You would be forgiven if you had a hard time remembering just what the big deal is about Ben Reilly coming back to the Marvel Universe, but the fact is that we haven’t seen this replacement Spider-Man has in continuity since the infamous Clone Saga in the late ’90s. After playing the role of villain in the recent Spider-Man crossover, author Peter David has an icy tundra of baggage to unpack with this character. This week we’re going to take a look and see what can be salvaged about Ben Reilly in The Marvel Rundown!
Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
David has a lot of responsibility in this issue to try and reconcile Ben Reilly as a villain and show us how or why he decided to be a hero. The lead tries to sell his audience a new lease on life with a despicable personality lacking the charm that Marvel editorial was trying to infuse this character with. Spider-Scribe Dan Slott altered the Reilly’s motivations in a truly devastating manner, making him the true villain of the previous storyline as he swapped out sick people with clones. For some reason, Reilly escaped death or prison and was given the chance to start over. David spends virtually no time having the character adjust to such a radical change or try to prove how Reilly could possibly redeem himself after such a massive lapse in judgement. This book tries to give the lead some of the same wit and charm seen in Spider-Man 2099 from Peter David, but when the characters’ motivations are questionable at best and we see him using his powers to take things away from others, it seems as though David forgot to make his protagonist likeable.
Beyond anything else, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider is one of the strangest recipes for a Spider-Ongoing series I’ve seen in quite a while. David tows the line on the morality of his lead, but Reilly’s actions meant to be dismissed as humorous come across as him endangering or taking advantage of others. Readers see Reilly take money from someone who doesn’t have enough to give, he discharges and then hands a firearm to a civilian, later on in the issue Reilly endangers an old woman. His mental state is fragmented and deteriorating throughout the issue as he talks to the voices in his own head represented by himself in older costumes. This choice further illustrates just how odd this book is to begin with.
Mark Bagley’s art is anything but consistent in this issue. The artists’ awkward angles and exaggerated anatomy can be grating, but the in-costume fight scenes show more restraint and better layouts than usual. Towards the end of the book, the artist falls into the same trap of incredibly strange anatomy and throughout the page count of the issue, there is something about Reilly’s awkward in-costume smile that never looks quite right. However, there are also a few scenes featuring normal people talking that look stylized and exciting. These moments of hope are quickly dashed by the end of the issue as Reilly’s civilian clothes and scarred face is depicted in an incredibly inconsistent and distracting manner.
One of the worst parts about this issue (aside from what Ben Reilly is wearing in his plain clothes) is the cliffhanger. David wraps up a scene with a rushed ending before establishing the stakes of the situation. I was also hoping for David to spend additional time jumping into the psychosis of Reilly. The stilted voiceover and hallucinations aren’t a shorthand for character. Readers don’t get to see what is so interesting about the character because David doesn’t seem invested in giving the audience an understanding of why Reilly would choose to swap a real person out for a clone in the previous batch of storylines.
“So many people come through here to begin a new life. Find a new chance. Start everything over again. Why not me then? Why not Ben Reilly?”
If you are anything like me and don’t think that this cavalier, devil-may-care attitude is suited for this character who should (or was) experiencing something intensely dramatic, this likely isn’t the book for you. Restoring Reilly back to the side of the angels was always going to be a near impossible task, but both David and Bagley just don’t seem interested in exploring what that redemption might look like. Ben Reilly has a passionate fan base that deserve stronger material than this.
Final Verdict: Ben Reilly’s newest solo series is one of the weakest Marvel debuts I’ve read in recent memory. Reilly’s characterization is unflattering while being both generic and boring.
Don’t fret about this (less-than-stellar) debut! Next week is going to be insane. We’ve got All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Bolt, Jean Grey and Secret Empire on tap! Be there!