SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Clone Conspiracy" #3, released today by Marvel Comics.
They really did it. Marvel's freshly released "Clone Conspiracy" #3, by Dan Slott and Jim Cheung, saw a character return that was suitably shocking even in a series all about bringing folks back from the dead.
Ben Reilly, the Spider-Man clone from the original "Clone Saga" who became Spider-Man for a period in the '90s, is back among the living due to the "New U" cloning/resurrection process at the center of the story. It's shocking not only because Reilly was killed off in the comics 20 years ago by literally disintegrating into dust, but also because of the infamous nature of the '90s Clone Saga story; putting Ben Reilly right up there with Bucky in the "they'll never come back" category in many fans' minds (of course, Bucky returned about a decade ago).
And oh yeah, Ben Reilly was revealed the new Jackal, and thus unmasked as the antagonist of the entire story. Plus, the issue ends with Ben offering to bring back Peter Parker's beloved Uncle Ben via the New U process, teasing the ultimate Marvel resurrection fans never thought they'd see.
Dan Slott, Spider-Man group editor Nick Lowe and associate editor Devin Lewis will join the comic book press for a conference call on the major development Wednesday afternoon, with CBR on the line. Keep hitting refresh for the very latest details, live from the call.
The call started with Slott disclosing that he long had enthusiasm to use Ben Reilly in a story, but the character was long tied up at Marvel in a different planned story that never came to fruition; which was partly why Kaine returned as the new Scarlet Spider. So when Reilly became available, "Clone Conspiracy" started to come together. Slott pointed out that a lot of fans have wanted to see the character return, and for some readers, he was their Spider-Man growing up.
Marvel publicity's Chris D'Lando revealed that "Amazing Spider-Man" #22 will be a Ben Reilly-focused issue, with lots of answers coming. "It's one of the more intense issues of any comic you can read," Lowe said of "Amazing Spider-Man" #22. "It's messed up," Slott added.
"There have been some intense, dark Spider-Man stories, even from the beginning, but you forget that," Lowe said. "We've had really cool events, but they're usually like pyrotechnic blockbusters. This is like a Darren Aronofsky blockbuster. We go to some dark, dark places."
"[Amazing Spider-Man] #23 is all about Peter and Gwen," Lowe said. "After you read #22, the events of #24 will seem all the more inevitable, without giving anything away."
Asked if Ben Reilly is the "villain of the story," Slott responded that "Ben does not see himself as the villain." "That's the core of this story," Lowe added. "That's what's made this such an interesting Spider-Man story to me. Every step of the way, it's been weird what he's been doing. The whole Electro thing was weird. Everything with the Rhino. Everything with the Kingpin. This is not the behavior of any villain that I know of. Even in 'Clone Conspiracy' #2, when he reveals all those villains, and they don't attack. If you're Spider-Man, what do you do with this?"
"Now that he makes the reveal that he's Ben Reilly, and he makes the offer of Uncle Ben -- how do you deal with this?" Lowe asked. "All he's been doing is helping people. Bringing people back from the dead, which is creepy, but if someone offered me my grandparents back, I would love to have time with them, not that I'm older. And that's nothing compared to the loss that many people reading this have suffered. But for Jameson to have his wife back? Rhino and his wife? Get out of here. When you actually think about what he's offering, and what he's doing, is that the behavior of a villain? You tell me."
A "Clone Conspiracy: Omega" one-shot is coming in March. "There are two stories that Dan is writing and one story that Dan is not writing," Lowe said, adding that the main story is co-written by Slott and Christos Gage and focuses on Rhino. "There's big stuff that happens in 'Clone Conspiracy' #4 and #5 that involves Rhino, and it sets up one of the most brutal Rhino/Spider-Man fights in history."
"No one leaves this story untouched," Slott said. "There's so much going on, so much powerful material, that we needed the Omega to tell everybody's story and bring this all home, and show where Spider-Man's world is going." "Omega" will also feature a story written by Slott and illustrated by a "mystery artist."
"And then there's a third story, written by one of the finest writers in Marvel history, drawn by one of the finest artists in Marvel history, that's going to set up a new book that will be spinning out of the 'Clone Conspiracy,'" Lowe said. "That's all I'm going to say at this point."
Lowe asked Slott, "What really dark thing happened in your story to make you tell stories like this?" "I don't know," Slott answered. "This is every conversation we've had with every plot I've turned in on 'Clone Conspiracy.'"
First press question, from Marvel.com: What are the chances of having a Scarlet Spider series in some way, shape or form at the end of the story? "This guy is the antagonist of our event," Lowe said, succinctly, casting doubt on that possibility.
