I was skeptical about this series when it was first announced. You see, as crappy as the Clone Saga was in the 90s, there was one good thing that came out of it — Ben Reilly, clone of Peter Parker who took on his own web-slinging identity as the Scarlet Spider. In a really convoluted story where Ben was revealed to be the original Peter Parker and Peter the clone, Ben ended up becoming Spider-Man. The less said about that story, the better. It was very poorly handled, and you can read all about how editorial and marketing forced the story into being such a massive pile of crap over at the Life of Reilly (a really good and informative read).
Marvel eventually realized they made a mistake with the way the story was handled and as damage control, they said Ben was actually the clone and Peter the real deal, and so Peter became Spider-Man again. Of course, they also decided to do two other things, which I rank as two of the dumbest moves Marvel’s done with Spider-Man. First, they revealed Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), who had been dead for years and who died in a very good story, was actually alive all this time and manipulating Peter’s life from behind the scenes all this time. The other thing they did was kill off Ben Reilly, a perfectly viable character with endless potential.
Since then, Marvel has teased numerous times that they were going to bring Ben back to life. There was Spider-Man: The Clone Saga, a limited series that told the original Clone Saga story in the way the writers had intended. There was a story focusing on a character from Ben’s past in the Spider-Man books, and they even reused the Scarlet Spider name in the pages of Avengers: The Initiative for a trio of characters as the Scarlet Spiders (although eventually all but one of them died). Marvel even said Ben was coming back to life and he was going to get his own series out of the deal. I was ecstatic about that one, until I realized what day they announced it on.
Can you guess what day it was?
That’s right, April Fool’s Day. That’s just mean, Marvel.
The really irritating thing about this whole thing is then-Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada went on a tirade numerous times about how he hated the fact that Spider-Man was married to longtime love interest, Mary Jane. Quesada felt that a married Spider-Man was less relatable to the audience (apparently, only single guys read Spidey comics).
The whole “relatable” argument has always struck me as ridiculous, whenever it’s used. One prime example is people claiming Superman is unrelatable because of his powers but Batman is relatable because he doesn’t have powers. Never mind that Superman’s civilian life and the way he grew up is a lot closer to the way the majority of us grew up as opposed to Batman’s upbringing. And never mind that no one can really relate to being a globe-trotting, Nazi-fighting archaeologist in the forties or a suave, British spy with an arsenal of gadgets, yet no one complains about Indiana Jones or James Bond being unrelatable.
Anyway, I digress. The thing that annoyed me about Quesada’s argument is that in Ben, they had that single Spidey character. The solution? Bring Ben back and then have two books — one with Ben as a freewheeling bachelor and one with Peter as a married guy. Problem solved.
Instead, we got a story in which Peter and MJ sacrifice their marriage to Mephisto and have him muck with the timestream in order to save the life of Aunt May (who’s likely about to croak in a few years anyway). Because nothing bad could possibly happen by asking the goddamn devil to mess with the space-time continuum.
But recently, we got a new Scarlet Spider in a snazzy new costume. And I thought this is it, Marvel has finally decided to bring Ben Reilly back to life.
Then I found out that no, Marvel hasn’t done that. What they did do was bring back Kaine. He was the first clone of Peter, but was imperfect and went a bit crazy and tried to kill both Peter and Ben on numerous occasions.
Now apparently reformed, Kaine was getting his own series as the Scarlet Spider. This seemed to me like another great disappointment. Once again, Marvel had teased with the prospect of restoring Ben, but stopped just short of doing it. Of all the characters Marvel has resurrected in recent years, Ben has probably been the one most-often requested. And yet, he seems to be the new Bucky (previously the only character Marvel would never resurrect…until they did).
The series, however, seemed intriguing. Chris Yost (one of the writers on the excellent Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes TV series) was handling the writing duties, so I decided to give it a shot based on his presence alone.
And despite my reservations, this series is really good! Kaine is a much harsher, darker character than Peter or Ben. The way he handles situations is not the same way either of the other guys would. It’s great fun watching him toe the line between hero and villain in this book.
Am I still upset Ben isn’t back as the Scarlet Spider? Yup. But that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying this take. Yost has got me onboard for the long haul.