The objectives of this 35 part (yes, 35 part) series:
First and foremost, I want to provide an accurate look back on an important moment in Spider-Man continuity that some newer fans may not be fully aware of.
I also want to do an analysis of the books detailing what might have gone wrong and how it possibly could have been prevented
We want to determine the popularity of Ben Reilly today and whether the character is viable in the current Marvel Universe. Does he deserve to come back to the books in some capacity?
We'll provide a solution to the problems left by the clone saga. No matter what side of the fence readers were on, half of them were disappointed at any given time and half of them are still disappointed today. We'll fix that by the time this is over.
Unlike a typical review, 'The Life of Reilly' is going to examine this storyline DVD style. We're going to review it. We're going to provide extras like media buzz, fan reaction (including coverage of Ben Reilly fan sites) and a running commentary by the people behind the front lines of this event. Along the way, we hope to get feedback from the people who wrote the stories and decided the fate of the clone. Former Marvel writer and editor extraordinaire Glenn Greenberg, will be joining me for each chapter to provide commentary on what was going on from the insider's perspective.
The Back Story
In The Amazing Spider-Man #149 (1975), The Jackal, one of Spider-Man's arch rivals, reveals that he has created a clone of Peter Parker. The clone, also outfitted in a Spider-Man costume, battles the real Spider-Man until the two decide they're on the same side. The partnership is short lived. An explosion seemingly kills one of the two and the other throws the body into a smokestack where no one will ever be able to find a body of Peter Parker. In the very next issue, the living Parker questions whether or not he is the real Parker.
Because he has feelings for Mary Jane, which began to develop during a period in which the clone had already been created, the living Parker decides that this is proof that he is the real Peter Parker. A clone wouldn't have the strong feelings for Mary Jane that the real one just developed. End of story? No.
The clone story was brought up again in a flighty issue of What If in 1981. In that issue (#30), the clone lives and eventually re-establishes himself into Peter Parker's life. See the latest 'Gray Area' for a review of this issue. The story was light hearted and fun. Apparently its point was to show that there wasn't room for two Peter Parkers in the world because the agreement they reach is downright silly. End of story? No.
In the early 90s, Spider-Man's world started to turn darker. His best friend (and son of his greatest enemy), Harry Osborn, had died after trying to kill Peter. Peter's long dead parents returned, and just as he began to accept them into his life again, they were revealed to be life model decoys created by the Chameleon and The Green Goblin (Harry Osborn). Harry had put this incredible plan in motion before his death and even left a posthumous 'gotcha' message for Peter. This latest revelation sent him over the edge with rage. Slowly, Peter Parker began to sink into his Spider-Man persona. He went so far as to start separating his personality from Peter Parker and thinking of himself as the Spider. People were losing interest in the character. Something needed to be done.
In early 1994, Aunt May suffered a major health setback and fell into a coma. Mary Jane and Peter's relationship has strained to the point where she needed time to get away. Peter was spending more time as Spider-Man and Spider-Man had become darker, more violent. And a few panels at a time, in each issue, a mysterious stranger was revealed to be heading back into Peter's life. As months went on, clues to the stranger's identity were revealed, and his objective defined. He had heard about May's health and needed to see her before she died.
The Return of the Clone
In The Spectacular Spider-Man #216 (Sept 1994), written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema, Spider-Man has been accused of attacking an innocent man during a fit of rage. He has a zero tolerance policy of criminals. When he notices Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) in the hospital where Aunt May is staying, Spider-Man tracks him to the sewers. He wants answers. He believes Gargan had Spider-Man framed for the attack on that 'innocent' man. He proceeds to beat the hell out of Gargan, almost killing him before some slime creature stops him.
Time passes and we cut across town to Peter Parker at the hospital, checking on his poor Aunt. As he's talking to her, a nurse points out the window. Peter looks and sees Spider-Man swinging by. He runs to the roof, not wanting to get into an altercation, but runs right into Spider-Man. Newer readers are left scratching their heads. Older readers know...the clone is back.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I wasn't as involved with the Spidey books at this point as I would later be. But, I can tell you this: The Spider-office was being very hush-hush about the whole thing, they wouldn't let ANYONE -- not even fellow Marvel editors -- know who the "mystery man" was who had been making appearances in the books for several months, and who had been calling Aunt May on the phone. Everyone connected to it was sworn to secrecy, and they took this code of silence very seriously. The only reason why I was privy to the mystery man's identity at that time was because I was really good friends with the Spider-Man assistant editor at the time, Mark Bernardo (who remains one of my closest friends to this day), and he trusted me enough to know that I wouldn't go around blabbing about it. I remember we were walking down the street one day in Manhattan, right near the Fashion Institute of Technology building, and, after pressing Mark for a while about the "big, secret plans" he was involved with, he finally broke down and revealed to me that the clone was coming back.
