Ben Reilly is back in the Spider-mask, but he is definitely not the hero he used to be in Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1.
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: April 26, 2017
Collected in: Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider v1
|One of the most controversial characters in comics has returned — and the controversy has only BEGUN! In the aftermath of THE CLONE CONSPIRACY, Ben has a new take on life…and he’s not the same Scarlet Spider he was before. Come witness what will be the most talked about comic of the year!|
The history of Ben Reilly is fairly convoluted, even by Spider-Man standards. He originally appeared all the way back in October 1975, when he was created as a clone of Peter Parker by the Jackal. At the end of that story he seemingly died, but he was revived in 1993 as the “real” Peter Parker meant to return the Spider-books to a more carefree time. The idea was met with skepticism by fans (to be polite), but he eventually came into his own as the Scarlet Spider and developed a following. Unfortunately it didn’t last too long and the character was sacrificed after a few years.
His popularity persisted, though, and he eventually was revived once more as the new Jackal in the recent Clone Conspiracy event. I can’t speak to that since I didn’t read it, but he apparently survived the event by faking his own death and fleeing to Las Vegas. That’s where we pick up in this new series, with Ben deciding what kind of person he wants to be. His mind has been warped over the years and his heroic potential is buried under a misaligned moral compass.
I haven’t really followed the Spider books for a while now, with the twin exceptions of Spider-Gwen and Spider-Man 2099. The former has nothing to do with this, but Spider-Man 2099 shares a writer with Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider, and in fact that is the main reason I am trying this issue out. If you want a writer who can accomplish the incredible trick of writing good superhero stories that are slightly off-center from genre tropes then Peter David is the man you want. His work is routinely good, and it often balances being self-aware while still telling dramatic stories. Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1 is another of those.
Since Ben Reilly is Peter Parker’s clone he does have a certain amount of desire to be a hero. It is just that his judgement is so skewed now that he no longer knows how to do that. For instance, his instinct is to go hunting for muggers and thieves, and then he charges the woman he has saved for the privilege before giving her the gun the attacker used. There are so many things wrong with that situation that it ends up being comical and terrifying all in one go.
In many ways this is following the old Venom: Lethal Protector mindset, but actually managing to make it creepier. With Venom you knew he was struggling with the difference between right and wrong, whereas Reilly is just doing whatever his messed up gut tells him to regardless of the implications. It is this underlying narrative that makes Peter David’s stories so interesting to me. Things are always a little more cerebral than they are initially presented, and you can fall down a dark rabbit hole if you start thinking about them.
Characterization without plot only gets you so far, though, and this is one area that Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1 is lacking at the moment. That doesn’t surprise me too much since there is an incredible amount of setup material to get through here, but I can’t help but feel that the hook of the series isn’t planted too firmly yet. It doesn’t help that the cliffhanger ending comes a little out of nowhere (though I gather that the villain in this case should be familiar to readers coming over from Clone Conspiracy). It isn’t obvious yet where Peter David is going with this book, but then again trying to predict his plots is often a futile effort. He knows all the tropes and tends to circumvent them rather expertly, and I expect that will be the case here as well.
The art is from Mark Bagely, John Dell and Jason Keith, and it is certainly a well put together book. Mark Bagely probably has the most experience drawing Spider-Man of all currently working artists, and it shows. There’s a natural fluidity to his art that is necessary for a Spider-book, and everything shines as a result. I will admit that he is an artist who can be hit and miss with me, especially regarding his work in the late 90s and early 00s since he had a very distinctive character style I didn’t always find appealing, but he seems to have worked past that.
I actually forgot he was the artist until I double-checked the credits, and as backhanded as it may sound that’s actually a good thing. He’s dropped the negative things I attributed with his work and kept the positives, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a win.
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1 is a good character exploration issue that is light on plot. The cliffhanger hook isn’t all that strong, but it will probably read better in the tradepaperback when viewed as a chapter break. Peter David’s take on Ben Reilly’s current status quo is fascinating to me, and I look forward to seeing where he’s going with all this. It may not be for everyone since it is a fair ways off from the usual Spider-Man fare, but I would still recommend at least giving it a shot. It’s something a little different at a time when traditional is starting to come back in vogue, and that alone merits a second glance.