Editorial: Ben Reilly vs. Spideydude… Part III

Over the course of the last several months I’ve written various articles about my favorite character outside of Peter: Ben Reilly. Brad often has lamented especially towards the end of the resent storyline, Clone Conspiracy, on our Podcast that I’m not enjoying what has been set up. I want to love this. I want to be excited. I remember the sheer joy I felt reading the first four or so issues of Scarlet Spider (Kaine edition) that were released in 2012. Stegman and Yost were killing it on that title. After Stegman’s departure, the joy began to fade and I disliked the ending until I re-read it for Clone Saga Chronicles. Overall I enjoyed the beginning, and right up until the middle I was digging it. But now? Well. Read on.  Feel free to leave a comment below after the jump.
I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the directions that have been taken by my favorite character. It’d be different if it had not been so over the top in terms of blatant disregard for previous, well established history. Because the story attempted to get me interested in Ben Reilly as he is now, but for him to descend into absolute villain status without a shred of redemption given, does not lead me to think that the upcoming David/Bagley book is going to be what I hoped for. While I have absolute faith in both men’s abilities, it is difficult for me to ascertain a desire to read about the Superior Scarlet Spider.
Let’s flashback to 1995. Toy Story was #1 at the box office, ER was the number one show on television, Superman and Batman had exited left stage left and been replaced, and Marvel’s answer was to replace Peter Parker with a blonde haired clone named Ben Reilly.

I was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’d sing the theme, had the toys, and FREAKED out when I saw them at Disney World along with Mickey, Goofy, Minnie and the entire gang. (Except for Donald. Which was always weird) But it annoyed my dad. My dad felt that humanoid turtles were too ‘out there’ that there were better stories to read and devour. So he chose Spider-Man. Spectacular 223 was on the stand and my father pulled it at the grocery store. I was hooked. Engaged by the fact there were not one but two Spider guys, my father unintentionally brought forth something that I immediately identified with: Peter Parker had a twin.

You see, I was born with a twin sister. We were incredibly close, but our bond wasn’t like most twins even. She was mentally and physically handicapped from the time we were three weeks old due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. The concept of twins were there, but rarely did I at that time see twins in media. In any form. (yes, this was before I saw the wonder twins in reruns) So for me, I gravitated towards Ben as myself. After my first issue, the first arc I collected was Blood Brothers, one of the original planned endings to the Clone Saga. All I needed to know was Ben was now Blonde, Peter moved away with MJ but returned recently while he was gone he lost his powers and Ben was now Spider-Man. Generally this was achieved via internal thought balloons. Again, every comic is someone’s first, so, thank you Tom DeFalco for that. By the time we get to Revelations, Ben and Peter WERE brothers. No doubt about it. They loved one another and had been through the hell that preceded it and were closer than ever! That bond didn’t go away, but was ignored for years due to editorial mandate. There were glimpses of it, usually by Todd DeZago, who wrote Sensational during and after the Clone Saga, how it affected Peter. DK was a character introduced in Spectacular by DeZago the month Ben became Spider-Man. A backup/follow up story was done to show that DK (David Kallen) was struggling to come to grips with the loss of his brother. Peter indicated that he too, lost someone he considered a brother.

Brothers aren’t always Blood or Family. Brothers are friendships too. To see the growth of Peter and Ben and Mary Jane as friends, as family even, was something that was a hidden gem in the entire taperstry of the Clone Saga. I have 4 friends In-Real-Life that are my brothers. My fellow co-hosts of both Clone Saga Chronicles and The Spider-Man Crawl Space Podcast  are my brothers. I’m thankful for those things. And yes, to diminish that is something that annoys me to no end.

With that bond, it stood to reason that Peter would at least LISTEN to Ben.

And for a few moments, you could buy it. He was curing disease, he was helping people. But, then there was nothing redeemable from the infamous “face/heel” turn in issue 4. Ben tells the reader and anyone who would listen for months why he was right, because he was truly helping people. Suddenly he wanted to replace Peter. Something that Ben had come to grips with in the early days of the clone saga and his years doing his best Larenzo Llamas Impression in Lost Years.

Peter was willing to listen at least. But the fact is, try as he might, the overall ethics were wrong. Bringing these “reanimated corpses” vis a vis cloning should raise so many eyebrows, but once again, Slott reverted to his biggest problem on Spider-Man: the plot above all else.
Miles Warren? I could see him coming to Peter and saying: look. I admire you. I’ve reformed. Look! A clean slate! I could even see Norman doing that to get closer to Peter. But it only works if Miles was in control of his facilities and if Norman was going to use it as leverage to get to Peter. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. And for the most part, it didn’t work. For what it tried to do, which in any entertainment medium is to tell a clear, coherent story. Along the way, you can add story elements that add intrigue, suspense, or shock value. But the point is to bring forth interest into the story. Yes, I get the criticism: Ben is a photocopy of Peter. Surface wise, I’d agree. But what makes Ben so popular is that he had his own experiences outside Spider-Man. Lost Years, Redemption, Exiled, and the back ups in the BND-era Web of Spider-Man all showed that he led an entirely different life than Peter. Kaine too. To diminish that is what is sometimes frustrating when discussing this. Ben was popular as a character because he was different. No Bugle, no ESU. He did his thing and never tried to replace Peter. Part of the unfairness of saying he was simply created to replace Peter is that the results were far different than that simplistic premise. Ben did Ben. Peter was free to live his life free from that burden. Of course the course changed and Peter was reestablished, which was always the plan, originally.
Where Slott failed was that he tried once again to cram so much in, that there only just the surface scratched in terms of what a story like this would mean to Peter’s world. Again, plot above all else. Strip away the PI stuff. Take the Otto subplot away. Make this story about 5-6 characters, and you could’ve seen a fantastic story. Ben, Miles Warren, Peter, Kaine, Gwen, maybe Otto and Anna. But did we need pages devoted to the Lizard? A new Electro that no one cared about? Hobie Brown to be maimed, but not dead? Pointless clones of every D through Z list villain? ASM issues that were devoted to back story and not much else? The answer is no. As hard as it is to create ongoing narratives that weave in and out over time, the scale can collapse on its own weight and leave the readers going: “huh?”
I’ve been one of the biggest barnacle salesmen on the planet defending a story and its characters for over 10 years that some hate or just are indifferent to. There was a part of me that was like YES! But… Then I was cautiously optimistic. Slott had let me down before, with Spider-Verse. Unfortunately he let me down big time here. No pun intended. That’s why I had to give the overall Story an F. And, to bring up a point that Joshua Lapin-Bertone made on the latest episode of Clone Saga Chronicles, this was the worst Ben Reilly Story ever told. Because it destroyed what we liked about him and made him into something I have a hard time supporting.