Well, my reaction, to be honest, was one of absolute dismay. I thought it was a terrible idea. My feeling was that the clone story was best left in the past. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those original stories and found the ending very touching and poignant, and I thought the Jackal was a hoot, but I felt that dredging up all that stuff again was a mistake. Mark calmly replied, "Give it a chance. You don't know all the plans we have lined up, and I think once you approach it with an open mind, you'll see that it can work." I was REALLY dubious, but I shrugged and told him that it would take a LOT to convince me. But I indeed kept my mouth shut, I didn't tell ANYONE, and I think it's safe to say that I was one of the first people outside of the Spider-Man office to know that this was going to happen. ]
The first major storyline dealing with the clone was the four-part "Power and Responsibility," which ran through all four core books during the month of October. The 4 comics were flip-books, with the other side detailing the 'Birth of a Spider-Man' written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Liam Sharp and Robin Riggs. It provided readers with a little more history about the genesis of the clone back from Amazing #149.
The birth of a Spider-Man not only reminded readers about the events of the original clone saga, but also expanded on the story and offered some explanation of what the clone was doing all these years. After the explosion, the clone woke up where Peter had left him, but walked away instead of being incinerated. He was scared. Confused. He wanted to go see Aunt May and be comforted. Loved. Like he remembered as a child. He decided to stop by his apartment to take a quick shower. As he got to the window he saw Mary Jane and Peter Parker in an embrace. He assumed the clone had tried to take over his life while he was unconscious, but soon realized it was a far more serious situation. An 'explosion' went off in his mind. He realized the truth. He was the clone. It's a powerful page. He threw a tantrum. He cried. He prayed. The rain poured down on the clone. He realized that he was just a copy. His friends. His family. He'd have to leave them all. He sank to his knees and mourned the loss of his very identity.
Power and Responsibility #1 ran in Web of Spider-Man #117 written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. It continues immediately after the events of Spec 216. The clone and Spider-Man face off. Spider-Man immediately thinks this is another trick by one of his enemies and goes into a rage again. The clone, not wanting to fight and rusty with his powers, is soundly beaten. While this is going on, Dr. Judas Traveller and his 'students' enter Ravencroft Hospital for the criminally insane. Traveller, a new character, is fascinated with the nature of evil, which the residents of the hospital hope to analyze. Traveller goes to the various rooms, meets with several villains and finds a similarity: they all have a serious hatred for Spider-Man. He decides to take control of Ravencroft for his own purposes.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Since I was not yet really involved with the Spider-Man books at that point, the only thing I can really add is that no one -- not the writers, not the editors -- seemed to know who or what the hell Judas Traveller was. He was seemingly this immensely powerful, quasi-mystical being with amazing abilities, but what was the real deal with him? As I recall, J.M. DeMatteis really enjoyed writing him and had future plans for him.
But to be honest, a character like Traveller didn't really fit into Spider-Man's world. I think most people would agree with me that Spider-Man should be in more realistic, down-to-earth stories, and a character like Traveller doesn't really work there unless it turns out that he's just casting illusions -- sort of like Mysterio. But at that time, I know that as far as the writers were concerned, Traveller was indeed as powerful and as quasi-mystical as he appeared to be. ]
The clone gets away during the fight with Spider-Man and before Spidey can go after him, a challenge is issued by Traveller. He will kill all the inmates of Ravencroft unless Spider-Man stops him, but if Traveller is defeated, the inmates will go free. It's a no win situation that Spider-Man must face and so he goes off to Ravencroft and enters.
P&R 2 takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #394, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. The issue opens with the clone on a roof, looking at the city he remembers as home. Back in Ravencroft, Spider-Man begins to face his old incarcerated enemies: Chameleon, Carnage; each of them confused, dealing with their own inner anger. It's a cracked mirror view of Spider-Man himself. He finally confronts Traveller face to face and it's a lopsided battle. The mysterious Traveller delves into Spider-Man's mind and as he rants about the truths that even Spider-Man himself is unaware of, Traveller begins to howl in laughter. This is the first clue that there may be something more to this story than just a fight between Spider-Man and his clone. Spider-Man strikes back, fighting with all his might, but succumbs to his own madness. He is broken, but Traveller informs his mysterious ally Scrier that there is another one.
