The greatest strength of Ben Reilly: Spider-Man is how it gets into Ben’s head and really tries to show readers the struggle he went through as he attempted to get his life together after taking over as Spider-Man. With Peter Parker and Mary Jane starting a new life together in Portland, it fell to Ben Reilly — who believed himself to be the original Peter at this point — to not only take up being Spider-Man once more, but to also try to figure out how to live as his own man. Having left the Peter Parker name behind, Ben’s isolation and trauma turned him into a very angry person, one not accustomed to trusting others or going easy on his enemies. This miniseries shows how Ben learned to open his heart once again.
These issues allow J.M. DeMatteis and David Baldeon the opportunity to strengthen Ben’s character during a period of time that many Spidey fans look back on with disdain. They also go a long way towards informing Ben’s later actions in the comics, particularly during the Beyond era. Ben struggles with questions of identity, of nature vs. nurture, and of whether or not it’s futile to try to be happy in a city full of villains and devoid of friends.
The differences between Ben and Peter are also neatly explored during the action sequences of the book, particularly in regards to how little Ben holds back in the early parts of the story. The fights are crunchy, with Ben frequently flinging his enemies through the air and staying on the offensive. He’s still a quip machine like Peter, but there’s definitely more acid on his tongue. This is a guy who has a lot of baggage and is working it out on Scorpion, Carrion, and anyone else who gets too close to wrecking his new lease on life. Much like in some of the more recent Ben Reilly stories in Amazing Spider-Man, there’s a sense throughout that Ben is fighting more than crime — he’s also fighting to hold onto the life that he’s just beginning to reclaim. It makes every single fight feel more personal, even before the baddies start referring to Ben by name.
However, some elements of the story don’t quite hang together, particularly in the second half of the miniseries. A serial killer subplot running through the first couple of issues is suddenly explained and resolved in the space of a panel, with the explanation only serving to beg for further exploration. The motivations behind this killer’s attacks are interesting, but the whole subplot ends up serving as a creepy aside to the main story.
But the most baffling story beat comes at the end, when the villain decides to change his whole attitude and come to the rescue in all of one page. Quite literally, the villain sends the whole of Ravencroft’s patient roster after Ben Reilly with an order to tear him apart, then decides off-panel that this is wrong, charging in and making a heroic move to save the day. The seeds for this turn were somewhat planted in an earlier scene, but the execution feels extremely rushed. Ultimately, the miniseries feels like it needs just one more issue to properly give breathing room to both this plot development and the resolution of the First Date Killer storyline.
Those issues aside, this story is still a worthy addition to Ben Reilly’s legacy. It may not sway folks who recoil at the thought of anything Spider-Clone-adjacent (and this leans hard into those elements as it goes on), but it’s a thoughtful and action-packed examination of what makes Ben tick.
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