In this installment, we focus on "Exiled," a four-part story line that picks up where MAXIMUM CLONAGE: OMEGA left off. Peter and Ben have made peace with their respective lives and now they need to figure out who keeps the Parker name and who will wear the webs.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I wanted to start this week's column by addressing Tom DeFalco's comments, which ran in our previous installment. First, I have to say that I'm really happy that Tom D. is adding his voice to the mix and giving his own version of events-from where I sit, it's certainly livening things up and making the column even more interesting. I hope everyone who's reading the column agrees.
Now, you have to understand that I like and respect Tom D. a whole lot, and I really miss working with him. However, I do want to address some of the things he brought up last week-not as a rebuttal, but in the spirit of clarification and pointing out the cold, hard facts. Tom, if you're reading this, remember: I love ya, big guy! To me, you'll always be "the Chief!" Now, on to ripping you apart... (Just kidding!)
Tom DeFalco: "Actually the back door was established. Seward Trainer first told Peter that he was the clone, and all the final experiments were conducted in Seward's laboratory with his equipment. We later learned that Seward secretly worked for the Jackal and that everything was rigged to give Peter the desired result."
Actually, Seward Trainer DIDN'T tell Peter that he was the clone. Ben and Peter came to that conclusion on their own, after a long series of tests that they personally conducted. Granted, they WERE using Seward's lab and equipment, and yes, that could easily be used as a back door.
Now, as I recall, the use of this fact as a back door was suggested by Tom as a POSSIBLE solution, but it was only one of many that were suggested by the Spider-writers. To my knowledge, it was NEVER presented as, "This is the solution that had been planned from the start as the way to restore Peter as the one true Spider-Man." Therefore, none of us thought of it as such. Incidentally, the reason why this solution was initially rejected was because it was considered by Bob Budiansky and the editorial staff to be too anti-climactic and too much of a cheat and a cop-out after so much dramatic build-up.
Nevertheless, I ultimately used it in THE OSBORN JOURNAL, establishing that Seward did indeed rig the equipment for the tests. Why did I use it? At that point, there was really no other solution to use. Anything else just wouldn't work, or was far too convoluted. So, score one for DeFalco! :)
Also, just to set the record straight, Seward was not working for the Jackal, he was working for Scrier and Gaunt, who were secretly working for Norman Osborn. Yes, Seward had been Miles Warren's assistant years earlier, but was oftentimes secretly undermining Warren and his plans, at the bidding of Scrier.
Tom DeFalco: "I believe Glenn was remembering all the arguments and discussions the writers had with Bob Budiansky on the proper way to end the clone saga. A simple statement about Seward's duplicity wouldn't have been enough. We needed a big and powerful visual story to bring the story to a proper conclusion. (And I freely admit that REVELATIONS was a disappointment on so many levels!)"
It could just be a case of Tom and me remembering things very differently. Again, I simply don't recall Tom ever saying, "It was planned all along that the tests were rigged ahead of time." I only remember this being presented as one of many POSSIBLE ways out. My main point here is that if this was indeed the back door that was in place from the start, it was never presented to us as such. Incidentally, Mark Bernardo remembers things pretty much the same way I do, so could BOTH of us be so wrong?
Tom DeFalco: "As for his belief that a SCARLET SPIDER book would have eventually failed, he is entitled to his opinion. I certainly believe that the powers-that-were at Marvel would have eventually cancelled the book even if it was selling... just like they cancelled THUNDERSTRIKE and WAR MACHINE even though both books were profitable."
It seems to me that Tom is actually agreeing with me here, in that he too believes that a SCARLET SPIDER book would not have lasted, that it would have been cancelled. And that was really the only point I was making-that the book would have eventually gone the way of all the other "spin-offs." I know Tom has a very soft place in his heart for THUNDERSTRIKE, since he was the co-creator and the writer of that book. And truth be told, I really liked that book! I'm a fan of the DeFalco/Frenz team, and will read pretty much anything they do together!
