In Ben Reilly: Spider-Man, J.M. DeMatteis and David Baldeon take readers back to the glory days of Spider-Man’s clone. Before Ben knew he wasn’t the real Peter Parker, he was just a guy trying to get his life in order and save the day in Peter’s absence. That’s easier said than done, especially with a killer like Carrion on the loose!
I have greatly been enjoying Ben’s new lease on life in the recent pages of Amazing Spider-Man, not to mention the way in which the current writing team has been handling Ben stepping into the role of Spider-Man this time around, but something struck me while reading this first issue: Ben Reilly has always had Peter Parker’s heart.
Much like the current era of ASM, this first issue effectively dives into the kind of imposter syndrome Ben Reilly would really be suffering. What would those feelings really do to a man who just wants to step out from behind the shadow of the person living “his” life? These feelings are so much more evident when the reader is able to see just how similar the two characters are at their core. From the compassion for his enemies to the quips in the face of danger to the Manhattan-sized chip on his shoulder, there are so many ways in which Ben is still the Peter Parker we know and love — his circumstances have just led him to carry himself differently.
That may be an obvious conclusion for me to come to — after all, so many past Ben Reilly stories have been about hammering home his similarities to Pete while still emphasizing his “bad boy” nature — but DeMatteis really captures the similarities to Pete here in a way that really sells the importance of the character and explains his staying power beyond the gimmick of “clone drama.” So many of the character’s early stories zeroed in on the angst and the plot twists as the main driving force. Ben’s always been angry, and that anger and indecision drove many of his plots in the ’90s. However, there’s a melancholy here that really resonated with me and ties the character’s roots much more strongly to the modern “Beyond era” take. Of course, some of this could come from hindsight or how storytelling in comics has only continued to evolve over the years, but that makes this glimpse into Ben’s head no less compelling.
The battle with Carrion that takes up a good chunk of the issue is thrilling and ties perfectly into the series’ themes. Without spoiling the resolution to the fight here, let me just say that I was astounded by how well DeMatteis connects Malcolm McBride’s journey to that of Ben Reilly. Much like Peter Parker, Ben Reilly’s most effective superpower might just be his sense of empathy and compassion.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get some fun action and eerie set pieces from penciler David Baldeon and colorist Israel Silva. Seeing Carrion standing over a field of fallen foes, the light drained from them, is a truly unsettling sight. Each victim’s eyes white out, their faces contorting unnaturally in fear and pain. It’s pretty wild stuff, but the intensity of this battle is also expertly sold without devolving into a bloody punch-up, which I greatly appreciated. I’m also a sucker for a half-shredded Spider-Man mask, which is delivered beautifully here and emphasizes how much rougher around the edges Ben can be in a confrontation.
There are also a number of moments throughout the issue that made me feel a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. The heavy emphasis on Ravencroft and its patients, for example, put me right back in that era of Spidey, as did the background cameos of various villains who loomed large during that time. A lot has changed in the Spider-Man books since the ’90s, a concept that is hammered home in a particularly harsh instance of Ben critiquing a former enemy of Peter’s. Everyone has had the opportunity to grow since the “Clone Saga” days, and this issue gives us a great reminder of how far these characters have come in a couple of decades — Ben included.
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