Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Ben Reilly - The Scarlet Spider #1

Ben Reilly, aka the Scarlet Spider, is my favorite superhero of all time. I even wrote a song about him once.




 
Due to his being my favorite hero, and the complexity of his comic book history, it would likely require an entire post for me to really explain who this guy is. In order to get to the review ASAP I will try my hardest to be brief here.

The character first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #149, in 1975 as a clone of Peter Parker/Spider-Man created by the Jackal as a weapon against the web slinger. In the end both Spider-Men joined forces to take the villain down but the clone died in the exchange. Nineteen years later (in real time) Marvel Comics decided to revisit the old story by bringing the clone back to shake-up the then kind of off the rails Spider-Man books. Retroactively speaking, the clone actually survived and had spent the past five years (in comic book time) wandering the country until finally returning to New York City. Now calling himself “Ben Reilly” he decides to don a costume and fight crime, dubbed by the press as “the Scarlet Spider.”

This was the beginning of the Clone Saga, one of the most infamous storylines in comic book history. Long story short, Ben is revealed to be the real Spider-Man, Peter retires to have a baby with Mary Jane Watson Parker, Ben becomes Spider-Man for a short while, it turns out it was all an elaborate lie to torture Peter by the long thought dead Green Goblin who kills Ben of good thus paving the way for Pete to emerge as the one true Spider-Man. It’s a messy, messy plot that last for YEARS!


Also, the whole thing was a convoluted way to end the Spider-Marriage
Comics books are ridiculous
Fast forward twenty real-time years later, during the Clone Conspiracy storyline, where the Jackal returns having seemingly brought many dead Spider-Man supporting characters back to life. It was soon revealed that this Jackal was actually a revived Ben Reilly. Having been restored to life shortly after his death by the real Jackal, Ben was killed and resurrected dozens of times over due to MAD SCIENCE and the process ultimately drove him insane. This lead him to essentially become a new supervillain, which kind of bums me out but whatever.

Even before the storyline finished Marvel announced the first solo series starring Ben in twenty years, which is what we’ll be looking at today. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1 is written by Peter David with art by Mark Bagley, with inks by John Dell and colors by Jason Keith. Though I cannot tell you how excited I am for new Scarlet Spider adventures the fact that Ben was reintroduced as a half-crazed supervillain makes me more than a little wary.

 Full, if cautiously optimistic, review after the jump.



Yeah, Ben wears a hood now
Following the events of the Clone Conspiracy, wherein his well-intentioned but morally dubious plot was foiled by Spider-Man, Ben Reilly has relocated to Las Vegas where he hopes to start a new life. Plagued by mental instability, and without a penny to his name, the former Scarlet Spider is unaware that his old enemy/brother Kaine is tracking him down for reasons unknown.

First of all I need it to be said that I always enjoy Mark Bagley’s artwork when he’s doing Spider-Man/Spider-Man-like characters. I loved his version of Peter Parker in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics and thought of it as the ideal way the guy should look: muscular but learn and never overly large. That translates here as well. For the most part there’s nothing to complain about art wise from my point of view. I also like some of the basic plot elements that are introduced in this issue. Ben leaving New York City for Las Vegas makes a ton of sense to me, as we can keep him away from the main Spider-Man books for a while as he spreads his wings a little bit. I also like how the book is planting seeds for the return of Kaine, who had previously been Ben’s nemesis during the Clone Saga but who has himself gone through tremendous character development in the ensuing twenty-years. A confrontation between the two characters with a history like theirs is an interesting enough concept to carry long time fans through the next few issues at least.

Unfortunately there’s not much else to like about this book, which is hugely disappointing considering how long I've waited to read an ongoing series starring my favorite character. First of all let’s address the elephant in the room: the new Scarlet Spider costume. I don’t love it but I also don't hate it, aside from maybe the hood being up so much. It’s clearly supposed to invoke the classic Spider-Man and 90s Scarlet Spider costume (and the more recent Spider-Gwen design). The original cover features this costume but Ben’s mouth is visible through his mask and basically ruins the entire image. There was a pretty bad backlash over this cover, to the point that not only did Marvel make a whole new one with Ben in his old costume but judging by the solicitations for upcoming months he’ll permanently be wearing the old blue hoodie again by issue three or so. Now I love that old costume but will anyone under the age of thirty really enjoy the change?


The original cover, weird mouth included
I don’t really like the portrayal of Ben in this comic. I don’t think this is simply me being angry with Marvel making changes; I actually like the way they brought Ben back (though I dislike that he was brought back as a villain) and the idea of the clone being unhinged as a result of the trauma he endured during the last however many years is intriguing. The problem is the guy in this comic is a jokey, overly violent crazy guy who is almost child-like at times. He is,in essence, a less interesting Deadpool. But we already have Deadpool so...why? The first time we see Ben he is having an internal monologue about beating up a cosplayer and stealing his costume, hence the new look. He shoots a crook in the leg for calling him “Spider-Man” one too many times and then cracks jokes (before causally demanding the woman he rescued to give him a hundred bucks for his service.) He becomes immediately obsessed with an old woman at a casino who he starts calling “Aunt June”.

It’s not fun or particularly funny; it’s mostly sad but the tone of the comic is clearly playing it all for laughs. “Look, Ben thinks that old lady is Aunt May! Isn’t that hilarious?!” No, not really. Frankly, I’m unsure exactly who this comic is for. Because Ben’s character has taken such a left turn it doesn’t feel like it’s for old school fans of the Scarlet Spider. On the other hand if this is for the younger fans, which seems likely due to how many cues the character is taking taking from Deadpool, I have to wonder why any of them would care about yet another person running around the Marvel Universe with Spider-Powers. Because he’s wacky?!?!


The second Ben asks for a chimichanga I'm out
Although I didn't read the Clone Conspiracy (because I still don’t buy Spider-Man comics anymore) I did follow it pretty closely and I was totally on board seeing an ongoing series starring Ben Reilly. Unfortunately what we got didn’t exactly set my world on fire. Maybe someone (Peter David?) thought of this book as a blank canvas where they could just do what they wanted. Regardless I’m not into this yet, even though I’m sure character development over time will likely bring Ben back closer to what he was instead of the low rent Deadpool we see here. The first issue, however, makes it seem like the journey will not be particularly pleasant.

I give Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1 2 out 5 Adorable Pandas.




 Pros: 
-Great artwork 
-Key plot elements very intriguing 

Cons: 
-Comedic tone works against the book 
-Ben Reilly feels a bit too silly 
-New costume is not all that great

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