After the shocking events of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #226, in which Ben Reilly was revealed to be the original Peter Parker, a few one-shots and mini-series were established to help shed more light on Ben's past, as well as prepare readers for the next big event to occur.
First, we'll deal with SPIDER-MAN: THE JACKAL FILES. This was a one-shot written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by a host of artists, each taking a page for the pin-up style data files reviewed by the Jackal.
The story goes into how the Jackal is preparing the newest Spider-clone to become his agent in the destruction of the Parkers. He is getting ready to download a huge quantity of information into the clone's head to better help him understand the people he will meet and eventually kill. From here, the story goes into a series of one-page pin-ups of different characters in the Spider-Man universe, each illustrated by a different artist, along with an editorial from the Jackal himself.
It's done in a humorous style, fitting for the deranged mind behind the whole process. The Jackal's own file, for instance reads like the profile sheet for a Playboy Centerfold, along with turn-ons (Gwen Stacy) and turn-offs (the degeneration process and clones that think they know everything). Jackal runs through everyone from Mary Jane and Gwen to villains like Stunner and Vulture to the newest members of the cast: Judas Traveller and his host and Scrier, whom he only refers to as enigmatic.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Speaking of Stunner, it's time for a major correction. I was recently informed by former Spider-Man assistant editor (and good buddy) Mark Bernardo that Stunner was in fact not created by Tom DeFalco, as I had indicated in a previous column. Stunner, Mark told me, was actually created by J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley, so my apologies to those gents.
Tom Brevoort and I edited the JACKAL FILES one-shot, and that was actually fun to work on. It was a one-shot intended to help newer readers get caught up on who everyone was in the Spider-Man universe. Well, actually, it started life as just another project that we could slap Spider-Man's name on and throw out into the marketplace because the Spider-titles were selling so well and we had a budget to meet and the marketing and sales departments wanted to milk the clone saga for all it was worth. But Brevoort and I figured that that didn't mean the book HAD to suck. We hired Todd Dezago, who was at that time an up-and-coming writer working fairly regularly on the Spider-Man books and showed that he could write fun, snappy dialogue. Tom B. and I enjoyed working with Todd. He took exactly the right approach - humorous, demented, tongue-in-cheek, but never too campy. I remember Brevoort and me getting Todd's script pages in and really getting a kick out of them as we read them. Tom B. let me hire most of the artists to draw the pin-ups, and that was fun for me - a chance to take on some added responsibilities and make contact with lots of different artists. Was this project going to win an Eisner? Of course not. But it's one of those things where I can look back and say, "Yeah, I had a good time on that." ]
Of that time, writer Todd Dezago says:
We did have a good time on that and both Tom and Glenn gave me room to run on it. I'd fax in pages of text and worry that they'd shoot down one thing or another because it was too silly or the double-entendre would be a bit much. They'd call me and just laugh and say, "More. More." That's always good...
When he begins to describe the clone who's getting these memories implanted, he describes him as the ultimate clone. He's what evolution would to do Spider-Man in 10,000 years. He has the ability to control his physical make-up on a molecular level, altering his shape, mass and density through force of will. Jackal tells him that after his experiment is over, the ultimate clone will kill everyone Peter's ever known, committing a sort of mass Spider-Cide. The Jackal is so pleased with himself over the description, he dubs his newest clone, Spider-Cide.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was the character that Tom DeFalco wanted to call "Freakface." He was the third Peter Parker clone that had been running around a few months earlier and supposedly died in a warehouse explosion. I can't remember ANYONE liking the name "Spidercide," but it still ended up being used. ]
The rest of the book is made up of the fun file pages they used to include in the books every so often, which showed diagrams of Spider-Man's equipment and how they work. Here, the Scarlet Spider's impact webbing and stingers are also explained in more detail.
The next event is the three-issue limited series called SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson. The series fills in some of the gaps of Ben Reilly's mysterious time on the road, including his encounter with Kaine and more about Jacob Raven and his partner's death, which resulted in Peter Parker going on trial for murder.
The story takes place three years after the original Peter Parker fled New York, believing himself to be the clone and adopting the name Ben Reilly. He's been living a nomad's life for years, taking a job here and there for a month or so before moving on to the next city. His latest stop is Salt Lake City, where he is taking a job in the science department of a local university, thanks to a letter of recommendation from his friend, Dr. Seward Trainer. After his interview, Ben stops off for a bite to eat at a local diner and runs into Janine, a beautiful redhead who immediately catches his eye. He also meets Detective Jacob Raven, who Ben immediately feels affection for. Raven seems to radiate decency, although Janine doesn't share that feeling. Ben and Janine hit it off immediately and they plan to go out for dinner.
