Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Kaine the Poor Man's Ben Reilly?

So as of ASM 673, it's all but confirmed that Kaine will be the new Scarlet Spider.

It's still possible that Marvel could pull something out of left field, seeing as how the Jackal is running around again. But it's doubtful that they'd go to such great efforts to establish Kaine as a major player in Spider-Island only to sideline him with a last minute reveal.

The Scarlet Spider Returns in January 2012

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

One the one hand, it feels like Kaine has been shoe-horned into the role. He's no longer degenerating, his scars are gone, and he can't see the future. Which begs the question, why not Ben? Marvel has said repeatedly that Ben's story is over, but that's a harder case to make when Kaine has just been stripped of everything recognizably Kaine to essentially become Ben Reilly 2.0.

It occurs to me that I'm being unfair, but Kaine's airport encounter with Peter leaves me concerned. Kaine claims he's there to see Aunt May off one last time before he goes on the run. Peter reminds him, "I have an Aunt May. You have a test tube." Regrettably, Kaine lets the comment pass without throwing Peter through a wall.

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"You talkin' 'bout my Test Tube Mama?!!"

Well, let me amend that. A Kaine throwdown would have derailed an otherwise excellent issue that isn't really about him. So perhaps it's regrettable from a characterization standpoint, but the issue itself probably benefits from Kaine's self-restraint.

And maybe--just maybe--he does, too. On a spiritual level, it's important for even the most tortured heroes and villains to reflect our capacity for change, however small. From a storytelling perspective, it's critical to mix things up to keep readers interested. Readers invest a lot of time and money into these characters. We want to feel as though we're going on a journey with them, not walking around in circles (even when we are).

Inevitably, what works for some doesn't for others. Controversy is better than apathy. I actually bought ASM 673 off of comixology as soon as it was available based solely on my interest in the Scarlet Spider. Sure, I could have just read spoilers online, but that seems unfair to the creators who work hard to generate interest in these stories. If you're intrigued enough to look it up, you generally ought to be willing to pay. But I digress. The upshot is that I came away very skeptical about Kaine filling the Reilly vacuum, but very impressed with ASM 673. So even if I drop Scarlet Spider after a few issues, you can put this in the win column for Marvel.

But back to my skepticism. To make a transition like this work, you have to sell the change as something organic. It's getting harder (not impossible, mind you) to pass off personality makeovers with off the wall explanations. Seasoned readers expect something more organic than a brain transplant or a yellow fear monster. Actually, scratch that last one. Geoff Johns totally pimped Hal Jordan's ride from insanity to heroism (with a nice assist from DeMatteis' Spectre run).

Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth goes a long way toward illustrating that even the most awkward transition can work, while his Flash: Rebirth shows that even the most sensible one can fall a little flat. (For the record, Manapaul and Buccellato's The Flash is one of the best reads out there right now). I won't apologize for going into a gamechanging Kaine story with expectations, but it's fair to say that there's really no way to tell how successful Christopher Yost's take will be until it's on the page. I enjoy his animated work enough to say that if Scarlet Spider fails it won't be for lack of talent.

So why should Ben Reilly fans give the title a shot? Well, for one thing, I think our common question is a hauntingly familiar one. Because it's basically the flipside of the biggie that gets thrown my way every time I make a case for bringing Reilly back.

Isn't Ben Reilly just the poor man's Peter Parker?

When someone asks the inevitable question, I resist the urge to shout "Hell No!" and refer them to this quote from J.M. DeMatteis (the definitive Ben Reilly and Kaine writer):

"The minute I stepped inside Ben's head, it was clear that he was a very different character than Peter. A very different man. They had, at their core, the same values, the same inherent decency; but Ben's life experience had changed him drastically. He was tougher, I think; far more troubled. Quicker to anger. Less respectful of the law. His heart had been wounded so much that he had a hard shell around it. Yet, beneath that shell, aspects of the Peter Parker we knew and loved remained. That was the fun of Ben Reilly: he was Peter Parker and, at the same time he wasn't. Working on The Lost Years...was, for me, the highlight of the Clone Saga. Digging deeper into Ben's past, deepening the character of Kaine, working with the great John Romita, Jr.: what a wonderful experience. To be perfectly honest, I think Ben was, in many ways, a better character than Peter. Certainly more layered and interesting. And that's coming from a guy who thinks that Peter Parker is one of the most layered and interesting characters in the history of comics."