And I sincerely hope Tom understands that I was absolutely NOT making any judgment calls about the QUALITY of those spin-off titles. I was looking at the situation from a completely objective and factual point of view. And, like it or not, the truth of the matter is that none of those books survived. My belief is that the same thing would have happened to a SCARLET SPIDER book-REGARDLESS OF THE QUALITY OF THE BOOK. ]
"Exiled" Part 1 takes place in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #128, written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. The story opens with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, trying to make sense of her understanding that the Peter Parker she loved was a clone; not a real man at all. As the Cat takes to the city skies, Peter and Ben are visiting the graves of Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and discover that someone is following them. They switch into costumes and follow their follower, demanding to know why someone is tailing Parker. It turns out that the person was working for the Black Cat, who's disappeared. Spider-Man promises to find her and the Scarlet Spider joins him.
The Spider-Men find her, or rather she finds them, attacking Spider-Man for leading her on when he wasn't even a real person to begin with. Spider-Man apologizes and crumbles before her, begging her to forgive him while the Scarlet Spider wonders what's gotten into him. Scarlet puts two and two together and realizes it's his old nemesis, D'Spayre, whom he first encountered during his years in exile. The Scarlet Spider battles D'Spayre while also trying to get the Black Cat and Spider-Man to snap out of the spells they're under. They do, and join the Scarlet Spider in fighting off D'Spayre, who apparently withers away before them. A grateful Black Cat apologizes to Peter and reaffirms how much she cares for him no matter who or what Peter is and goes back out into the night.
Peter and Ben then come to the moment they were dreading. They may be able to share Peter Parker's memories, but they can't share his life. Peter removes his mask, saying that it's not his life to keep and neither is the costume, but Ben stops him. Ben tells him that it's more Peter's life than his now anyway, and he's been Spider-Man longer, earning the right to remain Spider-Man. Peter returns to Mary Jane, who tells him that she wants to stay in New York and continue the life they had before all the clone nonsense started, while across town Ben Reilly gathers his belongings and heads out the door.
"Exiled" Part 2 takes place in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #405, written by J.M. DeMatteis and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Darick Robertson and Larry Mahlstedt. Ben Reilly heads out of New York on his motorcycle, thinking how harder it's going to be to leave this time. When he first went into exile, he believed himself to be a clone, with no right to even exist. Now he's leaving with the knowledge that he's the real Peter Parker, and he's only leaving to do the right thing. His mind wandering, Ben slips up and crashes his motorcycle, possibly subconsciously, leaving him stranded in New York.
Ben gets into costume and swings through the city as the Scarlet Spider, throughout the only home he's ever really known. After hours of web-slinging, he winds up outside the Parkers' apartment. He knows he needs to give Peter the peace and happiness he deserves so Ben calls Seward Trainer and gets permission to use Seward's cabin in Vermont, to crash for awhile.
Ben recalls how he was first in Vermont four years earlier when he went to look for a famous geneticist, Dr. Trainer, who was in need of an assistant. Ben figured he could use the job to make money, have a home and most important, find out more about his own condition. Ben's first interaction with Dr. Trainer comes when Seward loans him money to be able to afford a room to stay in.
Ben's trip down memory lane is cut short by a frantic call from Seward, who tells him to get out of the house. He can't say more because "they'll" find him, but he warns Ben, who runs out of the cabin just before it explodes. Ben, in Scarlet Spider guise, goes back to New York, to Seward's lab, to try and find his old friend. There's no sign of Seward, but there are little machines that are tapping into the mainframe of the computer, and then go on the offensive after the Scarlet Spider. Their tentacled arms grab Scarlet Spider and shock him unconscious. The last image in the story is of Seward, alone in a cramped room, which is getting locked by a tentacled arm reminiscent of the late Doctor Octopus.
"Exiled" Part 3 takes place in SPIDER-MAN #82, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Pat Broderick, Chris Ivy and Tom Palmer. The Scarlet Spider is held prisoner and is being interrogated by an unseen figure who questions him about Seward's work. As he passes out again, Ben dreams about his first meeting with Seward, who owned the inn Ben was staying at. The interrogator wakes him up and when the Scarlet Spider claims to not know what they're talking about, he's zapped unconscious again.
