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With the release of The Clone Conspiracy #3, #Marvel and Dan Slott have done something many fans have been crying out for: Ben Reilly has been revived!
Yes, 20 years after disintegrating in #SpiderMan's arms, the original Spider-Clone has returned. After years of misdirection and fake-outs, Ben Reilly will once again have his own ongoing comic titled Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, and fans around the world (myself included!) are rejoicing.
This is no mere gimmick for a storyline; Dan Slott has been laying the groundwork for this for a very long time. As a huge Spider-Man fan, he knows the importance of Ben's character to the Spider-Man mythos, which also means he knows how much of a risk it is bringing him back. However, I've already said how I believe Dan Slott is the right man to take Spidey forward, so I'm really interested to see where this goes.
Who Is Ben Reilly?
In order to answer this question we need to discuss Miles Warren, a.k.a. the Jackal. Warren was a professor to Peter Parker who secretly harbored feelings for Gwen Stacy and, after her death, fell into despair. Blaming Spider-Man for Gwen's death, Warren vowed to get revenge on him — and after coming across a sample of Gwen's DNA, he created a clone of her.
Along with the sample of Gwen's DNA, he also had a sample of Peter Parker's. It was from this sample that Ben Reilly was born. After several attempts to clone Peter Parker, he finally created the perfect clone. Back in 1975's Amazing Spider-Man #149, the Jackal kidnaps Spider-Man and forces him to do battle with the clone.
Eventually, the two Spider-Men join forces to defeat the Jackal, but as a failsafe, Warren has planted a bomb. One of the Spider-Men is seemingly killed in the explosion and the body was dropped into a smokestack.
His Years In Exile
Rumors of Ben's death were greatly exaggerated, and after awakening in the smokestack, he went to visit Peter. Seeing Peter with Mary Jane made him realize that Peter had built a life for himself. Even though he was created to kill Peter, Ben was still driven by Peter's morals — and even though he had acknowledged that he was the clone, he chose to leave New York. Taking some of Peter's old clothes, he named himself Ben Reilly after his Uncle Ben and Aunt May's maiden name, and left the city.
For five years, Ben lived a nomadic life and befriended a scientist by the name of Seward Trainer, who helped him to establish a life. Ben is provided with fake documents which allow him to work for awhile, but he moves on before anybody can question them. All the while Ben is being stalked by a failed clone, Kaine, who seeks to kill Ben as he is jealous of his perfect clone status.
The two have numerous encounters over the years, and Ben continues to be drawn back into using his powers when he helps to take down a drugs cartel.
The Scarlet Spider And Taking Over As Spider-Man
After hearing the news that Aunt May is dying, Ben decides to return to New York to say his goodbyes. In doing so, he reveals himself to Peter once more and after an initial disagreement, the brothers from another blood cell soon agree to work together.
Throwing together a costume, Ben is dubbed the Scarlet Spider by the media after defeating Venom, and he soon gains confidence that he can become a hero in his own right.
This is where it all starts to get a bit messy. During the "Clone Saga," it is revealed that Ben Reilly is in fact the real Peter Parker. This rocks both of their worlds, and eventually Peter decides to leave New York with Mary Jane. MJ was pregnant at the time and Peter decided that he needed to protect his family, so passed the torch on to his "brother."
This was actually a decision from the higher-ups at Marvel who thought that Peter was now too old and as such, his character was no longer relatable. As a soft reboot, Ben Reilly became the new Spider-Man.
Ben held the mantle of Spider-Man for the better part of a year and even featured in the DC vs. Marvel crossover event. He was also briefly possessed by the Carnage symbiote to become Spider-Carnage.
Ben gets a job at the Daily Grind, a small cafe, and even dyes his hair to differentiate himself from Peter. But there were still some who were not pleased with this development. Many felt that Marvel's decision was wrong and that Peter Parker was, and always will be, the one true Spider-Man. This led to the higher-ups at Marvel coming to another decision.
Another Seeming Death
Eventually, Peter and Mary Jane returned to New York and began to work with Ben once more, with both operating as Spider-Man. But then, tragedy strikes. During a battle with the Green Goblin, it is revealed once and for all who is the real Peter Parker. The Goblin reveals that he had manipulated the test results to show that Ben was the original.
At the end of the battle, the Goblin makes one final push and flies towards Peter at top speed. Ben heroically jumps in the way and is mortally wounded. Peter then carries his brother away to try and save him, but it is too late. In Peter's arms, Ben dissolves away.
The New Jackal
It seemed that was the end of Ben's story...until The Clone Conspiracy #3 revealed that the man masterminding the whole plot was not Miles Warren — but Ben Reilly. We learn that Ben was indeed revived by the Jackal, but was also subject to countless tests. The Jackal kills Ben and revives him 27 times in many horrifying ways until eventually, Ben overpowers him.
Trapping Warren inside one of his cloning tubes, Ben informs him that he has figured out a way to prevent cellular degeneration and perfected the cloning process.
All we know now is that Ben intends to honor Peter's mantra that nobody dies — and as such, he has brought back pretty much every character from Spider-Man's past, friend and foe alike. We also know that he intends to revive Uncle Ben and that Peter will at least listen to him about this. We'll have to wait until April to see how it all pans out.
The Scarlet Spider Once More!
One thing we do know is that Ben will return in his own ongoing series starting in April. The series will be written by Spider-Man veteran Peter David and drawn by Clone Saga artist Mark Bagley. As far as I'm concerned, this is a winning combination — David is the creator of the excellent Spider-Man 2099 and Mark Bagley is my all-time favorite Spider-Man artist.
Ben's new costume seems to be an amalgamation of all of the Spider-Clones costumes including a hood inspired by the original Scarlet Spider costume, a similar look to Kaine's Scarlet Spider costume and also the darker elements are very reminiscent of Spidercide's costume.
Ben's state of mind is also drastically different than it was in the '90s. We have already seen this with his antagonistic role in The Clone Conspiracy. Dying 27 times would do that to a man, I suppose. It's clear that after the story is finished, Ben will be pulled back into his heroic ways.
But as Peter David stated to CBR, he will struggle with the Jackal persona as well:
"He is trying to decide what to do with his Jackal personality, and he is literally being haunted by his earlier incarnations. He has his Scarlet Spider identity on one shoulder, urging him to follow his better angels, and the Jackal on the other hand, trying to get him to return to the path that led him to disaster. He’s trapped in the middle, endeavoring to balance the two. Of all the characters I’ve written who are having identity problems — and God knows, I’ve done a few — Ben is easily the most unhinged."
All of this means exciting times are ahead for the original Scarlet Spider, and his return is something that fans have clamored for. Now that he is back, we have to wonder how long he will stay and will the fans embrace him once again?
Here's a few reactions from Twitter to the news: