SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy" #3, on sale now.
Marvel Comics shocked the world today with the revelation that the mysterious villain at the heart of "The Clone Conspiracy" is actually none other than Ben Reilly, Peter Parker's most famous clone. Time will tell what will happen with this particular plot development, but in the meantime, we felt this is the perfect time to fill you all in on the history of Ben Reilly.
Technically speaking, Ben first appeared in "Amazing Spider-Man" #149 (by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito), when the Jackal created his first successful clone of Peter Parker, who had all of the same memories of Peter Parker and thus believed himself to be Peter Parker! Jackal then had the two fight each other while a bomb was ticking down...
In the end, the clone ended up stopping the bomb, but was caught in the explosion himself and seemingly died. However, even back in "Amazing Spider-Man" #149, there was that question - how could the surviving Spider-Man really know that he was the true Spider-Man?
That was the question that plagued Spider-Man in the following issue, by Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito, to the point where he had Dr. Curt Conners do some tests to see if he was the real deal, but in the end, he decided to destroy the test results, as he was sure that he was the real Spider-Man.
The following issue (by Len Wein, Ross Andru and John Romita), Spider-Man dumped the body of the clone into a smokestack, with the intent of it being incinerated (this caused problems for Spider-Man down the road when it turned out that someone had taken his photograph dumping the body. He luckily knew about the photos before he was challenged on them by J. Jonah Jameson, so he was able to convince Jameson that they were altered photos). As it turned out, though, the clone was not dead. Instead, it came to in the smokestack before it could be incinerated and it stumbled away. It stopped by Peter Parker's apartment and took some clothes that Peter had intended to give away to a homeless shelter (and thus would not notice were missing) and headed off on the road. The clone had to come to terms with whether he even deserved to exist. Eventually, he figured out that he was pitying himself too much. He re-dedicated himself to living and took on a new name, a combination of his beloved uncle's first name, Ben, and his beloved aunt's maiden name, Reilly.
Ben ended up befriending a seemingly kindly scientist named Seward Trainer, who he took into his confidence (as it turned out, Trainer was secretly working for Norman Osborn by keeping track of Ben). Trainer created some forged identity documents for Ben, which Ben would use to get work. Whenever people would start to question the validity of his documents, he would just move on to another job. Along the way, Ben would occasionally do some superheroic deeds, but he tried to keep it to a minimum, as it sort of haunted him of what he lost when he left New York City and his life as Peter Parker behind (remember, the clone had all the same memories of Peter Parker). While on the road, Ben was also constantly hunted down by Kaine, an earlier clone of Peter Parker who was disfigured and thus he hated Ben for being, well, not disfigured. Hey, Lex Luthor hated Superman because he accidentally destroyed his hair, so it's a classic villain motivation!
Ben would occasionally check up on Aunt May, and that's how we were finally reintroduced to him, when he called Aunt May's house in "Amazing Spider-Man" #390 and then in "Web of Spider-Man" #115 (by Terry Kavanagh, Alex Saviuk and Don Hudson) where he learned from Mary Jane that Aunt May was in the hospital (she had just suffered a massive stroke)...
So Ben traveled to New York to visit Aunt May and for the next couple of months, Ben was a "mystery" until finally, in "Spectacular Spider-Man" #116 (by Tom DeFalco, Todd Dezago and Sal Buscema), Ben and Peter met for the first time!
Peter did not take the news of the clone's survival well, and they fought. Peter then got involved in a hostage situation at the Rafenscroft Asylum and while Ben was not interested in being a superhero, he knew that he had to help Peter, so he put on a spare Spider-Man mask and helped Peter save the day. Now, you have to understand something about this point in the history of Spider-Man. The "Spider-Man" titles had recently put Peter Parker through the wringer, including having his dead parents show up alive, only to be revealed as robots (yes, it's as crazy as it sounds). So Peter had been going through this ridiculous phase where he decided to give up being Peter Parker and only be Spider-Man. A lot of "I am Spider!" stuff. With that in mind, when this nice, down-to-Earth guy showed up who just wanted to help, the fans took to Ben Reilly really quickly. He was like a breath of fresh air.
After helping Peter, Ben realized that he couldn't keep away from superheroics, so he threw together a new costume, along with some new ideas he had regarding Spider-Man's weaponry during the time that he had been away, and debuted as the Scarlet Spider in "Web of Spider-Man" #118 (by Terry Kavanagh, Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin)...
So for the rest of 1994 and for a good chunk of 1995, that was the set-up. Ben Reilly was the Scarlet Spider and Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Ben even joined the New Warriors as Scarlet Spider (this was part of this odd initiative that Marvel had where every title had to fit into some group, and by Ben joining the New Warriors, that title could now be part of the Spider-Man group). Throughout this time (which included the death of Aunt May in the classic "Amazing Spider-Man" #400), though, there was an underlying plot of clone trouble. Like when Peter Parker was arrested for murder(for a crime committed by a clone of Peter. At the same time, there were also this recurring question, a question that had really been there since "Amazing Spider-Man" #149 - just who is the "real" Peter Parker?
Finally, in "Spectacular Spider-Man" #226 (by Tom DeFalco, Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz), Marvel revealed who the clone was - and shockingly enough, it was Peter Parker! Ben Reilly was the original version and Peter was the clone!
Peter did not handle the news well. However, over the next few months (which, since there were four regular "Spider-Man" comic book titles at the time plus one quarterly title and a number of one-shots, was actually a lot of story time), Peter eventually came to terms with his new lot in life. He then decided that he and Mary Jane were going to leave New York City to go raise their unborn child together. Peter then entrusted New York City to his "brother", Ben, in "Spectacular Spider-Man" #229 (by DeFalco, Buscema and Sienkiewicz).
Marvel then cleverly "canceled" all of the Spider-Man titles and re-launched them as new "Scarlet Spider" comics, just like they had recently done with the "X-Men" titles for "Age of Apocalypse". During this time, a villainous holographic version of Scarlet Spider was created and even though Ben was able to defeat the bad guys behind it all, he was still left with the Scarlet Spider's reputation in ruins. Therefore, Ben decided that it was time for him to reclaim the Spider-Man mantle.
Writer/artist Dan Jurgens came aboard in "Sensational Spider-Man" #0 (inked by Klaus Janson), where a few major events took place. First of all, with Peter out of town, Ben was tired of having to worry about people recognizing him as Peter. So he did something that honestly he probably should have done a while ago, and dyed his hair blond, cut it and had it styled so that he looked distinctive from Peter. Plus, he debuted a new costume, as well.
In that same issue, Jurgens established Ben Reilly's new supporting cast. He got a job at a coffee shop called the Daily Grind. The diner was owned by a single mother named Shirley Washington. She had a son named Devon Lewis. There were three notable regular customers at the Daily Grind. One was an older fellow named Buzz. Buzz was friendly and knowledgable, and was good for bouncing ideas off of. Then there were the two love interests for Ben, the wealthy and fashionable Desiree Winthrop and the down-to-Earth photographer, Jessica Carradine. Ben ended up dating Jessica, but discovered that she had an unhealthy obsession with Spider-Man. As it turned out, she was the daughter of the burglar who killed Uncle Ben! She had hated Spider-Man ever since, so things got a bit crazy when she found out that Ben was Spider-Man (and she found out the worst way possible, on her own when she took a picture of Ben changing out of his costume).
Ben had his own adventures as Spider-Man for a while, but the whole "brand new Spider-Man" approach was not winning fans over. At the same time, you could tell that Marvel was even struggling with the concept. When "DC vs. Marvel" came out in 1996, Ben just pretended to be Peter Parker for the sake of the story, which just went to show that when push came to shove, Marvel knew that "the original Spider-Man was a clone. This is the real Spider-Man" was a hard hook to get people to buy into on a regular basis (as a temporary thing like Otto Octavius becoming Spider-Man, sure, but not as a permanent change).
So first Peter Parker and Mary Jane moved back to New York City and became regular supporting cast members in the "Spider-Man" titles. Then, in the "Revelations" storyline, Norman Osborn was revealed to be alive and was responsible for the whole Clone Saga. Including, as it turned out, faking the test results which said that Ben was the original and that Peter was the clone.
In "Peter Parker: Spider-Man" #75 (by Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna) (an intentionally pointed name change to a book that had been simply "Spider-Man" to that point), Ben and Peter (who has returned to his Spider-Man costume) team-up to stop Norman Osborn (back in his Green Goblin identity) from blowing up the Daily Bugle building. However, when the Green Goblin sent his Goblin Glider to impale Peter, Ben jumped in the way and took a fatal blow for his "brother".
And just to make sure that no one had any doubt about whether it was Peter or Ben who was the actual clone, Ben's body then disintegrated after he died.
Due to the quick way that Marvel abruptly brought Ben Reilly's reign as Spider-Man to a hold, there were a lot of plots that were just never addressed again. Most notably, all of Ben Reilly's supporting cast are still out there, without us knowing what happened to them.
Really, it speaks to how much the Clone Saga was mishandled that Marvel had to kill off Ben Reilly in the first place. They managed to pull off a clever feat, which is to introduce a secondary version of a character who the fans actually enjoyed. It was something that the "Reign of Superman" pulled off well, spinning off Superboy and Steel as long-standing new heroes in the DC Universe and the Cyborg Superman as a long-standing new villain. Marvel seemed perfectly poised to do the same with Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, who was very well-received at the time. Instead, by forcing him into the box of the "real" Spider-Man, Marvel ended up having to kill him off to make sure everyone knew that there were no doubt about it, that Peter Parker was the "Real" Spider-Man.
Ben Reilly has appeared since in some out-of-continuity "Clone Saga" comics, but this is his first return to action in the main titles since his death over twenty years ago.
Are you happy to see Ben Reilly back? Let us know in the comments section!