The “Clone Saga” of the mid-1990s has a bad reputation. Originally, it was only planned to last less than a year, but strong sales led to Marvel’s editorial staff extending the saga far longer than the plot could support. The confusing, convoluted story arc came to represent, in the minds of fans, everything wrong with comics storytelling in the ‘90s.
It’s easy to forget that the saga wasn’t always bad. In fact, the early stories in the clone saga were great, which is why it sold so many books in the first place. Most of that was due to Ben Reilly. Peter Parker’s clone took on the role of The Scarlet Spider, reinvigorating the series with his fresh attitude and a few unique abilities. With his recent return to “The Amazing Spider-Man” as the quasi-villainous Jackal, it’s time to take a look at the things Ben Reilly can do that Peter Parker just can’t.
15. SENSE VENOM
Longtime “Spider-Man” readers will remember that Peter Parker donned the Venom suit during the first “Secret Wars” crossover in issue #8 (written by Jim Shooter with art by Mike Zeck, and inks by John Beaty, Jack Abel and Mike Esposito). While the symbiote never fully bonded with Parker, it was enough to affect his Spider-Sense, such that now, he can’t sense when Venom is nearby. That makes Venom one of Spider-Man’s more dangerous villains, as he can easily sneak up on the wall-crawler.
Ben Reilly doesn’t have that problem. He has all of Parker’s memories of Venom, but he never actually put on the suit, so his Spider Sense is still fully functional. When Reilly, as The Scarlet Spider, confronts Venom in “Spider-Man” #52 (written by Howard Mackie with art by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna), Venom thinks it will be an easy battle. Reilly’s Spider-Sense proves invaluable in allowing Reilly to survive the encounter (and the next one, and the next, and so on).
14. CLONE THE DEAD
This is something we only recently learned about Reilly. In “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy” #3 (written by Dan Slott with art by Jim Cheung), the returned Jackal reveals himself to be Ben Reilly, having been resurrected, or more accurately, re-cloned. During his time as The Jackal, Reilly cloned Gwen Stacy and convinced her to become his business partner by cloning her father, George Stacy. Like Miles Warren before him, Ben Reilly has made a habit out of using clones to bring loved ones back from the dead.
This turned out to be another thing that Peter Parker just can’t do. While it’s true that Parker is intellectually capable of making a clone, he has a moral inability to do so. When he reveals his identity to Parker, he offers to clone Uncle Ben, whose body is in a box nearby. Though initially tempted, Parker refuses. He reminds Reilly that Uncle Ben would disapprove. (Uncle) Ben would see such an action as using great power without responsibility.
13. PLAN AHEAD
During Ben Reilly’s five-year exile from New York, his fighting skills atrophied. He got rusty. Meanwhile, Peter Parker has been fighting off supervillains nonstop, and he’s gotten very good at it. As a result, he’s begun to take a more direct approach, leading with his fists and confronting enemies head-on.
Reilly, on the other hand, has to take a more strategic approach. When he returns to New York, he finds that direct confrontation doesn’t work out well for him. He’s forced to hang back, even occasionally retreating to gain an advantage at a later time. In “Spider-Man Unlimited” #7, written by Tom Lyle with art by Al Milgrom, he tries to defend a homeless man from a gang of drug dealers. When it becomes clear they will overpower him, he briefly retreats to grab his suit and web canisters. With his identity protected and all the tools at his disposal, he’s able to get the drop on the gang and make short work of them.
12. IMPACT WEBBING
Ben Reilly’s most notable improvements over Peter Parker’s Spider-Man were his web modifications. Parker seemed to take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to his webbing. Occasionally, a new villain would force him to create a stronger formula, but for the most part, his webs did what they always did.
Reilly was a tinkerer. Though he avoided acting as Spider-Man during his exile, he didn’t stop working on his web canisters. Impact webbing was one of the more useful additions to his arsenal. Rather than firing a simple string of webbing, Reilly is able to fire a small ball that explodes on impact. Once the ball hits its target, web tendrils explode outward, trapping the enemy in a cocoon. The more Reilly fires, the stronger the cocoon becomes, giving The Scarlet Spider a way to quickly deal with stronger enemies. The added gadgets did make his web shooters too large to be worn under his costume, but that’s a small price to pay for added utility.
11. WEB-SEPARATE VENOM
This is another advantage of impact webbing. When Reilly returns to New York, he’s shocked to find that Peter Parker has struck a deal with Venom. With all the memories of the terrible things the Lethal Protector has done, he can’t believe Parker would allow him to roam free. He immediately picks a fight with Venom, which doesn’t go so well, and he’s forced to seek treatment for a serious gut wound.
