This is where it gets even better. While the Spider-Titles are still split into the Ben Reilly books and the Peter Parker books, the mysterious Kaine plays a major role in all 4 titles, bringing a stronger sense of continuity between the books. Spider-Man is dying and his only hope is Doctor Octopus. Meanwhile, his wife Mary Jane has a stunning announcement that will change their lives forever. The Scarlet Spider/Ben Reilly is just starting to get used to having a life again. Picking up the pieces of his shattered existence, Ben begins to date, settle down and re-acclimate himself to the role of being a hero.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Around the time of "Web of Life" and "Web of Death," Marvel was split into five groups by the "geniuses" who were running the company (into the ground) at that point. Tom DeFalco was suddenly out as Editor in Chief (a status quo change that many of us at the company would greatly regret in the months and years to come). There were now five EICs, each heading up their own line of books. There was the X-Men Group (EIC: Bob Harras), the Marvel Heroes Group (EIC: Mark Gruenwald), the Marvel Edge Group (EIC: Bobbie Chase), the Licensed Titles/Marvel Alterniverse Group (EIC: Carl Potts), and the Spider-Man Group, now overseen by Bob Budiansky. Longtime Spider-Man editor Danny Fingeroth was still on board as Spider-Man Group Editor, and the clone saga was already well underway. As a result of these departmental changes, Tom Brevoort and I were phased in to the Spider-Man Group. Tom was a full editor, and I had been his assistant for about a year or two by this point. We were to produce special Spider-Man projects in addition to monthly titles like NEW WARRIORS, which we had just inherited from another editor. ]
We'll take the Spider-Man titles first, which ran the "Web of Death" story in these titles: Amazing Spider-Man #397 and 398, chapters 1 and 3 of Web of Death, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Spectacular Spider-Man #220 and 221, chapters 2 and 4 of Web of Death, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz.
"Web of Death" begins with Kaine observing Spider-Man out on patrol. It seems as if Kaine has as much of an interest in Spider-Man as he does the Scarlet Spider. Spidey is still feeling the effects of his poisoning by the Vulture during the "Back from the Edge" storyline. He's dying and he doesn't know what to do. If that weren't enough to deal with, he's starting to have memory flashes of himself in a containment chamber similar to what the clone was in as he was created. Before he can compose himself, Doc Ock appears, and after noticing that something is wrong with Spider-Man (mentally and physically), leaves him for the time being. The issue ends with Ock and Spider-Man facing off again, only to have Spider-Man unmasked.
Spectacular Spider-Man #220 is a monumental issue. As Doctor Octopus struggles to save the life of Spider-Man (Ock wants Spider-Man to die at his hands, not through a poisioning), Kaine continues his observation of those whose lives revolve around Spider-Man. While watching Mary Jane he thinks, "I truly wish I could guarantee your survival, alas I cannot." Peter and Mary Jane are reunited, finally. Peter realizes that Ock's cure didn't work and before he can let his wife know, she informs him that they're going to have a baby.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mary Jane's pregnancy was Tom DeFalco's idea, and it came early in the planning stages for the clone saga. As Editor in Chief, Tom had approved the clone storyline in the first place, and shortly thereafter, at Spider-Man editor Danny Fingeroth's urging, he ended up as one of the regular Spider-Man writers. In this capacity, Tom proposed that a major, dramatic event that would help set up the saga's ultimate resolution would be Mary Jane becoming pregnant. It was a ballsy idea, and everyone was excited by it. And since Tom was still the ultimate authority at Marvel at that time, it was safe to say that the somewhat controversial idea would go through without a hitch. ]
"Web of Death" part 3 picks up with Peter still feeling ill, but going to dinner with Mary Jane, and they have a chance encounter with Detective Raven. The dinner is interrupted again when Peter spots Doc Ock watching them. They battle until the Doc reveals that he found a cure for the poison. Peter takes the serum and starts to feel a little better, but then collapses and heads for the light. "Web of Death" part 4 promises that "one shall die." Normally, we wouldn't even think it could be Peter, but with the events of the past few months, anything was possible. After meeting deceased friends and relatives, Peter fights back, the serum kicks in and he is alive! As he tries to understand why Ock saved him, the police arrive. Stunner called them as per Ock's instructions so that Peter wouldn't feel pressured to bring him in. He wants Spider-Man in peak condition the next time they battle.