Of course, it’s not Ben Reilly. Right? It’s the 27th clone of Ben Reilly. Diluted. Destroyed. A mask.

The ONLY reason I’m giving it a chance is Peter David. Mark Bagley. Kaine.

I’m just hoping it’s something to be proud of.

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(5) Comments

  1. Al

    Zach this kicked so much ass! What I never understand about the whole “He is a photocopy of Peter” criticism is that it ignores the fact that we are all of us the product of our life experiences and memories. Norman Osborn in the silver age illustrated this because when he forgot large chunks of his life due to amnesia he became a nicer person. Once he remembered his real memories though he resumed being who he truly was, an asshole. For Ben spending five fundamentally different years from Peter where he did a Hell of a lot of soul searching and led very different life experiences would render him different as a person even in just his opinions or reactions to the same events. Fundamentally he could still be a nice person who believes in responsibility but he’d be a lot more reckless (we saw that) and more of a thrillseeker. Even just in his relationships he’d be different to Peter. Consider how to Peter Venom was a nightmarish figure who scared him, invaded his life and threatened his loved ones and also was a dark reflection of himself. But to Ben...Venom was just some asshole. In contrast Carolyn Trainer to Peter was a knock-off Doc Ock but to Ben she was in a sense a surrogate sister since she was the daughter of his father figure Seward Trainer. This isn’t even getting into his unique supporting cast.

  2. Enigma_2099

    "The ONLY reason I’m giving it a chance is Peter David. Mark Bagley. Kaine." Sorry son... I'm not even gonna do that. The damage Slott has done is too extensive in my eyes.

  3. Zach Joiner - Post author

    http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/dkspidrman.htm I'm adding this link for those who want to know more. All three of these articles have been somewhat therapeutic. Josh and George also have helped. (He started me towards the acceptance, Josh kinda cemented it for me) I think most of the people who don't know the character's history beyond what they read on Wikipedia, the DK books or Spider-Fan are the ones who support this.

  4. Evan

    I just tried to do some research in Google for David Kallen, and I can't find anything. I had never heard of him before and was curious. Thank you for writing this editorial, Zach. While I'm sure it was cathartic -- and therefore helpful -- for you, I'm always curious what your opinion is whenever there are clone-related stories. I was in high school during the Clone Saga, and the first comic I had picked up in years was Revelations #4. A friend at the time was trying to explain to me the gist of the Clone Saga -- that the "real" Spider-man was Ben all along, and I was so confused and disappointed by that. I was happy, then, when it was revealed that that was just misdirection, and that the status quo was thus re-established with Ben's death. (At that age I knew nothing about reader feedback, editorial decisions, and marketing, and so I assumed Marvel had that in mind the whole time.) But the idea of Ben's being his own person as a result of different experiences has made him more appealing to me in recent years, and it was frustrating for me to see his legacy trampled as it was in Clone Conspiracy. I guess the claim can always be made, as you said, that this is not the "actual" Ben, so it's not a big deal. But it was marketed that way, and loopholes of that sort used to excuse poor stories ring hollow to me. Just my thoughts. Even if you feel like the only one in the entire world who loves the Clone Saga, having defended it for so many years, rest assured that you are not alone.

  5. Jack

    I started reading ASM again during the clone sage, while our family was living in Texas. I thought it was very interesting. I even thought Judas Traveller was interesting. Sure, the core story dragged out way too long, but that was Marvel marketing's fault, not a problem with the essential idea. Sure, having it turn out that it was Ben, not Peter, we'd all been following since Gerry Conway's run was a bad idea. Sure, Marvel imagining they could sever the inseparable connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man was bone-headed (not unlike the bone-headed notion that they could blow up the marriage and everyone would "get over it"). Despite all that, I still liked it, and though they muffed the landing I thought it was an intriguing tale. And you're right -- Ben wasn't a Peter duplicate. He was like a Peter who had grown up abandoned in foster care (and the original Kaine was Peter-as-Frankenstein). Different enough to be his own person. In fact, the original CS was superior. In the original Clone Saga, Peter wasn't an arrested-development mental 15-year-old. The Clone Saga Peter took things seriously -- so seriously it semi-unhinged him. The Clone Saga Peter did not mock Kaine. In fact, the original Clone Saga blasts a whole clear through this recent piffle. Peter figured out that he was in fact not the clone -- hence, that made him the **real Peter**. Ben was -not- the real Peter. Peter accepted that Ben (and Kaine) were still actual persons. But Peter knew that he was the real one. And that climactic realization slices clear through the core conceit of Clone Conspiracy. Ben27's clones are not the real originals. There were no resurrections happening. Clone-Gwen was not Gwen. She was a person -- but she wasn't Gwen. So, the resolving realization of the original Clone Saga busts a hole right in the hull of CC, and sinks it.

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