Immediately following the conclusion of the 4 part 'Power and Responsibility' that reintroduced Spider-Man's clone, gave him a name (Ben Reilly), and alluded to his mysterious past, the spider books split. Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man focused on the continuing adventures of Ben Reilly, while Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man focused on Peter Parker.
Since the focus of this feature is the evolution of Ben Reilly from clone to fully realized character, we're going to pay closer attention to the books he was featured in, but it would be unfair to ignore the books starring Peter Parker because they contained some important moments in Spider-Man lore.
The Peter Parker books began a 4 part story called 'Back From the Edge'. Amazing Spider-Man, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt, were chapters 1 and 3 (Issues #395 and 396). Spectacular Spider-Man, written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago with Sal Buscema and Scott Hanna doing the art, were chapters 2 and 4 (Issues #218 and 219). This storyline wraps up Peter Parker's wrong turn into the darker side of super-heroics. Chapter one opens with Spider-Man paying a visit to the home he grew up in and confronting the ghosts of his past before claiming that it's Peter Parker's problem. Now, he is the mask. He is the Spider. If not for the fact that this was written by someone of DeMatteis' talent, these issues would have been a complete disaster. As it stands, it was just a bad idea.
After Spider-Man battles the Puma, an anti-hero with so much promise, but who never had the proper story to fit in with, he teams up with Daredevil, another character who went through changes at this time. Daredevil was given a cosmetic makeover in the form of one of the worst costumes of all time. Spider-Man seeks him out because they've built a friendship over the years and Peter is realizing that he needs to snap out of this darkness he's wrapped himself in. Since at this point, Daredevil has 'killed' his alter ego of Matt Murdock, they have the obligatory confrontation. Daredevil then offers this piece of advice for Spider-Man: 'kill Peter Parker. Now. Bury him deep in the ground and forget he ever existed.' Sort of how some people felt about Daredevil's new storyline and Ben Reilly. Spider-Man and Daredevil team up to battle the Owl and the de-aged Vulture (two of the less interesting villains in the Marvel U) and chapter 3 concludes with Spider-Man lying unconscious after being poisoned. In the conclusion of 'Back from the Edge', the two heroes search for the bad guys in the hopes that they'll be able to get an antidote to the poison coursing through Spider-Man's system. Coming so close to death snaps Peter back into reality, causing him to realize how much he does want to live. Unfortunately, we discover that the antidote they retrieve is a fake. Peter is dying.
Readers are left to wonder if this is the purpose of the clone's return? Is Peter going to die and be replaced by a fake? A copy? Comic readers are a cynical bunch and no one believed that this could possibly happen, but it was becoming apparent that something was happening.
Back in the Ben Reilly books, 'The Exile Returns' story begins and carries through Web of Spider-Man, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randly Emberlin. Web contains parts 1 and 3 of the story (Issues #118 and 119). Spider-Man, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna, are parts 2 and 4 (Issues # 52 and 53). Web of Spider-Man 118 opens with Ben still trying to decide whether to return to exile or stay in town. After witnessing a crime and seeing the police capture the suspect, Ben knows that he won't be able to deny his responsibilities for long. He tries to pay a visit to Aunt May in the hospital, but old flame Betty Brant is there, which makes Ben think about just how much he's missed all these years. The trip down memory lane continues with Ben going to the warehouse where Spider-Man was born. The warehouse where Spider-Man confronted the burglar who killed Uncle Ben after Spider-Man couldn't be bothered to catch the criminal when he had the chance. Ben next arrives at the Brooklyn Bridge, where the love of his and Peter's life died at the hands of the Green Goblin. He notices a woman ready to jump, so he snaps on the web-shooters and swings to rescue her.
