Here on this page, I uphold the utmost integrity and humility when talking about my favorite pastime, but I’m also here to say what needs to be said. And what needs to be said is this: “I don’t give a damn what you think about the Clone Saga and Clone Conspiracy; Ben Reilly is a horribly underrated character that deserves more recognition!” Will this be met with disagreement? By some, yes. Will some call me crazy? Perhaps they will, but let’s be honest, I’m just a college kid with little credibility and an even smaller reputation, so what do I care? Ok, I might have hurt my own feelings with that last statement, but we won’t dwell on it because you know who’s reputation is also questionable? That’s right, Ben Reilly’s! Do you like that smooth intro to discussing the Scarlet Spider? I mean Jackal, no, that’s not right either — perhaps Ben has too many nicknames. Regardless, the events of Amazing Spider-Man #93 has Ben reaching new heights in development, interest, and most of all, sorrow! So, let’s break down the Scarlet Spider… or Chasm (That’s what he’s going by now, right?).
Firstly, the current Spider-Man comics are awesome. I love how Peter is always struggling financially and with a career outside of Spider-Man, keeping the character grounded. Additionally, the constant teasing between him and MJ’s relationship is always fun. However, I have my gripes with these newest stories, despite giving me some legendarily badass moments from some of my favorite villains and newest editions to Spidey’s rogue’s gallery. I loved Kindred and Sin Eater from one of the comic’s most expansive storylines to date. I also love Kraven, but his last major event where he trapped Spidey in a terrarium with countless villains drug on for a little too long in my opinion. I also love the Green Goblin, but the Queen Goblin seems a little much, especially after the Red Goblin’s debut not too long ago. Anyway, how does this ranting even remotely connect?
My current issue with the recent run of Amazing Spider-Man is that it feels like the writers are always trying to outdo themselves and those before them. Nothing is ever simple anymore when it comes to Spider-Man, with one gigantic event after another. Specifically, slightly before and certainly after the formerly mentioned Clone Conspiracy, it seems like every Spider-Man issue needs to be massive in scale and part of a “game-changing” storyline. Sure, I suppose this could be considered a gift from Marvel. Perhaps having several goliath storylines including most of the known “Spider Section” of Marvel should be a blessing. Like, come on, Kraven cloned several versions of himself to take his place, Sin Eater stole the powers of Juggernaut, Peter was tortured by a demon pretending to be his best friend, and we even got a terrifyingly awesome monster that was a mix of Curt Conners and Michael Morbius. So how’s my frustration justified?
When writing an arch that stretches over twenty or more issues, the final battle (as well as much of the build-up) generally feels clustered. For example, in the recent downfall of the Beyond Corporation, the fight was fun, but it was chaotic. We had to follow Peter’s story, then Ben’s, then Janice’s, and then Misty Knight’s and Colleen Wing’s while also considering the possibility of a team-up between Connors and Mobius (probably doomed to fail) in addition to the Queen Goblin moving forward. Oh, yeah, how could I forget Monica Rambeau and Machine Man? Even with little development these plot points and characters make a straightforward plot diagram diverge and connect like a spider web. I love the inclusion of these characters, and I love the scale and impact of these issues, but my god is it hard to follow, so much so that a generic filler issue sometimes feels relieving.
What I want to see is Kindred, Norman, and Peter. I want to see Peter take down Ben dressed as the Jackal, and I want to see an intense battle between Spider-Man and Kraven. Similarly, in the recent storyline of Amazing Spider-Man #91, I want to see the interactions and conflict between Peter and Ben as they gut Beyond from the inside out. Sure, I suppose I got what I wanted (in past stories as well), but in cluttering a massive arc with these secondary, minor characters and plot points, it all begins to feel like the writer is sometimes placing a chaotic pile of dirty clothes between me and what I want. There’s so much bombarding the reader at once, so much to analyze and process with massive amounts of information from previous issues needed to understand what’s going on. However, as chaotic as these storylines are, they usually leave the reader with a handful of shocking moments and questions moving forward, and one question I have is, “what’s in store for Ben moving forward?”
Through the chaos, I loved Ben’s struggle. In trying to balance a relationship with the love of his life, a friendship with Peter, and maintaining a career he can finally be proud of, the reader watches all of it come crashing down. Everyone loves the tragic hero, the broken man who wants to be everything he feels he should be, doing everything he can but failing anyway. And that’s why the final battle between Pete and Ben is so sad. It’s emotional, a clone who’s struggling to build his own identity but struggling once he finds out the one he’s attached to is absent from his mind because of Beyond’s lies. We see Ben broken (again), and this time it almost feels permanent even though we know it’s not (because comics), but to see a man who finally seemed to grasp what he’s wanted for so long only to watch it dissolve in his hands is heartbreaking. There’s no more “Ben Riley Spider-Man,” there might not be a “Ben and Janice” for much longer, and most of all, there are no more of Peter’s memories as a chasm now occupies the piece of soul they left.
Before going deeper, I would like to take a moment to recognize the Chasm suit design. The purples, the highlights, and the blacks represent Ben’s struggle perfectly. The darkness of black and purple portrays the character’s grief and suffering almost perfectly, and the subtle greens represent a once vibrant, growing man who has been “dulled” down and corrupted. Aside from the suit, which is already one of my favorites, Ben is undoubtedly a mess. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, nor is it the only time we’ll see Ben and Peter battle over memories and a sense of identity, but it has the potential to be one of the farthest reaching, most emotional confrontations between the two. And honestly, this is where Ben is at his best (in my opinion) as a character, a shell of a man desperate to cling to what little of life he understands in Peter’s memories. We always talk about Frank Castle’s grief and Wolverine’s regret. We converse about Batman’s vengeance and Banner’s trauma, but Ben’s conflict of identity and a sense of self has the potential to be just as interesting.
Ben has all the right ingredients to produce a broken hero: a lab experiment robbed of real life, a man clinging to what little he has, and most of all, an unstable, crippling mental state of constant doubt and uncertainty. He’s a man filled with pressure to be great but lacks the emotional support and confidence needed to reach it. Just read issue #93. Once Ben has lost the memories of a life that really isn’t his, he crumbles, and that’s what makes this character so unique and interesting. Ben knows who he can be but wants to be his own version of it, and in lacking the confidence to do so, breaks down when the image of the man he should be vanishes from his head. This naturally results in a sort of existential crisis linked with his sense of identity leading to the breakdown and emotional instability we’re currently seeing from the character (it may also have something to do with the toxic goo he fell into). So, if that doesn’t build the groundwork for a fascinating character moving forward as a potential Spider-Man villain/ant-hero, I don’t know what does, simply resting my case with the phrase “agree to disagree.”