I’ve long been fond of Ben Reilly, one of the men cloned from Peter Parker and one of two to superhero under the name “Scarlet Spider”, even though I was introduced to him in a rather sideways fashion: I first encountered him in Tom DeFalco’s Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide. I wasn’t born when Ross Andru and Gerry Conway introduced the clone who would become Ben in the original Clone Saga. I was a small child during the notorious mess that was the 1990s Clone Saga, when the clone was reintroduced as Ben Reilly, became the Scarlet Spider, became Spider-Man, and then died. The Amazing Spider-Man: Beyond, a long-form story that sees Ben (who has been through a great deal since his death, including quite a few more deaths) take up the Spider-Man name as an employee of the mammoth Spider-Man trademark-owning Beyond Corporation, marks the first time that I’ve read his adventures in active circulation. And it’s been a lot of fun.
Beyond is a relay between a crew of thoroughly talented folks: Patrick Gleason, Ivan Fiorelli, Travel Foreman, Sara Pichelli, Jim Towe, Eleonora Carlini, and Michael Dowling illustrate. Joe Caramagna letters. Marcio Menyz, Dee Cunniffe, Edgar Delgado, Jim Campbell, Nolan Woodard, Federico Blee, Jesus Aburtov, and Erick Arciniega color. Zeb Wells, Kelly Thompson, Jed MacKay, and Cody Ziglar write. Together, they’re putting Ben through an escalating series of wringers as he tries to do right and keep himself together in a situation where both may well be impossible, and in the process spinning some darn good Spider-Man comics.
Ben Reilly has had a rough life, to put it mildly. And he’s not a naif. But as he puts it to Peter at the start of Beyond, “Beyond put me back together. Believed in me. Believed that together we can do a lot of good with Spider-Man.” Ben may not have “lived” Uncle Ben’s death or directly learned that “with great power comes great responsibility“, but those memories and that calling? They’re just as much a part of his core as they are Peter’s. So, after the chaos of his recent life, a chance to get level and do good? To get level and do good while making serious bank? That’s welcome for Mr. Reilly. Welcome and fraught.
Ben may not be a fool, but balance and stability are new to him. He wants to hold on to them, and between the work he needs to do to process his massive (even by Parker Luck standards) traumas, the shadiness of his employers, and the reliable fiendishness of his rogues gallery, that will not be easy. If it were easy, Beyond wouldn’t be a Spider-Man story.
The best part of Beyond is the gauntlet the creative team builds for Ben. Whether it’s Morbius chowing down on him or Kraven drugging him with a seriously powerful hallucinogen on the web-slinging side, or Beyond’s manipulations and a badly injured Peter Parker’s uncertain future on the Reilly side, the book never lets up the pressure. It’s a crucible that allows Ben and his supporting cast to undergo rapid development in a way that reads as genuine. Beyond‘s status quo is built on Ben and company’s states of being rather than mechanics or lore.
Ben and his partner Janine (previously imprisoned for murdering her abusive father, now on house arrest at Beyond HQ as part of Ben’s deal with the company), for instance, love each other and want to be together. That’s constant. But their relationship is only possible because of their mercurial, untrustworthy employers/wardens. Making their love work means navigating rules and contracts whose ultimate goal boils down Beyond’s profit — financial or otherwise.
Ben’s long accepted that he is a clone, but acceptance does not mean that his history is not traumatic, or that he has fully processed that trauma. In this collection’s most striking sequence, Dowling and Ziglar delve into those unresolved issues through Ben’s Kraven-induced trip:
Ben’s nightmarish vision of himself as a hollow, faceless shell—one that he can only bear witness to—is a strong encapsulation of the work the Beyond team has done to build his character and central conflict. Without stability, Ben’s doubt, grief, and anguish have space to fester. With space to run in, to rest, to act as Spider-Man on his own terms, Ben can more confidently become his own person. But given the litany of controls and secrets Beyond has brought to the table, the very things that Ben wants to use to ground himself are just as capable of tearing him asunder. And yet still, even in the midst of personal chaos, Ben stands up. It’s really excellent character work.
All told, I dig Spider-Man Beyond. It’s a darn good cape comic, and it’s a treat to be able to follow a character I’ve long liked as his story is being told.
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