After taking the woman to the hospital, Ben realizes that the city is a trap, filled with problems and victims that cry for a hero. He overhears an update about Venom and wonders why Peter never put a stop to him, unaware of the pact that Venom and Spider-Man made years ago. We return to the apartment where Ben's staying, and where he's putting on a costume. If he is to try and make a difference by taking up the role of vigilante again, he needs to protect Peter Parker's identity. He also can't keep away from the Spider-motif and puts a sleeveless sweatshirt emblazed with a spider on it over a red spandex suit.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I remember seeing the sketches of the Scarlet Spider, hearing the name, and just shaking my head and rolling my eyes. I thought it was really cheesy, and that the fans would feel the same way. I remember several of the other non-Spider-Man editors greeting the Scarlet Spider with scorn, as well. But Mark Bernardo explained to me that the costume was SUPPOSED to look cheesy, that it was something Ben Reilly pretty much threw together in a hurry, out of necessity. Hearing that, I figured that if it was intentionally cheesy, for story purposes, it might actually work. (Although why Ben continued to run around in a cheesy, thrown-together, makeshift outfit after he decided to become the Scarlet Spider on a regular basis remains a mystery to me.) ]
Although he wouldn't get his 'name' until the next issue, Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider was born here and Spider-Man's deadliest foe, Venom, would be his first target. Venom used to be one of the best villains in comics. Eventually, Spider-Man made a deal with him which basically was 'don't mess with me and I won't mess with you'. Not only did this take a weight off Peter Parker's back, but it allowed creators to turn Venom into a new anti-hero. It was a horrible idea. Thankfully, Ben Reilly's appearance enabled the creators to make Venom the bad guy once again. Ben didn't understand how Peter could let this maniac walk free and was determined to take him down.
Their battle lasted throughout the 'Exile Returns' story. At first, Venom took out the Scarlet Spider rather easily, giving him a slice to the gut, which took our hero out of commission for awhile. This caused Ben to go back to the drawing board and use his intelligence to develop some new weapons in his arsenal. For all of Peter Parker's brilliance, the biggest and most recent update in his costume to this point was developing an indicator light warning him when he was running low on web fluid. Ben Reilly created impact webbing, which would expand and envelop the target immediately and stingers, which were dart like objects to disable the opponent.
The Scarlet Spider faced off against Venom again in Spider-Man #53. It was a hard fought battle in which Scarlet Spider pulled out all the stops. And though he ended up collapsing himself, Scarlet Spider ended up victorious over Venom. After his battle, with Venom now captured, Scarlet Spider took to the rooftops to enjoy his victory and began to contemplate starting a life for himself with the belief that nothing could stand in his way.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The story of Ben's victory over Venom was very important. It was specifically designed to show how cool a character Ben is, to get the readers to be impressed with him and really root for him. The point had to be made that he could go toe to toe with one of Peter's most dangerous enemies and not only hold his own, but also have a decisive victory. This was crucial, absolutely necessary to the development of his character, especially in light of the direction in which he was ultimately going to go.
I thought it was a nice touch to have Ben harshly criticize Peter's pact with Venom. It showed that Ben was more like the Peter Parker we knew, loved and remembered than Peter was being at that time. This was actually intended to be a foreshadowing of the direction in which things were going to go. I always hated the pact between Peter and Venom, I thought it was so out of character for Peter to make such a deal with a villain as obviously crazy and dangerous as Venom, and it was especially interesting to hear Ben voicing my own opinion. It was good to see this used as a way to show a major difference between Peter and Ben, and to perhaps imply that all was not right with Peter, that maybe Ben was the preferable choice between the two. It was clever to use Peter's pact with Venom in this way. ]
This storyline was important for many reasons. It was the first time Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider was in action and he took out a villain that even Spider-Man had problems beating. He showed the determination and drive of a true hero and he used his head to come up with some very cool new offensive devices to help him in his battle against Venom.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The thing that should be pointed out, though, is that when Peter first made the pact with Venom (I believe it was in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #375), the clone saga had not yet even been conceived, so it's not like this pact was an intentional part of a future story plan, or to drop a hint that maybe all was not right with Peter. The truth of the matter is that Peter was simply written way out of character in that Venom story, and the clone saga writers were able to later pick up on it, acknowledge it, and use it to their advantage. ]