'Nuff Said on that. :)

Now I don't think we can apply this logic to the specifics of Kaine's new arc, because we have yet to see where Yost is going with him. Like I said, I'm still skeptical. But viewing that skepticism through the lens of Ben Reilly critics puts my doubts in perspective. It's worth remembering that fans who wouldn't give Ben Reilly a fair shot contributed to his untimely death.

Fans like me.

I enjoyed Ben Reilly during the Clone Saga but I HATED him as Peter's replacement. I was right there with the "He's not my Spider-Man!" crowd back in the day. I never wrote an angry letter or quit reading, but I practically cheered when Marvel rolled out the return of "the one, true Spider-Man." it took me years to come around to the genius of the concept, but Ben Reilly means a lot to me now.

So I'll be giving Christopher Yost a chance to sell me and I hope you will, too. It wouldn't be the first time I've been won over to an edgy character softening just a bit. Fans who didn't give Ben Reilly a shot as Spider-Man missed out on something special, and that could just as easily be true of fans who won't cut Kaine any slack as the Scarlet Spider. That's all I say for now, but check back in with me when Scarlet Spider hits stands.

And remember Marvel, Scarlet Spider's success or failure will only reinforce the necessity of Ben Reilly's return! :)

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He'll be back!


  1. Nice, insightful article, David (as always!).
    I'm glad that Kaine's metamorphosis holds some interest and intrigue for you.
    Personally, I haven't read "Spider Island" - so I can't comment on Kaine being turned into Ben 2.0 - but if Marvel wanted to relaunch the "Scarlet Spider" I honestly don't see why we couldn't get the one, true Ben back.
    So, all things considered, I'm going to pass on this book.

  2. I was initially quite taken back by how Kaine is now portrayed.

    But then I realized, although not specifically spelled out in the story, this is the Kaine as he has always wanted to be. Degeneration-free. It has had an instant impact on his personality and he is letting the repressed goodness out. It's coming gushing out like a faucet now that he has no excuse to keep it hidden.

    Something tells me things are about to get bad though, and he'll discover life is going to be hard no matter how in good health and spirits he is.

  3. The other thing to consider is, ASM is somewhat of a lighthearted, silly, funny book (and I mean that in a positive way) so that's going to color the edges of dark characters like Kaine.

    The preview pages of the Scarlet Spider book seem to reflect the truer nature of Kaine. Can't wait!

  4. Karl,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I hope that SCARLET SPIDER's success will open doors for Ben Reilly's return. In today's market, even the best new titles need a shot in the arm if they make it to the year marker. I can see Marvel playing the Ben Reilly card to mix things up! :)


    I think you're absolutely right. We'll have to wait until Kaine has some breathing room in his own title to say where Marvel is going with him. But yeah, the previews indicate a much darker path, and I believe Yost has referenced "Born Again" in terms of tone.

    I suspect Kaine will discover that hope will make his life much richer AND more difficult. That's a theme that JMD played with to great effect in LOST YEARS, REDEMPTION, and his WOS 1 story "Echoes."

    Thanks so much for stopping by and posting!

  5. I have to admit, the scene where Kaine gets 'cured' of his spider transformation and comes out of the pool. Peter says "Kaine?" I expected him to respond "No... Ben..."

    I loved Spider-Island but I really do find it odd that they went this route with Kaine. I am sure he will be an unique character from either of his 'brothers' and perhaps that is why they went this route, To give them another spider book with a different tone. Ben is not the same person as Peter but they are pretty close. Sharing so many memories and such.

    At any rate I plan to give the new book a try and love the expansion of the Spider-Man family of characters... If only they could do something with Spider-Girl that would catch on.

  6. Yeah, it does strike me as least initially. It seems like they're trying to get the best of both worlds out of Kaine. And hey, it could work. He shares a common bond with Peter and Ben, even though they're all unique in my book.

    I'm much more excited about this book than I was with the new Spider-Girl. If you're looking for a great family book with a female lead, SUPERGIRL is where it's at right now. I subscribe to the entire Super-family!

  7. Boy, do I miss Ben Reilly. I agree with Demattheis; Reilly's one of the most complex, layered, and interesting characters I've ever read about. Him resuming his role as Spider-Man after being away from the persona for five years was the single most interesting thing I'd ever read in comics. It's a shame they did away with him.