Elsewhere, Kaine is getting into trouble at a local bar. He's been following Reilly for years, keeping an eye on him. He apparently knows the truth regarding Ben's true identity, but wants him to suffer as he has. After Kaine dispenses with his own brand of justice, he meets Louise Kennedy, who is later revealed to be the partner of Jacob Raven. The two cops are trying to bust up the remnants of the Tannen mob family. Tannen's already in prison, but his power reaches from beyond the walls of his cell.
A bust by Louise goes wrong and Tannen's men gain the advantage and are ready to make her "disappear" until Kaine crashes through the window, rescuing her. When Louise asks, "Now what?", Kaine tells her that he can think of a few things.
As Ben drives to meet Janine, his spider-sense goes into overdrive and he follows it towards a house. When he approaches the house, it explodes. Ben rushes into the house and rescues a woman and child. They live, but doctors aren't sure whether they'll pull through or not. It is revealed that the people Ben rescued were Detective Raven's wife and child. Raven himself has been kidnapped by Tannen's men and Louise gets the news via a phone call, while she's getting intimate with Kaine.
Reilly knows he must do something, but wishes that someone other than him could save the day. He's found some measure of peace and doesn't want to get involved. But he knows he has to. Creating a non-costume of bandaged hands and a bandage face-mask, Reilly tracks down Tannen's men as they depart with Detective Raven to parts unknown. He handles Tannen's men effortlessly and tells Raven that the cop has nothing to fear from him. The police arrive and Raven is told about his wife and boy.
Ben takes to the skies to find solitude, wondering to himself why he continually gets involved when it isn't his job to do so. He realizes that it's his responsibility, whether he likes it or not. Meanwhile, Kaine is having a deep thought moment of his own. He's found true joy in life for the first time with Louise Kennedy. Until now, all he's known is suffering. Could he ever have anything else?
Detective Raven's wife doesn't survive through the night. The boy will be all right, but Raven is a shell of his former self. Tannen is unhappy to hear about the lack of success in eliminating all of the Ravens and puts the word out to get it done right.
After teaching his class, Reilly runs into Janine and apologizes for breaking their dinner date. From that point on, they spend almost every moment together, enjoying life and each other. While Ben builds on his relationship with Janine during the day, he wages a one-man war against Tannen's organization at night. Ben wonders whether he's doing it out of responsibility to the innocent or fear of how quickly things are moving for his love life.
After his crime fighting activities, Ben spends some time with Janine. As they begin to kiss and make their way inside Janine's home, she tells him it has to end. Reilly accepts this, believing that his place is soaring high above the world, not being a part of it.
In a quiet part of town, Kaine and Louise enjoy a tender moment overlooking the city. As Kaine considers Louise to be the light in his dark world, she tells him that they're more alike. She calls him the night sky and the darkness, which is why she loves him. They return home, but their tender moment is shattered when Kaine feels the horrible effects of clone degeneration. To find an outlet for the tremendous pain he's feeling, Kaine seeks out Ben Reilly, who's back tearing up the rest of Tannen's organization. Kaine, being a much stronger opponent, handles Reilly easily, only holding back a lethal blow because he wants Ben to suffer. Ben Reilly is the real Peter Parker. He'll never have to suffer as Kaine does, and for that Kaine will hound Reilly for the rest of his life. Kaine leaves and before Reilly can regain his strength he's captured by Tannen's men-and Louise Kennedy.
The conclusion of this mini-series picks up with Ben in dire straights. Mob boss Vince Tannen has gotten out of prison and taken Raven's son hostage. Tannen's men prepare to kill Ben Reilly as Raven's partner, Louise Kennedy, looks on. It's revealed that Kennedy has been on Tannen's payroll for some time, which comes as a shock not only to Ben and Jacob Raven's son, but also to Kaine, who crashes back into the frey. Cellular degeneration is one thing, but betrayal by the one he thought he loved is too much for Kaine. He viciously barrels through Tannen's men with only one objective: get to Louise Kennedy. Kennedy manages to escape with Tannen, leaving Kaine behind as Ben tends to Raven's son.
After delivering young Matthew Raven to his father, a battered and bruised Ben Reilly shows up at Janine's door, collapsing. Janine takes Ben in and cares for him, and as he mends, they reveal all their secrets to each other. Janine's real name is Elizabeth Tyne and she's been on the run for murder. When she was a child, Elizabeth/Janine was abused by her father, and when she got older the rage came pouring out and she killed him. Ben holds Janine/Elizabeth and tells her that he loves her. When she asks how he could possibly love someone like her, Ben replies, "I could ask you the same thing." In a terrific moment, Ben takes Janine with him as he leaps across buildings and climbs wall, letting her know his secrets, too.