In Web of Spider-Man #119, readers are given their first glimpse of the man called Kaine, who would come to play an extremely important role in this storyline. He is shown as a very capable assassin with a particular interest in Scarlet Spider. He disposes of his enemies by a strange method, which results in the scarring of their faces.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I also remember that there were big plans in store for Kaine. The Spider-Man team was really excited about the prospects for this character. I didn't know who he really was at this point - even Mark wouldn't tell me at first. I think he wanted me to read the stories as they came out so that he could see my natural, unprepared reaction when Kaine's identity was finally revealed. Although, if memory serves, I finally dragged the secret out of ol' Bernardo one night after work, probably over drinks. ]
Spider-Man #53 gives us some more clues regarding Kaine as he watches the Scarlet Spider/Venom battle from the shadows. He appears to know Ben Reilly very well, but believes that he must be patient before making his next move. This issue also introduces readers to Detective Jacob Raven of Salt Lake City, Utah, who is on the hunt for a killer that's eluded him for 2 years, a killer who has recently shown up in New York City leaving his victims with strange markings on their faces.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : There were a LOT of "shadowy mystery men" coming to the fore in the Spider-Man books at this point. First was Ben, then Kaine, then Jacob Raven. And, of course, Traveller and his followers can be included, too. It would grow to become sort of monotonous after a while, but at that point, I liked the tantalizing clues about what happened during Ben's time in exile. It showed that the character had his own history, and was really off DOING stuff over those long years. ]
And now a few words with current magazine Editor and former Assistant Spider-Man Editor at the time the Clone Saga was conceived, Mark Bernardo.
Andrew: Who proposed bringing the clone back and how long did it take to agree on this? Any dissenting opinion?
Mark: Now the truth can be told: the first person to bring up the idea of bringing back the Spider-clone, and having him be revealed as the original, was former WEB OF SPIDER-MAN writer Terry Kavanagh. The subject was broached at my first Spider-Man story conference back in '93. I was the new assistant editor, and we'd just finished the somewhat unsatisfying "Return of the Parents" storyline, and the marching orders we were given by upper management was to come up with something similar in scope to DC's "Death of Superman" storyline, which at the time was breaking sales records left and right. Thus, no outrageous idea was out of bounds. Terry was cajoled into blurting out his clone idea, which first met with groans and indifference, until someone (to my recollection, J.M. DeMatteis) suddenly realized the radical possibilities of such a storyline. Soon, all of our freelance writers were getting excited about the idea, while the editorial staff (myself, Danny Fingeroth, Eric Fein, Mark Powers) were still not quite convinced. The whole idea was almost instantly shot down the next day by Tom DeFalco, then Editor in Chief, until he too started getting excited about it from a writer's standpoint. That's how Tom ended up writing SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and Tom is also the man who sealed the deal on the Clone Saga. The whole storyline was planned to end in AMAZING #400. As we all know, it didn't quite work out that way.
Andrew: Were there any creators who absolutely loved the idea or was it just another assignment?
Mark: All the creators were into the idea initially, especially the writers. Later on, after the storyline had outlived its original planned length, it was different. But that's a story for future chapters...
Andrew: Who developed the Scarlet Spider alter ego/costume?
Mark: It's funny - the Scarlet Spider name was initially meant to be a running joke. I forget who actually came up with the name, but the point was that Ben Reilly, a serious guy who had no use for super-heroics, was tagged with this moniker by Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis, and he HATED it. Every time he saw his name in the Daily Bugle as the Scarlet Spider, he'd cringe. We certainly never thought the name would catch on, or that we'd need a logo for it, or anything like that! The costume (the one out of dozens that we ended up going with) was designed by Tom Lyle, who was then SPIDER-MAN penciler. The "Ben Reilly" alias came out of an editorial meeting. I'm not sure who's directly to credit.
Andrew: Was the story intended to last as long as it did?
Mark: Emphatically, no. The whole arc was supposed to end in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400, and leave "Ben Reilly" as the one and only "original Peter Parker" and forge a new beginning. Ironically, the whole storyline, which was supposed to simplify Spider-Man's mythos and ultimately bring him "back to basics" ended up complicating everything beyond what anyone imagined!