Previously, in The Amazing Spider-Man:
When the decidedly morally ambiguous Beyond Corporation bought the rights to Spider-Man’s name, they hired the heroic and semi-eternally bedraggled Ben Reilly—Peter Parker’s clone brother to wear the mask. Peter and Ben, for all that they’re both deeply heroic men and for all that they love each other, have a fraught history. But before that history can come into play, Peter is hospitalized with radiation poisoning thanks to the nefarious U-Foes. With Peter out of commission, Ben must step up as one of New York’s Amazing Spider-Men.
This is easier said than done. Spidey’s rogues remain as relentless as ever. Beyond, for all that its individual employees might be noble people, is not to be trusted. And Ben? Ben wants to honor the great responsibility that must come with great power, but he’s brittle—perhaps more brittle than he realizes.
Currently, in The Amazing Spider-Man:
I really enjoyed the first volume of Amazing Spider-Man: Beyond. I’ve long had a soft spot for Ben Reilly, even with the Clone Saga’s infamy, and Beyond‘s creative team used the thresher of his history in a really neat way. Ben is driven to be Spider-Man by the moral code he inherited from Peter (and by extension his namesakes—Ben comes of course from Uncle Ben, and Reilly was Aunt May’s maiden name) and by a desire to make up for his past failures.
Simultaneously, corporate-backed/enforced superheroism puts a major strain on Ben’s hard-earned mental stability (even before getting dosed with weaponized hallucinogens by Kraven the Hunter) and on his romantic relationship with his beloved, Janine (herself someone who has fought long and hard for stability and peace, and whose freedom from prison is contingent on Ben’s fulfilling his contract with Beyond). Serving as Spider-Man is just as likely to destroy Ben as it is to save him. It’s a terrific story engine, one that uses the general notion of Spider-Man as a simultaneous responsibility, gift, and curse in concert with Ben’s specific (often rough) history to generate constant narrative tension.
Many of the best parts of Spider-Man: Beyond‘s second act run with this tension—in particular, Ben meeting fellow Spider-Man Miles Morales, who Beyond insists must stop using their trademarked name (a story illustrated by Carlos Gòmez and written by Saladin Ahmed) and confronting Doctor Octopus—here a ruthless egomaniac, but one with a legitimate grievance against Beyond and genuine pity for Ben (a story illustrated by Paco Medina and written by Cody Ziglar). Given the cyclical nature of Big Two superhero storytelling, the ultimate status quo (Peter Parker is the Spider-Man in red and blue driven by the knowledge that with great power there must also come great responsibility) will return in time. Beyond‘s creative team takes advantage of this. Beyond will not control Spider-Man forever. Ben Reilly will not be the Amazing Spider-Man forever. This center will not hold. The question then is how it will end and where that ending will leave everyone.
Where things get frustrating is Peter Parker. After being rendered comatose in Spider-Man: Beyond Vol. 1, volume 2 sees Peter awaken to a body he needs to re-learn how to use. Despite starring in an individual issue – a marvelously creepy horror story illustrated by Jorge Fornés and written by Ahmed pitting Mary Jane and a heavily-sedated Peter against a monster who’s made his nest in the hospital where Peter’s recovering – that may be the strongest individual part of Spider-Man: Beyond‘s run, Peter’s overall story is halting, disconnected from Ben’s narrative, and inexplicably features a heavily stereotyped Sassy Black Woman as his nurse—an ugly note that sours the issue in which she appears. Not helping matters is the uneven lead-up to Peter’s awakening—a side-story featuring Aunt May seeking the aid of Doctor Octopus that, while featuring strong moments for them as individuals, does not get the rhythm of their relationship with each other right. While Peter’s story improves in later parts of Beyond—particularly once it links back into Ben’s, his turn here is rough.
There’s stuff to dig in Spider-Man: Beyond‘s second volume, but the rocky Peter material really hurts it. The good news is that the story does rebound, but as for this volume? It’s best taken as part of the whole, rather than on its own.
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