Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 29

This time around, we're covering SPIDER-MAN: REDEMPTION, a sequel of sorts, to SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS. Written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod (the classic "Kraven's Last Hunt" team), REDEMPTION takes the longstanding Ben Reilly/Kaine war and brings it to an explosive resolution in the present day.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I was the one who really pushed for this limited series. It dated back to the Bob Budiansky era of Spider-Man, when there was still talk of launching THE LOST YEARS as a new Spider-Man franchise. I wanted the Brevoort/Greenberg office to be at the forefront of this new franchise, and Tom Brevoort was generous enough-and had enough confidence in me-to allow me to take point on getting everything moving.

My goal was to get J.M. DeMatteis back on Spider-Man, even if it was only on a short-term basis. Since Marc had written the first LOST YEARS series, it only made sense to me to call him and ask him to do the second one. I called Marc and found him quite willing to return to what we all still believed at that time to be the secret history of the one, true Spider-Man. John Romita Jr., who penciled the first series, was already committed to penciling the monthly SPIDER-MAN title, so he wouldn't be available. The most natural thing then, I believed, was to invite Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod to do the project, since they had worked together so well with Marc on "Kraven's Last Hunt" and its sequel, SOUL OF THE HUNTER. I called Mike and Bob, and was fortunate to reach them at a time when they had openings in their respective schedules, and could work on the four issues. DeMatteis was really excited when I told him that Mike and Bob had agreed to do REDEMPTION-he always loved working with them.

Tom Brevoort let me continue on as the hands-on editor of the project, although he of course had final say over everything and had the option of overriding me if he didn't like something. As I recall, though, he never did exercise that option, although he did offer notes and suggestions along the way, which I passed on to Marc. I've always been very grateful to Tom for giving me the chance to put this project together and supervising it. ]

A lot has happened to both Ben Reilly and Kaine, and this mini-series sought to clear up a lot of what had happened and deal with the relationship between Kaine and Ben Reilly, as well as reintroduce a character long thought gone.

REDEMPTION #1 begins with Ben Reilly discovering that Janine, or rather Elizabeth Tyne, his former love (introduced in LOST YEARS) is still alive and that she's come to New York. Ben can't believe his good fortune. Finally, after suffering through 5 years of life stolen from him and relationship troubles and betrayals now again in New York, he may have a chance at happiness.

And he does, until Kaine returns, as well. Kaine abducts Janine and Reilly goes looking for her. Kaine is having a personal crisis of his own. His instinct is to hurt Reilly and anyone who's close to him, but deep down Kaine knows that he and Reilly are the same. Why can't he forgive him? Ben tries to get the jump on Kaine and rescue Janine, but he's too late. He finds Janine's lifeless body dumped in a pile of clothing dummies.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : There was a wonderful scene in REDEMPTION #1 that had Ben Reilly, as Spider-Man, visiting the grave of Harry Osborn and expressing his deep regret over Harry's death. What anguished Ben the most was that he never even gotten to say goodbye to the young man who had been his best friend. After all, Ben was on the road and Peter was in the Spider-Man suit when Harry had his final nervous breakdown and resumed his role as the Green Goblin. I thought it was great that Marc had picked up on this and worked it into the story. Ben's mourning the loss of Harry was a necessary thing to address, and oddly enough, none of the regular Spider-Man writers had ever dealt with it. The great thing about DeMatteis is that he understands the Spider-Man universe and its characters so well, and portrays them in such a realistic, believable way. Is it any wonder that I felt the need to get him back into the Spider-Man Group, in whatever capacity possible?