Back in NYC, Peter is staring into the night sky when Mary Jane asks what he's doing. Peter's been acting strange recently and this evening is no exception. He tells his wife everything's okay, but at the same time, he crushes a brick beneath his hand as he's talking to her. In another part of the city, the Vulture hunts for a body that he can steal more youth from. His recent attempts to stay young have started to wear off and he needs to "feed" off of another victim or he'll return to being a frail old man.
Another flashback reveals how Ben Reilly came to be Seward's trusted assistant and friend. After an explosion in his lab, Ben tells Seward to leave him to die, but Seward helps Ben fight for his life and get out alive. Seward tells Ben that he's going to have to rebuild everything and the job is Ben's to keep, but he has to promise not to pull a stunt like that again. Ben promises to never let Seward down.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned in a previous column, Howard Mackie gave Seward Trainer his name, and that he named Seward after his father-in-law. It was nice to finally get some background information on Trainer, more than was given in the SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS limited series. ]
Back in present time, the Scarlet Spider has freed himself and searches for Seward while battling androids. He finds a camera that's been monitoring him and serving as the eyes for the unknown interrogator, who the tentacled arms belong to, and smashes the camera. The Scarlet Spider then fights through some more traps until he reaches Seward, finally freeing him. Dr. Trainer tells Ben that he's going to have to get to his lab right away to make sure the files are intact and Ben offers to go with him to help.
"Exiled" Part 4 takes place in SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #10, written by Mike Lackey and illustrated by Shawn McManus, John Nyberg, and Roy Burdine. Ben and Seward have already checked out Seward's New York lab and everything appears to be in order, so Ben uses the time to swing around the city as the Scarlet Spider.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mike Lackey was the former assistant editor on the Spider-Man comics. He went on to become an associate editor for Marvel's Epic line of comics, and was the regular writer of THE SILVER SURFER for a while. ]
The story is more self-contained than most have been in recent months. While the Vulture scours the city in search of more ways to regain and keep his youth, Ben Reilly remembers that it's the anniversary of Uncle Ben's death. While visiting his grave, Ben, in the guise of Peter Parker, runs into an old friend of his uncle's who's having family problems of his own. Reilly offers to help, because he knows that's what Ben would have done if he were still alive.
There is an important cameo by Spider-Man, who's seen swinging home to Mary Jane from a grocery store run. He gets a sudden flash of Mary Jane in trouble or dead, like the nightmares he's been experiencing. Not knowing whether the images are a result of clone degeneration or if he's losing his mind, Spider-Man rushes home to Mary Jane.
As the Scarlet Spider tries to do right by the man's family, he runs into the Vulture (last seen in the Funeral for an Octopus limited series). Even though Vulture is younger and more powerful, the Scarlet Spider soundly beats him using both strength and wits to overcome his enemy.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : To be honest, I have no strong memories of "Exiled," other than the really nice Darick Robertson artwork in AMAZING. It's an inoffensive story line, not great, not terrible. But notice that yet another month of issues has gone by and the clone saga still isn't over-Peter and Mary Jane are still in the picture, and Ben is still the Scarlet Spider, with no steps having been taken yet to make him the new Spider-Man.
One last thing. I know I'm breaking format here, but I just have to mention that I've just read one of the best, most enjoyable Spider-Man stories in many years, and if you haven't read it yet, you really should. It's a three-issue limited series called SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE, written by Fabian Nicieza and illustrated by Steve Rude and Bob Wiacek. The story is set in the present-day continuity, but trust me, you'll feel like you're reading something from the height of the Stan Lee/John Romita Sr. run on AMAZING. It's that good. Spider-Man hasn't been this funny, likable, and downright rascally in...I don't know how long. The story itself is a blast, the dialogue sparkles, and the art is wonderful. It makes you remember why you fell in love with Spider-Man in the first place. I don't know if Marvel has any plans to reprint this as a trade paperback, but they really should. If Spider-Man had been written this way in the early-to-mid 1990s, there might not have been any need for the clone saga, the relaunch, or the ULTIMATE book.
Okay, no more reviews. Next week, it's "Life of Reilly" and nothing BUT "Life of Reilly!" ]