Peter returns home to Mary Jane, where they share some quiet, tender moments together. Meanwhile, Kaine attacks Ock en route to prison and they battle it out. Kaine explains that he harbors no antagonism or malice towards Doc Ock, but for reasons of his own, he must die. With that, Kaine kills Doctor Octopus.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I remember being in a meeting with Bob Budiansky, and it was explained to Tom and me that Doctor Octopus was going to be killed to show just how bad-ass Kaine was. This was going to be a really big deal, a dramatic high point, and Kaine was going to be a major player. (Make no mistake - Doc Ock's death was intended to be permanent. We clearly saw his dead body, remember?) Upon hearing about it, I was pretty skeptical. I'm not a big fan of killing off major villains, especially classic ones like Doctor Octopus, and I had serious doubts that a character of his stature and history could ever be suitably replaced by a new villain.
I clearly remember reading the issue where Doc Ock died. Tom DeFalco wrote the issue, but I got the feeling that he did it somewhat reluctantly. I don't think he particularly liked the idea of killing off Doc Ock, especially in the way that Ock was to be killed, and while the story was certainly very well-written, I just don't get the sense that Tom's heart was really in it. The fact that Tom later resurrected Doctor Octopus at the first opportunity would seem to back me up on this. ]
The "Web of Death" storyline was loaded with excitement and intrigue. Mary Jane announces that she's pregnant while Peter fights for his life and is aided by his greatest enemy. Kaine starts to show that he has more than a passing interest in the life of Peter Parker and Ben Reilly and he also appears to be clairvoyant, warning of impending tragedy. I enjoyed this storyline because every issue compelled you to pick up the next. Part 1 ends with Spider-Man unmasked, part 2 reveals that Mary Jane and Peter will be having a baby, Part 3 shows Peter apparently dying and Part 4 ends with one of Spider-Man's oldest foes being killed by the mysterious Kaine.
Now onto Ben Reilly's books and the "Web of Life" story, which ran in these titles: Web of Spider-Man #120 and 121, chapters 1 and 3 of Web of Life, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. Spider-Man #54 and 55, chapters 2 and 4 of "Web of Life," written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna.
"Web of Life" picks up with the Scarlet Spider settling into the role of hero, finishing up a battle with Tombstone. Elsewhere, the newly introduced Grim Hunter (son of the late Kraven) is planning his revenge on Spider-Man. Kaine continues to study Scarlet Spider and we learn a lot more about what drives him. He notes that the Spiders will never be far from each other. It's written that all Kaine knows is tragedy "...of what has been...and what is to come," and we're shown a vision of Mary Jane running from something before being killed. Scarlet Spider pays a visit to his (or rather, Peter's) former love, Betty Brant. He wants to set the record straight with the press, and although both of them try to stay objective and focused, Ben can't help notice sparks between them. Shortly after Scarlet Spider leaves Betty, the Grim Hunter arrives, trailing his scent.
Part 2 opens with the Scarlet Spider breaking into the Daily Bugle to look for reporter Ken Ellis, the one who saddled him with the Scarlet Spider name in the first place. The cheesy name has been a running joke in the Ben Reilly titles so far, as the name aggravates Ben to no end. Scarlet Spider doesn't find Ellis, but he does have an encounter with J. Jonah Jameson for the first time. Ben is starting to get very comfortable with his place here, and the reunions with Betty and Jonah have left him wanting more.
The crucial scene in this issue occurs in the middle of the book. Spider-Man is shown lying unconscious from the Vulture's poisoning. Ben is asleep in his Bed and Kaine just watches. Ben and Peter share a similar dream. A dream of a laboratory and a birth, with glimpses of Professor Miles Warren and the Jackal. Kaine doubles over in pain. When Ben wakes up from the dream, he immediately calls an old friend, Seward Trainer, who apparently is Ben's only confidant. Ben worries that degeneration is starting and Seward tells him that he's on his way to New York.
The Scarlet Spider pays another visit to Betty Brant and they share an embrace but are interrupted by the Grim Hunter before it can lead to anything else. The Grim Hunter realizes that Scarlet Spider is not the same man he holds responsible for the death of his father and leaves. Detective Raven also teams up with members of the NYPD, announcing that the person he's looking for that left scars on his victims was responsible for the death of his partner.
