Ben Reilly, the original Scarlet Spider and clone of Peter Parker, will be getting his own comic series in April, 2017. It will be titled Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider and will take place after the Clone Conspiracy storyline.
While there have been many iterations of the character, Ben Reilly will always be the true Scarlet Spider. He made his first appearance in the original Clone Saga in Amazing Spiderman #149. He was pitted against Peter Parker, but in the end, wound up saving the day by sacrificing himself. In the second Clone Saga, it is revealed that he survived and has taken up the name “Ben Reilly” after Peter’s uncle, Ben Parker, and aunt, May Reilly. He also created the iconic (infamous) costume with the hoodie and torn sleeves.
The controversial second Clone Saga was very popular at first, but declined in quality rapidly due to it’s length and creative disagreements. The supervillain Jackal was a knock off of the Joker and Kaine came across as a low-rent Todd Mcfarlane character. Peter was insufferable for most of the series and the mystery angle behind the clones just became boring. Ben was the best part of the comic as his storyline asked philosophical questions about what it meant to be human and how important one’s own memory and experiences are in defining oneself. In short, he spent most of the saga trying to find meaning and purpose to his existence.
The true heart of the saga can be boiled down to one segment in Amazing Spiderman #400. Aunt May was dying and surrounded by Peter and the rest of the family. Ben waited outside in full costume and peered in. Peter gives a look to imply that he should leave and so Ben goes to the roof. As Aunt May passes away, Peter gives some consoling words and then they all comfort one another while Ben weeps alone on top of the building.
Ben became very popular in the series because he handled his tragedies maturely and carried on helping others even while being ostracized by Peter. At some point, the two Spider-Men finally reconciled, but it comes too late as they killed Ben off shortly after at the end of the series. At first, they were going to make it so that Ben was the real Peter Parker and the one who married Mary Jane was a clone. To me, that would have made more sense since the current Peter Parker was a prick and Ben always seemed more level-headed and likable. The reason for this convoluted mess was that the editorial team needed a way to end the Peter Parker-Mary Jane marriage. So, they thought that Ben could replace Spiderman with a whole new life while Peter lived a happily married existence with Mary Jane away from the central story.
That did not go well with the fans so they retconned it and had a resurrected Norman Osborn reveal that he had altered the test results to make it seem like Ben Reilly was not the clone. He also killed Ben just to ensure the audience that he was indeed the clone when he dissolved.
It was unfortunate that Ben Reilly died so quickly since he was such an interesting character despite his convoluted backstory. Now that Marvel is bringing him back for his own series, that begs the question of whether or not it’s too late. I have already mentioned how the Scarlet Spider moniker has been thrown around through the years. Ben Reilly was the product of the 1990s (so many tiny feet and pouches) and his story has grown stale.
The writer of the new Scarlet Spider book, Peter David, seems like he has some intriguing ideas going forward with the new series, and he shared some of them recently with CBR.com.
“I love the fact that he’s a character who has been around for a long while, but that he has a history that has caused major changes in his personality. He spent so long trying to emulate Peter Parker, to be a hero, and then he had as huge a fall from grace as anyone could imagine. And now, he has died literally so many times that it’s completely unhinged him to the point where he doesn’t know what the hell he wants anymore. Someone like Peter is truly fixed in his personality and life’s ambitions. Ben is trying to understand the world around him and his relationship to it. He’s a hero at heart, but a villain in his head and he is constantly trying to sort everything out.” – Peter David
Providing Ben with more of an internal conflict could prove to be an excellent idea, and gives him some added depth that he lacked years prior.
The one issue that I had with Ben Reilly during the second Clone Saga was that he was so selfless even when being chastised by others. He would help Peter Parker and get attacked. He would help Mary Jane and get attacked. At one point, he even went to prison to protect the couple. He devoted so much of his existence to helping Peter that we never got to see him as his own man. To have him come back now with morally-murky internal compass could be an excellent commentary on how his past actions twisted his very being. While I still have my reservations, I think it’s worth giving the series a chance. Although, the new costume leaves me with some doubts. Seriously, a hoodie?