Second press question, from CBR: Was there ever any hesitance on Marvel's part to bring Ben Reilly back, given the maligned perception of the '90s "Clone Saga"? Lowe said he may have had some hesitance about the story in general, but not about Ben Reilly's return. "The Ben Reilly part I was always excited about the whole way," Lowe said. "It just struck me as, 'I can get behind that.'" Lowe added that he was especially excited to move on from the Jackal's "furry, green underpants Wolverine" look.
"There's a whole generation of Spider-Man fans for whom Ben Reilly is their Spider-Man," Lewis added. "I probably like Ben Reilly more than Peter Parker. I don't know if there was ever any hesitation, but there was certainly an earnestness to do it right, and do Ben justice, since there are those fans who love him."
"I've worked on Spidey for a while, and one of the questions you always get, from this specific age group, is 'When is Ben Reilly coming back?' My goal was to bring him back in a way that made you scream and pull your hair out," Slott said.
ICv2 asked about March's "Omega" issue, with D'Lando clarifying that "retailers will have accurate information on what's in the book, and what to expect" for ordering. Lowe said storyline-wise, it takes place between "Amazing Spider-Man" #24 and "Amazing Spider-Man" #25.
Next question, from Newsarama: If Ben Reilly doesn't see himself as a villain, is there someone pulling his strings? "It's not about there being a villain, it's about there being an antagonist," Slott responded. Lowe said the story is about having "conflicting goals," where readers aren't sure who they might agree with as the story unfolds.
"This ain't simple," Lowe continued. "This isn't cut and dry."
Next question, from Word Balloon: Are there more Spider-Man family characters who may be involved in "Clone Conspiracy"? "You're going to have to wait and see how the story plays out," Slott answered.
Next question, from IGN: Will the emotions of the resurrected Gwen Stacy resenting Peter Parker be explored further? "People have been bringing a lot of their expectations and their personal interpretations to the fold," Slott said. "We haven't really seen Gwen and Peter have a face to face about this. We'll see more of that in 'Amazing' #23. The cards will go on the table."
Back around to another question from Marvel.com: If Ben Reilly is the Jackal, where's Miles Warren? "We've seen like 20 Miles Warrens," Slott said. "All of his lackeys are Miles Warren. Right now, we've had the Jackal, and it's been this way since Spider-Island,' whenever we see him, he's been waited on hand and foot by Miles Warren clones -- and now we know that was Ben Reilly! What is going on!"
Question from CBR: Since "Clone Conspiracy" pulls in so many themes from Slott's run, is this the end or culmination of anything? "It's not the end," Slott said. "You're never getting rid of me! All those strands of the tapestry have been laid out in a new way, and will build into something even more."
Question from ComicBook.com: Will Ben Reilly be seen in any version of the hooded Scarlet Spider costume? "We just gave him that sweet red suit," Lowe said.
Another question from ComicBook.com: What will Peter Parker's reaction to Ben's return be? Slott said it'll initially be shocked. Lowe said Peter will have to grapple with the fact that the last time he saw a version of Ben Reilly, in "Spider-Verse," they were fighting alongside each other, and now Ben is in the position of antagonist.
Question from ICv2: Will retailers need to stock up on the upcoming "Amazing Spider-Man" tie-in issues given the "Clone Conspiracy" revelation? "If you're a retailer and your customers are freaking out right now and asking a million questions, 'Amazing' #22 is the issue that's going to answer those questions," Slott said. D'Lando said that issue will answer the question of where Ben Reilly has been up to this point.
"We're not treading water here," Lowe added. "We are telling a seminal Spider-Man story. This is the culmination of so much of what Dan has been doing." "If you're someone who was a die-hard fan in the '90s, 'Amazing' #22 is going to be a really important issue," Slott said, pointing out that "Amazing Spider-Man" #19, #20, #21 all sold out and received second printings; as did the first two issues of "Clone Conspiracy."
Question from Newsarama: "Are you really going to have Peter Parker kill Uncle Ben himself?" Slott laughed. "There's so many times I was like, Dan, do you realize where you're pointing this story?" These are the ramifications of it," Lowe said. "This is serious stuff. It was like, let's try it, let's go for it. The last two issues of this are really troubling. There are troubling things."
Next question from Word Balloon asked if the initial promise that readers only needed the issues of the main "Clone Conspiracy" series to get the story still held true. "If you're reading both books, you get this really fleshed-out story," Slott said. "If you think about it as the action film of 'Clone Conspiracy,' if you're just reading 'Clone Conspiracy' #5 and the aftermath, you get the story." Lowe said the "Amazing Spider-Man" issues aren't necessary to understand the main story, but have "extra material;" yet aren't "completely ancillary."
Question from IGN: Will there be multiverse elements in the final issues of "Clone Conspiracy"? Slott said Spider-Gwen will be as "Spider-Verse-y" as things get for the remainder of the story.
With that, the call wrapped. The next chapter of the main series, "Clone Conspiracy" #4, will be out in January, and the newly announced "Clone Conspiracy Omega" is scheduled for release in March.