When he returns to finish the fight in “Spider-Man” #53 (written by Howard Mackie with art by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna), he’s prepared. He’s able to protect Scream from Venom’s wrath by entangling him in a web cocoon long enough for her to get away. Then, when Venom grabs Reilly and brings him close, Reilly fires a few impact web balls into Venom’s mouth. The cocoons form around Eddie Brock, successfully separating him from the symbiote. Unlike Parker, the Scarlet Spider can defeat Venom without having to seek out loud noises.
As we’ve already seen, Ben Reilly did more with his web shooters than Peter Parker ever dreamed possible. It appears when you spend a few years without having to defend New York from crime, you have time to get creative with your gadgets. This handy invention makes an appearance after Reilly has been defending New York as The Scarlet Spider for a short while. By this point, he’s ended up at odds with two formidable enemies: The Grim Hunter (Kraven’s son) and the rapidly degenerating clone, Kaine. And wouldn’t you know it, they both catch up with him at the same time.
In “Spider-Man” #53 (written by Howard Mackie with art by Mike Manley, Joe Rubenstein and Kevin Tinsley), Reilly has taken several beatings from Kaine. This time, Ben is able to gain the upper hand by introducing Kaine to his stingers. Apparently invented with Kaine in mind, the stingers are small darts that inject a muscle-paralyzing serum into their target. Reilly may not be as strong as Parker, but he sure seems a lot smarter.
9. TRACK ENEMIES BETTER
Peter Parker’s Spider Tracers are pretty remarkable. In a world before GPS was as widespread as it is today, Parker was able to create a small, easy-to-use tracker that he could stick on enemies (or their vehicles) and use his Spider-Sense to follow them. That is, until the enemy in question found the spider-shaped tracker and disposed of it or lured him into a trap. As impressive as the technology was, it could definitely be improved upon.
That’s where Ben Reilly comes in. Realizing that not everything needs to be spider-shaped, Reilly designed his tracers to be smaller and less obvious. His microdot tracers are smaller and circular. Like Parker’s, they can be launched from Reilly’s web shooters, but their circular shape makes them spin as they fly. That means they fly faster and further, and they can stick to their targets without being quite as obvious as Parker’s red spider-shaped models.
8. GO BLONDE
Most of Ben’s appearances in “Spider-Man” comics took place in the 1990s. For those who don’t remember, the ‘90s were an embarrassing time for hair. Even our most beloved, long-running superheroes didn’t escape without a few missteps. (Remember Superman’s flowing shoulder-length locks? Oof.) Possibly the most embarrassing trend was bleaching your hair blonde. Too many ’90s kids have a cringe-inducing photo of themselves rocking bright yellow hair (dark roots showing through, of course).
For some reason, when Ben Reilly bleached his hair, it didn’t look stupid. It looked perfectly acceptable at the time, and still doesn’t look that bad today. Maybe it’s because he kept his roots from showing. Maybe it was because he wasn’t Peter Parker. Though Parker never tried dying his hair blonde, he absolutely couldn’t have pulled it off so well. His general appearance has been established for so long, a change that drastic would be immediately rejected. Ben Reilly is his own character, though. He may have Parker’s face, but being a blonde just suits him better.
7. MAKE A DECENT CUP OF COFFEE
Peter Parker was never one for domestic tasks. When Mary Jane comes home from visiting family in “Amazing Spider-Man” #397 (written by J. M. DeMatteis, art by Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt and Bob Sharen), she finds the apartment a complete mess. It’s safe to assume that Mary Jane made the coffee in the Parker household. Also, in all the jobs he’s held (freelance photographer, teacher, tech CEO), none of them required him to learn how to make a good cup of coffee.
Ben Reilly, on the other hand, held down a steady job at The Daily Grind, a classic New York diner and coffee shop. Not only was he able to remain an employee there, he was well-liked and earned enough to live in Manhattan. You can’t do that at a diner without knowing how to make a customer’s coffee just right. Reilly also had to learn to make every kind of latte and cappuccino out there without an automated espresso machine. No matter how useful Parker’s spider-sense is, it’s not going to help him pour a drinkable shot of espresso.
6. HAVE A (RELATIVELY) NORMAL LOVE LIFE
Peter Parker has had the worst luck when it comes to love. Aside from his early flirtations with Betty Brandt, it’d be hard to call any of Parker’s relationships normal. The first woman he really loved, Gwen Stacy, was killed by the Green Goblin. When he found love again, and got married, it was all eventually undone by Mephisto, who reset the world so his marriage never happened.
