The Scarlet Spider's solo adventures continue in the 4-part "Cyberwar" story line. Part 1 takes place in WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER #2, written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Tom Morgan, Randy Emberlin, Hector Collazo and Don Hudson. Seward Trainer is enjoying having his consciousness trapped in cyberspace. He's learned how to send portions of himself to infiltrate any computer network, enabling him to have access to any information he wants. Ben Reilly is still worried about the effects that Seward's mind/body separation will have long term, but agrees that Seward probably knows best.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : First and foremost, our most heartfelt apologies on the delay in getting this latest installment onto the site. To paraphrase Superman (Christopher Reeve) at the end of Superman II: "Sorry we've been away. We won't let you down again."
Now, on the matter of "Cyberwar"... well, in reflecting on the entire two months of Scarlet Spider books, I'm reminded of a scene from another movie: This is Spinal Tap. In this particular scene, filmmaker Marty DiBergi (played by Rob Reiner) is sitting with the British heavy metal band Spinal Tap and reading aloud the reviews of some of their past albums. For their album Shark Sandwich, DiBergi says, "The entire review consists of only two words: 'Shit sandwich.'" Well, that pretty sums up my opinion of the Scarlet Spider books, and I could end right here feeling that I'd told you everything you needed to know about them. But since Andrew went to all the trouble of writing such a thorough synopsis, I figure the least I can do is elaborate on the subject. ]
Ben heads to work, but reporter Ken Ellis and photographer Angela Yin are still working on their story. Angela catches Ben, believing him to be Peter. She figures he's working on an undercover assignment and promises not to blow his cover. The bad news for Ben is that one of Mr. Tso's men (Orlando Kannor) sees them speaking and figures that they're friends. Kannor heads back to his office to run a computer check on Ben Reilly. Fortunately, Seward discovers that someone is snooping into Ben's files and taps into various computer systems himself, creating a "life" for Reilly.
Later, all sides realize that there's an important meeting about to take place between Doc Ock and Tso at the Children's Zoo, of all places. The Scarlet Spider arrives to try and make sure no innocents are hurt, but he runs into problems in the form of Ock's henchmen and the all new Spider-Slayers: the cyber slayers, which respond to the thoughts of those using the software-in this case, Alistair Smythe and Jason Tso. After working with these new cyber slayers for awhile, Tso begins to contemplate having Alistair removed from the equation, so to speak. Scarlet is able to defeat the bad guys and keep innocents from harm, but not before making Doc Ock and her mysterious computer friend even more angry.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : "Cyberwar" was pretty much thrown together at the last minute to pad out "Scarlet Spider Month" to two months. As I recall, Tom DeFalco did the lion's share of the development work on the story and had to do it in a very short amount of time, due to deadline considerations. I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say that this was not one of Tom's happiest experiences writing for the Spider-books, nor was it representative of the kind of work he can do under normal, saner circumstances.
All of the Scarlet Spider books were essentially filler material, one last sales-driven scheme to exploit the popular Scarlet Spider name before the big "Return of Spider-Man" event the following month. ]
Part 2 takes place in AMAZING SCARLET SPIDER #2, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. It opens with a man and woman talking about the "great game" with allusions to costumed opponents that have taken part and fallen to the stronger competitors. The woman, Joystick, is told that her next opponent is the Scarlet Spider.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : "The Great Game" was an interesting idea and I remember thinking that it had possibilities when it was first discussed. I was watching a lot of WWF wrestling at the time, as was my fellow Spider-Man Group Assistant Editor, Mark Bernardo, and we saw ways in which we could incorporate a lot of the intrigues, sudden alliances, surprise betrayals, and masterful manipulations seen in that paragon of sports entertainment. Ultimately, I don't believe the idea ever reached its fullest potential. ]
Back at Doc Ock's laboratory, she is working with her computerized partner on a plan to eliminate the Scarlet Spider. The partner goes into cyber space to confront Stunner, who is disoriented and unsure why she's there. The computerized being tries to calm her and Stunner instinctively feels that she can trust this being.
Ben is given an assignment from Tso: take care of snooping Bugle reporter, Ken Ellis. Unfortunately, it's difficult for Ben to confront Ellis since he'd be mistaken for Peter Parker, causing a lot of unnecessary confusion. Ben decides to follow Ellis, then confront him as the Scarlet Spider, offering an exclusive if he stays away from the club. As it is, Ben is almost caught by J. Jonah Jameson during his "tracking." Later, as Scarlet, Ben doesn't have much of an opportunity to talk to Ellis before Joystick goes after him. Joystick explains to Scarlet that she must defeat him and claim his mask before being permitted to advance to the next level. Then, the new Green Goblin arrives on the scene, making a mess of everything. Joystick is told to conclude the assignment and back out, since the Goblin is a non-player. She retreats, leaving Scarlet to try and make sense of everything, only to find out that he's very late for a date with Carrie.
The 3rd part of "Cyberwar" occurs in SCARLET SPIDER #2, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson. The issue opens with one of Ock's henchmen being revealed as Special Agent Joe Wade of the FBI. Rather than kill him, Ock tells Wade that he's about to become part of scientific history, as he's strapped to mechanical devices and his screams begin to drown out the air.