The clone, after spending time in the hospital with May, is given a choice by Traveller. He can let Spider-Man die and have the life and identity he's always dreamed of, or he can risk his own life to try and save the one person whose death would free his own existence.
The issue is also notable for the fact that Mary Jane has decided to return home to try and make things right with Peter and the clone has a touching moment with Aunt May in the hospital. He may be a clone, but his feelings for May are very real.
P&R 3 takes place in Spider-Man #51, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna. The issue opens with the clone still in the hospital with May, trying to talk out the ultimatum laid before him by Traveller. He reveals that he has a name: Ben Reilly. Ben, after the memory of Uncle Ben and Reilly after Aunt May's maiden name. Ben realizes that there was never any choice. He is Peter Parker, clone or not. And he needs to try and save him. He leaves May with a final thought: 'the memories I have of you...have made my life seem real'. He puts on a spare mask, gloves and web shooters and swings towards Peter in a makeshift costume complete with jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket.
Spider-Man sinks to the brink of madness, dealing with all the villains and problems of his life in his subconscious until once again, he realizes that with great power must come great responsibility. Ben realizes the same thing at the same time. It's a thought he hasn't had in some time. Ben and Peter fight their respective battles. Coincidentally, they both have their masks torn: Ben for real, Peter during his brush with madness. The symbolism of the removal of the mask and showing of the true face could prove to be another clue for readers. The issue ends with Ben coming to Peter's rescue before Traveller can do more damage.
The conclusion of Power and Responsibility happens in Spectacular Spider-Man #217, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema. Traveller is intrigued by Ben and Peter. He's fascinated that one has a life he wants to abandon; a life the other would jump at the chance to live. He puts the two Spider-Men in a new location, and waits for the outcome. Peter thinks Ben is another of Traveller's attempts to drive him crazy and they fight. Ben echoes the sentiments of Spider fans in saying 'you've changed, Parker. You used to have a sense of humor. What happened? Why are you so angry?' Peter tells him to not call him 'Parker', he is Spider-Man. Before they can continue the fight, the inmates of Ravencroft are released and the Spider-Men must put aside their differences to deal with the outbreak.
While Ben tries to contain the prisoners, Peter lashes out at them and punishes them with devastating blows. Ben can't take it and stops Peter before he goes completely over the edge. Slowly but surely, Peter begins to come to his senses and realize how close to losing himself he's getting. Ben and Peter team up again, this time against a villain that only Ben knows. Apparently, Ben has played hero on occasion during his time in exile. Their next test occurs when the deadly psychopath, Carnage attacks. Ben and Peter work as a perfect team, hitting Carnage with everything they have until he lies defeated.
Traveller and his team attempt to escape and Ben goes after them, following them into a limo that turns out to have nothing in it but a bomb that explodes. Traveller has gotten away and Ben is believed to be dead, but no body was discovered. Peter doesn't want to deal with it at that point and chooses to leave for now. Elsewhere, Ben Reilly walks the street, alone in thought, trying to determine whether to stay or return to exile.
Several important moments occur in this issue. Mary Jane gets sick during her flight back to NYC, which gives us a clue as to a possible major direction in her and Peter's life. We discover that Ben may have done some super-heroing while he wandered in search of himself for all those years. Partnering with Ben against Traveller and the inmates of Ravencroft, enables Peter to come back to reality, as it were. While Peter Parker has had several traumatic events causing him to go over the edge, Ben still has the carefree, snappy attitude that first attracted people to the character of Spider-Man. We're also given another clue regarding the possible purpose of the clone's return. Traveller tells his team 'the TRUE Spider-Man appears to be a decent and noble individual...and his genetic duplicate is also intriguing.' The wording is very important here.
The Power and Responsibility storyline achieved several objectives. The clone was re-introduced to the Spider-Man universe. Mary Jane was coming back to her husband. Several new mystery villains were introduced. Peter slowly started to come back from the edge. Now, the books would branch out into two separate identities. Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man would deal with Peter Parker. Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man would focus on Ben Reilly. Clearly, the clone wasn't going away. Clearly, with the clues provided in the past 4 issues, there was more to the story than just complicating Peter's life with a copy of himself. Things were about to get very, very interesting.