By comparison, Ben Reilly’s relationships were fairly normal. During his years of exile in “Spider-Man: The Lost Years” (Written by J.M. DeMatteis, art by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson) he formed a serious relationship with Janine Godbe. Although she carried her own scars and traumas, none of it was supervillain-related. During Ben’s time in New York, he dated Jessica Carradine. That relationship had its own problems, but they all stemmed from the fact that her father was the burglar who killed Uncle Ben. Ben Reilly may not have the best luck with love either, but at least his relationship troubles were fairly normal… comparatively speaking, anyway.
5. TURN TO DUST
To be fair, this isn’t something Ben Reilly can do whenever he wants. He only turns to dust when he dies. It is, however, something that Peter Parker can’t do. We’ve seen what happens when Peter Parker dies. In “Ultimate Spider-Man” #160 (written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning, Andrew Hennnessy and Justin Ponsor), Parker is killed in a fight with the Green Goblin. He lies there in Mary Jane’s arms as he dies.
When Reilly is killed by The Green Goblin in “Spider-Man” #75 (written by Howard Mackie, art by John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna and Kevin Tinsley), his body starts degenerating quickly. He turns to dust as he dies. That serves as the final proof that Peter Parker is truly the original and Ben Reilly is the clone. It seems to, anyway. Turning to dust isn’t consistent with clone degeneration. That, of course, raises the question: Is Reilly truly a clone… or something else entirely?
4. DESIGN A COSTUME WORTHY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
Peter Parker’s Spider-Man costume is iconic, to be sure. The sharp angles, the black web pattern over the red, the web-wings underneath his arms. When you hear the name “Spider-Man,” you imagine that costume. Not bad for a 16-year-old science geek. It just wasn’t good enough for his alternate-universe teenage daughter or her best friend.
In the MC2 universe, Parker and Mary Jane’s child survived, developed spider powers and protected New York City as Spider-Girl. But did she choose to wear dear old dad’s costume? Nope, her costume was the same one Reilly wore after he gave up the Scarlet Spider mantle and became New York’s only Spider-Man. When her friend Felicity Hardy (Felicia’s daughter) joined up, she took on the Scarlet Spider identity completely, costume and all. So not only can Ben make a costume that a teenage girl would wear in public, he can make two.
3. STAY POSITIVE THROUGHOUT THE GRIM 1990s
The 1990s were a tough time to be a comics fan. Storylines got darker and darker, characters became more brooding and self-serious. The ‘90s were an era where everything had to be gritty and extreme. In following the fad, a lot of comics lost what made them fun in the first place. Spider-Man had an especially noticeable change in attitude; so much so that Doctor Octopus called him out on it in “Amazing Spider-Man” #397, asking where his wit had gone.
That’s what made Ben Reilly such a welcome addition. Though he had Parker’s memories up to a point, he hadn’t gone through some of the heavier stuff that happened in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Reilly still had the wit, the sense of humor and the easygoing attitude that fans loved about Spider-Man. He brought some much-needed levity back to the series, when all Parker could do was drag it down. It’s no wonder some people at Marvel wanted to make him Parker’s permanent replacement.
2. SELL MORE COMICS
Ben Reilly reinvigorated Spider-Man comics like Parker, at that point, could not. No matter what writers did with him, Parker was carrying too much baggage by the mid-’90s. For some reason, he couldn’t excite fans anymore. Ben Reilly, as the Scarlet Spider, was exactly what fans were looking for, to the point where three Spider-Man series were briefly rebooted to be Scarlet Spider Series. For a few months, comics shelves displayed “The Amazing Scarlet Spider,” “The Spectacular Scarlet Spider” and “Web of Scarlet Spider” where Spider-Man used to be.
Those issues sold far better than their Spider-Man counterparts had in a long time. The original plan was to have Reilly take over as Spider-Man permanently, but plans changed after Scarlet Spider comics sold so well. Reilly repeatedly refused to take on the Spider-Man name, just so Marvel could continue selling Scarlet Spider comics. Eventually, Marvel was forced to make Ben the new Spider-Man, but they dragged out his Scarlet Spider run for as long as possible.
1. LET PEOPLE IN
Ben Reilly realized the importance of letting people into his life much quicker than Peter Parker did. It took him forever to admit to Mary Jane that he was Spider-Man. In fact, she figured it out long before he even considered letting her in on his double life. Parker insisted on keeping his secret even to the point of endangering those closest to him. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t around as long as Parker was, but Reilly never took nearly as long to be honest with the important people in his life.
When he dated Janine Godby (real name Elizabeth Tyne), he wised up quickly that keeping his powers a secret from her was impossible. He accepted her as she was and told her all about his abilities and the fact that he was a clone. The world didn’t end. They became a stronger couple for it. Their relationship didn’t work out in the fullness of time, but Ben realized early on that he was happier letting people in.
Do you think Ben was the better Spider? Was he also the better man? Let us know in the comments!
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