The thing I remember most about REDEMPTION, though, is the hell we went through during the development stage. It was my idea to have the main section of the story line take place in the present day, with the "Lost Years" segments done as flashbacks. Marc DeMatteis loved this idea, and set about trying to tie the present day material in with what was going on in the core Spider-Man titles. The problem was that at the time we started working out the details of the story, we were getting different information almost every day from Bob Budiansky on what the status quo was going to be in the core books at the time in which REDEMPTION was going to be published. As a result, Marc DeMatteis had to keep revising his story outline over and over and over again. He revised the outline no less than SEVEN TIMES before we finally knew once and for all what we could do in the series. The original version was simply a direct sequel to THE LOST YEARS, focusing on Ben Reilly's relationships with Kaine and Janine. But after DeMatteis turned in the first outline, we were informed that Ben was going to be killed and Peter was going to be back in the Spider-Man suit, established once again as the original web-slinger, and he will have broken up with Mary Jane. DeMatteis revised the outline to accommodate the changes. With Peter as the star of the story, it made little sense to put the LOST YEARS name on the project, and it began to look like the entire project itself was utterly unnecessary. At one point, it was looking very much like the plug was going to be pulled.

But then we were informed by new Editor in Chief Bob Harras that the resolution to the clone saga had to be delayed for six months. That meant Ben would still be around, and would still be Spider-Man. It also meant that the LOST YEARS sequel could still happen, even though starting a LOST YEARS franchise was now a dead issue. Consulting with Bob Budiansky, who was still editing Spider-Man, we worked out a new version of the story that was based on what was going to happen in the core books during those six additional months.

DeMatteis now had to work in the fact that Ben Reilly had taken on the Peter Parker identity and would be wearing the original Spider-Man costume, with the blessing of the "clone" Peter Parker and Mary Jane, who were staying in Portland, Oregon. Ben, as Peter, would explain to friends and acquaintances that he and Mary Jane split up, and that he didn't want to discuss it. Mourning the death of Harry Osborn would bring him into contact with Harry's widow, Liz, and her son, Normie. Ben/Peter would establish an emotional bond with the both of them, and the seeds are planted for a possible future romance between Ben/Peter and Liz.

Once Budiansky was gone and Ralph Macchio had taken over as Spider-Man editor, we were then informed that Ben would NOT take on the Peter Parker identity after all. We once again began to doubt that the project would ever see the light of day, as Bob Harras made it known that he was not enamored of all the Spider-Man limited series and special projects that had proliferated the market in recent times. I could see his point, but I still wanted to do the project. I thought it had merit, it had a strong creative team, and we'd already put so much work into it already. Fortunately, we were allowed to proceed. What we ultimately ended up with was something not all that different from the original version, although DeMatteis did have to do yet another revision.

It was funny - it had gotten to the point where I think Marc dreaded getting a phone call from me, because I had called him so many times to let him know that there was a new status quo and ask him to do yet another set of revisions. But I have to say this: he had the patience of a saint, and didn't complain once about all the work he had to do for a project that he knew could have been cancelled at any moment. It was always a pleasure to work with Marc DeMatteis, and I regret not having more opportunities to do so.

I also have to mention that it was a blast working with Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod, two artists I admired long before I was working at Marvel. I got along very well with the both of them, and it was always exciting when Zeck would drop by the office for a visit. I never got to meet McLeod, but I worked with him on a number of projects, and he always turned in a great job. ]

In REDEMPTION #2, the police have arrived to see Ben holding the body of Janine, talking about how Kaine killed her. Ben lashes out at the cops for getting too close and they draw their weapons. Angered, Ben tells them that they don't know what he's capable of and that he's going to find Kaine and kill him. Before he goes off in a mad rage, Reilly composes himself, realizing that he's better than that. He won't kill Kaine. He won't become like him. In that moment of clarity, he checks the "body" of Janine again to find that it's some sort of construct, with a note attached reading "meet me in the womb."

Elsewhere, Kaine, suffering even more from the ravages of deterioration, looks at himself in the mirror, seeing Reilly's face, the face of the man he hates. But he also understands that Reilly is his "brother" and that Kaine is as much a reflection of him as he is of Kaine. Kaine puts on his specialized suit that slows the degeneration and goes to visit Janine, whom he's holding captive. She's afraid of him, but Kaine tells her that she has nothing to fear: she's only bait. Kaine, reminded of his one true love, kisses Janine, who then pulls back.