The cracked mirrored lives of Ben and Kaine continue as Kaine again faces off against Louise, who tells Kaine that she truly loved him. For the first time in his life, Kaine weeps. After Louise leaves him, Kaine follows Reilly and Janine, wondering how a man stripped of his soul, his very identity, could find love again. He thinks to himself that Professor Warren would be proud that his "son" was finally reaching his full potential.
Ben and Janine decide to head East, but stop off to get something to eat for the trip. They're confronted by Raven and Kennedy, who tell Janine that it's time to stop running. Ben pleads with Raven to consider that he's saved both the older and younger Raven's lives, and then Louise recognizes Ben, telling Raven that he's one of Tannen's men. Reilly snaps, knocking the gun from Louise's hand and grabbing Raven's neck with the other hand, telling Raven to leave them alone.
Ben and Janine leave the restaurant and as they continue on their journey they're attacked by Kaine, who seems intent on killing Ben. Reilly fights back with everything he has, telling Kaine that he finally has something, someone, to live for. As they fight, Kennedy and Raven arrive, still tracking Ben and Janine. Kennedy breaks away from Raven and pulls a gun on Ben, ready to kill him. She fires and misses, giving Kaine enough time to grab her and snap her neck. Kaine then reaches down and Ben sees, for the first time, "the mark of Kaine" on Louise Kennedy's face.
Kaine runs off, leaving Jacob Raven to deal with the murder of his partner. Ben Reilly quickly moves to disarm Raven and remind him that if he was truly a killer, Raven would be dead now, too.
The mini-series ends on a cryptic note as Ben relays how "the mark of Kaine" would come back to haunt him years later. He also says that he "lost" Janine, but will treasure the miracle they shared until the day he dies.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS began in Danny Fingeroth's office. I believe it was Danny who put the creative team together and got the whole thing rolling. When Bob Budiansky came on as Spider-Man's Editor in Chief, Bob integrated his staff (including me, Tom Brevoort and associate editor Sarra Mossoff) into the Spider-Man Group, and some projects were shuffled. Sarra ended up getting THE LOST YEARS and put it out, although she shared the editor credit with Danny.
This was John Romita Jr.'s big return to the Spider-Man Group, after penciling the three-part "Parker Legacy" story line that ran as a back-up in the Spider-books a few months earlier. This was very appropriate, as THE LOST YEARS is a sequel to "The Parker Legacy" in that it essentially picks up where "Parker Legacy" left off and continues the story of Ben's early days in exile.
JR and DeMatteis were a great team, and this story played to both of their strengths. I'm sure JR would have preferred to actually draw Spider-Man in full costume, but he's so great at drawing gritty, down-to-Earth, crime drama type of stuff that it really didn't hurt the story at all that Ben never dons a real super hero outfit. And it was nice to finally learn what went down between Ben, Kaine, and Jacob Raven years earlier. DeMatteis did a terrific job tying it all together and providing an intriguing backstory to the present-day "Trial of Peter Parker" story line. I was particularly taken with Janine, and wanted to see more of her - or at least find out what happened to her.
LOST YEARS was great, with a top-notch creative team, and Bob Budiansky wanted to turn it into a whole new franchise. It would be the continuing saga of Ben Reilly's years on the road. He'd be out of costume, but still inevitably ending up having to use his powers to help or protect the innocent... because with great power must come great responsibility. Once or twice a year, we would do a "Lost Years" project, each by a different creative team, to fill in the missing chapters of Ben Reilly's life. At this point, Budiansky was apparently committed to the idea of Ben as the one, true, original Spider-Man - I really don't think he would have planned an entire franchise around a character that he knew he was eventually going to debunk.
I was very excited about the prospect of "Lost Years" as a franchise, and wanted very much for the Brevoort/Greenberg office to be in on it. If Ben was indeed going to be the original Spider-Man, I felt that there was a genuine need for such a franchise. For starters, I got to be the reprint editor of the LOST YEARS trade paperback, which collected the three issues in one volume. Additionally, Tom B. let me take the lead on developing new "Lost Years" projects for us to work on, and compiling lists of potential writers and artists to talk to. Tom and I ended up putting together one "Lost Years" project, but not in the way we had originally intended. The project ended up as a four-issue limited series called SPIDER-MAN: REDEMPTION. It was a direct sequel to SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS, but it was primarily set in the present day. I'll discuss this project at length in a later column, but I will say this as a teaser: the road to get it done had more twists, turns, and drama than anything Ben Reilly would face in the actual story. ]