Doc Ock explains that they're downloading files about the Scarlet Spider directly into Wade's brain. When her computerized partner, the Master Programmer, questions the progress, Doc Ock says that the process will be complete soon, all the while with Seward Trainer watching in horror. As the process continues on, something happens and there is an explosion in the lab. Moments later, a solid holographic counterpart of the Scarlet Spider appears and swings off. The real Scarlet Spider sees this and goes after his cyber counterpart, who is destroying the city.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : At least this issue featured the return of John Romita Jr. to the Spider-Man fold. Ideally, JR Jr would have returned during the "Return of Spider-Man" month, since that was considered a clean starting point and the beginning of a whole new era, but getting him on board one month early could only be seen as a GOOD thing. ]
Scarlet catches up to his cyber self and they battle it out in the streets of NYC. Cyber Scarlet ends up pulling a machine gun out of thin air and fires it at Ben/Scarlet, who manages to dodge the bullets. Ben/Scarlet seemingly gets the upper hand by webbing up the imposter, but when it comes time to open the web prison he created, he discovers that there's no one in there. Meanwhile, the police and the press all begin to come down on Ben/Scarlet, believing him to be the cause of all their problems.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mark Bernardo and I both felt that the notion of a holographic form that had physical properties stretched credibility too far, but we were obviously overruled. I seem to remember Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky having an active involvement in this particular concept, for reasons I'll get into momentarily. ]
Cyberwar concludes in Spectacular Scarlet Spider #2, written by Todd DeZago and illustrated by Sal Buscema, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jimmy Palmiotti. The Scarlet Spider can't go anywhere without the entire city hurling obscenities and hard objects at him. His encounters with the citizens of New York make him late for work, causing Tso to fire him. Returning to his apartment, Ben discovers that it's been trashed by his cyber self. Before Ben can leave, a Virtual Reality Seward tells Ben what Doc Ock's been planning: her ultimate goal of merging reality and cyber space.
Ock and her cronies head over to Tso to get the inductor chips they need to complete their plans. It is then that Alistair Smythe sends his new cyber slayers out to contain Ock and her kill her henchmen. Before he can revel in his victory, Jason Tso turns on Smythe, seizing control over the slayers, leaving Smythe to have to battle Doc Ock alone. No one gets away easy, though, and Tso has to have his day of reckoning as the Pro finally catches up to and kills him.
Enough time has been wasted that Doc Ock and Master Programmer's master plan seems to be working. Reality begins to shift and as the Programmer starts to take on a more human form, while the Scarlet Spider races to try and undo the change. Seward tells Ben to implant a computer virus into the system, which he does, neutralizing the entire process. Doc Ock manages to escape as the Scarlet Spider saves the day. Apparently, it isn't enough, though, as people still come out and call him a terrorist and monster.
Ben goes to see Seward in the hospital later that evening. He notices news reports of the cyber Scarlet Spider terrorizing the city. Ben tells Seward that Doc Ock was able to destroy his reputation easily because no one had a reason to trust the Scarlet Spider in the first place. He says that it's easy to ruin the image of an unknown like the Scarlet Spider, but that she'd never be able to do it to Spider-Man.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Bob Budiansky's rationale here was that by tarnishing the Scarlet Spider's reputation, that would give Ben the final impetus to take on the Spider-Man identity. But this doesn't really work, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, a major part of Spider-Man's life is that he's ALWAYS being framed and having his image ruined and never fully earning the trust of society at large. He's the original hard luck hero, right? So the notion of switching to the Spider-Man identity because the Scarlet Spider's reputation has been tarnished is pretty half-baked. For one thing, doesn't Ben think enough of his Scarlet Spider identity that he'd at try to clear the hero's name? On top of that, what happens if Mysterio comes back in a few months and frames Spider-Man for bank robbery? Would Ben then go back to being the Scarlet Spider?
Another major problem is that the whole matter of Ben taking over as Spider-Man had essentially been resolved already in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #229, where Peter Parker entrusts the Spider-Man identity to Ben and wishes him luck.. What other impetus did Ben need to become Spider-Man at that point, aside from the one dictated by Marvel's sales and marketing guys? Ideally, Ben would have become Spider-Man in the issue that came out right after SPECTACULAR #229. That's how it was all set up, from a creative standpoint.
I think that in ending "Cyberwar" this way, Bob Budiansky was trying to rationalize the purpose of the story, that he was trying to creatively justify doing two whole months of Scarlet Spider books, and give the whole venture some sense of significance. But it was a false impetus for Ben, because the transfer of the Spider-Man identity from Peter to Ben was already a done deal.. ]
This would be the end of Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider, but not of the Scarlet Spider himself. The Joe Wade cyber version of the character was able to stick around just a little longer to end that particular storyline.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : NEW WARRIORS writer Evan Skolnick stepped in to finish the story of the Joe Wade Scarlet Spider, in WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER #'s 3 and 4. As I mentioned in a previous installment, I could not understand why we would still have a Scarlet Spider title in existence during the "Return of Spider-Man" month, competing against Ben's debut as Spider-Man. From a creative standpoint, it made absolutely no sense. But the sales and marketing guys insisted that two more months of a Scarlet Spider book would bring in a considerable amount of revenue, and we couldn't come up with an argument that was strong enough to defeat theirs. To paraphrase another line from This is Spinal Tap: "Money talks, and 'creative integrity' walks."