Todd Dezago guest writes "Web of Life" part 3 in Web of Spider-Man #121, illustrated by Phil Gosier. We're shown Kaine busting up a robbery, but treating the victim just as badly as the crooks. Detective Raven also finds a match for the fingerprints they found on the scene of the crime and decides, with the help of New York Detective Connor Trevane, to pay a visit to the person with the matching prints.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Spider rushes to Peter Parker's home, hoping to arrive before the Grim Hunter can harm him. He runs straight into Kaine. The battle is over before it begins. Scarlet Spider manages to get a shot in, but Kaine overpowers him. It's only a last minute chop to the sides of Kaine's head that prevents Scarlet Spider from having his neck broken.
Part 4 opens with Scarlet Spider trying to regain his strength as Kaine and the Grim Hunter face off. During the battle, Kaine's thoughts reveal that the Grim Hunter cannot be allowed to interfere with what he's tried to accomplish. "He must die. As must they all." Scarlet Spider returns home after not being able to find Peter or Mary Jane and he runs into Seward Trainer, his old friend.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Dr. Seward (pronounced SEA-ward) Trainer was named after Howard Mackie's father-in-law, and he was a pretty intriguing character. I liked Seward, I thought there was a lot of potential for characterization with him. Looking back, it's pretty ironic that I ended up writing the last word on him when the clone saga finally ended. ]
Seward wants Ben to come to his lab and finish the tests they started some time back, but Ben warns that Kaine is back and he needs to go after him before he kills again. The Scarlet Spider tracks Kaine and Grim Hunter to Central Park, but in the midst of the scuffle, they get separated again. Kaine and Grim Hunter face off, but the battle is short lived, as is the Grim Hunter. Kaine "marks" him and he dies.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Kaine was slated to kill off some other Spider-Man villains, as well, to clear the decks a bit, make room for some new villains, and show Kaine really strutting his stuff. My understanding is that Howard Mackie offered up the Grim Hunter as Kaine's next victim. Howard had introduced the Grim Hunter only a short time earlier, with much accompanying hype and fireworks, but I presume that Howard realized fairly quickly that he really had no idea where to go with the character. So, he offered the Grim Hunter up as a sacrifice to the larger storyline, and the character was pretty much forgotten after that. ]
The mysteries keep growing. What is the degeneration that Ben and Seward seem so worried about? Why is Kaine so protective of Spider-Man but intent on killing Ben Reilly? And how accurate are Kaine's visions of Mary Jane's death? Who killed Detective Raven's partner? The obvious answer would be Kaine, but if that were true, why make it a mystery? It appears that there's more to the story than is being told. Most importantly, why are Peter and Ben having the same dreams of being in a laboratory? What does it all mean? The Spider-titles are kicking into high gear for sure, making each issue a must read for any fan.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned before, there was a lot of talk about Kaine at this point, his future potential as a franchise character. There were discussions about possibly spinning him off eventually into his own title, the way Venom had been. But Tom Brevoort and I privately agreed that a character as brutal and murderous as Kaine had been portrayed up to that point could not easily be "rehabilitated" and suddenly made into a protagonist. Despite the initial sales success of Venom's solo book, it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths that Venom was now being portrayed as something of a "good guy." Another irony - Tom and I would later end up editing the Venom series! ]
You may wonder why "Web of Death" is the story for Spider-Man and "Web of Life" is the Scarlet Spider storyline, when each features the deaths of main characters. My opinion was that while the Spider-Books closed the story with the death of one of the legendary villains in the Spider-Man history, the Scarlet Spider books focused on Ben Reilly coming into his own as a hero and as a character. He reunited with Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson and started to feel the romance bug bite him. Readers were introduced to a good friend from Ben's past and the "Life" in the title refers to the character of Ben Reilly beginning starting to flesh out and become a separate person from Peter, not just a clone.
In the letters' column of the Spider-Books this month, fans start speculating on whether Ben Reilly could be the real Peter Parker. Marvel remains tight-lipped on the subject but offers a cryptic "anything can happen" answer. Time will tell.