Spider-Man shows up at the lab where the Jackal first cloned him, "the womb." Kaine welcomes his brother and discusses his past again, and how their "father" tried to destroy him since he was flawed. Ben makes the mistake of saying he understands, which sets Kaine off. He starts to smash Ben's face onto the floor, telling him that he's going to learn about pain. As Kaine begins to hurt Ben, he wonders why he wants to see him suffer. Does he loathe his weakness or his bleeding heart or does he just feel unworthy of him? Kaine knows Ben will lash out, fight back, fight hard. And then he'll contain his rage and maybe even forgive Kaine. Kaine laughs as he thinks of Reilly, knowing that he's beyond redemption and forgiveness.

Kaine fights back, knocking Ben unconscious. When Ben awakes, he's pierced by a needle containing a formula of Kaine's creation. It's something that will give Ben a small taste of what Kaine goes through when his cells degenerate. Ben begs for mercy as the pain becomes too unbearable, before finally passing out. He awakens a short time later, with Kaine, outside Aunt May's old (and Peter and Mary Jane's new) home. Kaine talks to Ben about the memories in the house and how it tears him apart to think of the life he only knows in memory. Kaine takes Ben and leaves, anguished at the loss of one opportunity to find redemption.

Ben awakens the next morning to find himself back in his apartment, his arm stinging from an antidote that Kaine gave him while he was out. He finds Janine, the real one, sleeping in his bed. He wakes her up and holds her for the longest time. She tells him that they should pack up and move away from everyone and everything. Suddenly, Ben's spider-sense goes off. Thinking it's Kaine, Ben grabs Janine and they race out the door only to find police waiting for them. They're arresting Janine for the murder of her father.

As REDEMPTION #3 begins, Janine is being transferred and Ben won't lose her again. He puts on a makeshift costume, as to protect both of his identities, and stops the police van that's escorting her. He pretends to kidnap her so as to not draw attention to Ben Reilly. Ben reveals himself to Janine and they go off to a diner to get something to eat and plan out their future. Ben tells her that he has some money stashed away and they can leave right now and go off into a future with just the two of them. Janine remembers how years ago all Ben would talk about was how he wished he could have Peter's life. Now that he's back in New York, why would he want to leave? Ben tells her that he finally got a chance to see his Aunt May again, but now she's gone and everyone else he knew is either dead or irrelevant. He's not Peter Parker and he can go back out into the world with Janine and not look back.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : THE LOST YEARS had ended with the revelation that Janine had died, but when we got the go-ahead to do the sequel, I encouraged Marc DeMatteis to find a way to use her again-either in flashback or in the present day sequences. I really liked her character, and I felt that there was a lot more that could be done with her. Marc told me he was thinking along the same lines, which made me even more enthusiastic to see this project come to fruition. ]

Before they think about it any further, Janine has to explain how she "died" and reentered Ben's life. She relates how she and Ben were in Santa Cruz, thinking about what to do next when Kaine abducted her and threatened her. Kaine knew the truth about her past and threatened to reveal it. If she ran off with Ben again, Kaine would follow until the police finally caught her. When Janine asked what she needed to do, Kaine told her that she had to leave and never come back. Ben had to think she was dead, that she had been ripped away from him, as Gwen had been years earlier. In return, Kaine would let Janine live and stop hunting Ben. Kaine also supplied the body of a genetic construct so Ben would have something to identify.

At that moment, Kaine crashes through the diner, setting Reilly off. "No more!" Ben screams as he punches and kicks at Kaine with everything he has. To Ben, Kaine isn't just a clone; he's the darkness in his own soul. Janine stops Ben before he goes too far in his beating. Kaine tells them that Ben has already become just like him and vice versa. He then says it's all over and before Ben or Janine can react, the diner explodes.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : My original idea for the title of this project was SPIDER-MAN: LOST YEARS FOUND, to acknowledge that it was a sequel to THE LOST YEARS. But it didn't fly. Marc and I came up with a list of possible titles, and settled on REDEMPTION-although RESURRECTION came in a close second. I ended up using LOST YEARS FOUND as the cover copy for the first issue of the series. ]

REDEMPTION #4 begins with Kaine remembering his life. Born in a sea of fire with chemicals molding his genetic structure, molding him! His "father" turned him into a clone of the person he hated most in the world. Like any son, Kaine just wanted his father's acceptance and love, and for a time, he received it. But then the father discovered an imperfection and cast his son out. This was Kaine's first lesson in how cruel the world was. He was born, and intends to die, in a sea of fire.

