forgotten (Aunt May's death, the pregnancy.) There's no reason to presume that a few hundred fans on the internet translates to enough interest for a monthly. With Spider-Man being a bachelor again, Ben Reilly's even more redundant.

Having Ben Reilly as Spider-Man can get kinda convoluted, and there are similar problems with having him in a major role in the Spider-Man comics. Since he has all of Peter's memories prior to Amazing Spider-Man #149, it's difficult to keep track of what he knows about characters he interacts with. He would have first-hand memories of many experiences, while he would be ignorant of many subsequent developments.

There are still a few reasons to do a Scarlet Spider book.
It'll appeal to some of the Spider-Man fans who left after OMD, and a few of those who remain on the fence with the current Amazing Spider-Man, those most likely to drop the book after a stretch of weak issues, or for reasons that seem trivial. JM Dematteis would probably agree to write it. It gives an excuse to reference the clone saga, some of which was decent. While there are disadvantages to guiding readers to the Clone Saga trade paperbacks, it would probably result in some new sales.

There are some interesting possibilities. Personally, I think it would be fun to do an inversion of the clone saga. Now that Peter Parker's a bachelor, why not do Ben Reilly as a married father? Ben Reilly could also remember the world as it was before One More Day (and had no idea what's happened since his death.)

I don't think it would work for Scarlet Spider to supplement any shortcomings in the direction of the Spider-Man comics. If it's better for the long-term prospects of the series for the character to be a bachelor, Ben Reilly shouldn't be a proxy for a single Peter Parker, an option as ill-advised as bringing the Spider-Man comics to an end.

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