Last one, I swear
90’s Characters: Ben Reilly
There are many reviled comics, comic events, costumes and characters from the 1990’s that in my mind get an unreasonable about of fan flak for what is essentially buyer’s remorse. What was popular and successful then, is retroactively bad, based on looking back at it, a sort of reverse nostalgia. One victim of this was the clone saga. The Clone Saga ran from Web of Spider-Man #117 to Spider-Man #75 covering a number of years and so many ongoing plots. This sold well and has a special place in my heart. The main reason for this, is that it gave us a new hero, Ben Reilly.
First appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #149 back in 1975, this clone of Spider-Man was part of a plot by longtime Spidey villain, the Jackal. The Jackal blamed Spider-Man for the death of Gwen Stacy and organised this long distance revenge. At the end of the issue, the clone was dead as was the Jackal and to be honest for about 20 years no one thought anything about it. Then came the 90’s and it seemed like the spider-titles had lost some of their mojo and a new idea was needed to give the at this point 4 comics per month a shot in the arm. So in Spectacular Spider-Man #216 a mystery man checking up on a hospitalised Aunt May by Spider-Man was revealed to be another Spider-Man.
This stranger was revealed to be the clone thought dead all that time ago (ret-conned to 5 years) who had left New York and changed his name to Ben Reilly (After his beloved uncle and his aunt’s maiden name) and had wandered the US, only to return when he learned of May’s illness. After an adventure, when he realised that he still had a heroic mentality, he stuck around and became a second Spider-themed hero. In need of a costume, he got some spandex and for a logo, picked up a blue spider hoody, tore off the sleeves and was named by the local papers as the Scarlet Spider. Now I actually like the thrown together look of this costume and feel it’s ‘hated’ status is entirely unfair. But it seems I am in the minority there.
He did alright at it and stuck around. He added new tricks such as impact webbing and stingers and was a major part of the Clone Saga, even to the point where he was revealed to be the original and the Spider-Man hanging around the Marvel Universe since Amazing Spider-Man #150 was actually the clone. Peter starting having power problems and quit the job and decided to move away to Portland with his wife. Ben took the mantle of Spider-Man and became the new Spidey, with a new costume.
The reason I enjoyed Ben so much as a character was that he was something of a blank slate, with all the positives of being Spider-Man, but with less continuity and less obvious reactions and choices. He could do what Peter did, but then again, he might not. It was a mix of road not taken and alternate history while not actually affecting the title character. His tenure as Spider-Man was as good as anything in that era was and he made an indelible impression on me. Even one of my favourite Superman artists Dan Jurgens, did a brief run on the new title Sensational Spider-Man.
Time wore on and the return of the original Spider-Man was mandated and in an almost throw-away move, Ben was killed and revealed to be the clone after all. Spider-Man was back and everyone tried to forget that Ben Reilly even existed, his time on the comics so connected him to the Clone Saga that the more bloated sides of that series rubbed on on him, so he was thrown out with all of that stuff. But to me, I lost a favourite character. Now after a recent clone-related story, we have the start of a new Scarlet Spider series with Ben Reilly in the lead. I’m optimistic, but wanted to write this, before Marvel’s poor recent showing of handling my favourite characters makes me cynical again.
Comments, insults and incoherent screams are welcome.