Kaine brings all of the guests and employees of the diner out of the building as it burns out of control. One of the witnesses asks if that's all of them, but Kaine tells him there are two more. When the witness asks if Kaine is going to rescue them too, he replies, "No, I'm going in to perish with them."

Back inside, Kaine finds Janine and Ben injured but still alive. Ben pleads with Kaine to let Janine live. She isn't part of their war and doesn't deserve to die with them. All she's known in her life was suffering and abuse at the hands of her father. Ben tells Kaine that he of all people should understand and let her live. Moments later, Kaine pulls Ben and Janine from the flames and brings them to rest on a rooftop. He tells them to go and love each other and try to find happiness. He only has one request: for Ben to kill him.

Ben tells him that he won't kill him, but that he has to take him and have him held accountable for his crimes. They begin to fight and Ben tries to reason with him, telling Kaine that accepting responsibility for what he's done is the only way he'll find the peace he's looking for. The police arrive on the scene and Kaine engages them, hoping for a "suicide by cop" scenario where the police have no option but to kill him. As the police prepare to open fire, Ben races over, complete with a makeshift mask, and pulls Kaine out of the line of fire.

Kaine is wondering why Ben saved him again. No other words are exchanged and none are necessary. For the first time, they realize that they are the same. Kaine, who dedicated his life to destroying Ben, had saved him, and Ben had done the same for Kaine.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Duality comes up a lot in Marc DeMatteis's writing, as it's a favorite subject of his. He has a real penchant for exploring the darkness and light in the souls of his characters, and stripping away the layers surrounding them to reveal their deepest selves. It's particularly enlightening when he does it long-established characters such as Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman, about whom you might think everything has already been said. ]

Janine tells Ben that she's turning herself in. Ben's speech to Kaine hit her personally and she knows the only way for things to get better is for her to face her responsibility. Moments later, Kaine follows and surrenders to the police. He thinks that his "brother" showed him the way to take the first step in redeeming his corrupt soul.

Ben thinks of the chain of events, knowing Janine would find her way and that when the facts were laid out, there would be mercy. He also thinks that he'll try his best to help Kaine find peace. To find a way to slow the degeneration or tell the judge or prosecutors about the horrible circumstances that made Kaine the way he is. "His greatest enemy would become his greatest advocate."

On the final page, Ben as Spider-Man looks down from the rooftop as Janine is taken into custody. "And as long as I live, I'll love her. As long as I live, I'll be watching over her. Both as Ben Reilly…and Spider-Man."

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As you know, there was no LOST YEARS franchise ever launched out of the Spider-Man line. REDEMPTION represents the one and only extension of the LOST YEARS limited series, and it was the final word on Ben Reilly's years on the road. I think it's safe to say that it'll never be collected in a trade paperback, and will never be referred to again in Spider-Man continuity, since Marvel has wanted to distance itself as much as possible from the clone saga and Ben Reilly and everything connected with them. I certainly understand that sentiment, and I don't blame the folks at Marvel for wanting to move forward. It's just a shame that REDEMPTION, which I consider to be an extremely entertaining and satisfying project, with a top-flight creative team, is lumped in with the most unpopular era in Spider-Man's history and will probably be forgotten-if it hasn't already been. ]

1 comment:

Ike Carr said...

Good news. Kaine will featured in the lead story of the premiere issue of the new Spidey series, WEB OF SPIDER-MAN. The story penned by J.M. Dematties himself, and set shortly after, REDEMPTION.