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The Spider-Man who isn’t Peter Parker, as told by (one of) the guy(s) who killed Superman – The Sensational Spider-Man #0

October 21, 2013

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There have been many lamentable storylines in comic book history, attention-grabbers that mainly just succeeded at making loyal readers shake their heads and look elsewhere on the spinner rack. There was Superman turning into red and blue versions of himself, with new electricity-based powers. There was Batman getting a suit of armor that made him look more like a cat — oh, and it also wasn’t Bruce Wayne beneath the cowl (or helmet — whatever it was).

And then there was Ben Reilly and the Spider-Man Clone Saga. Reilly was supposed to be the real Peter Parker, cloned by the Jackal decades before in The Amazing Spider-Man #149 and apparently destroyed. He re-appeared in the mid-1990s, claiming that the Parker we had known since that forgotten tale was in fact the clone. This rendered years and years of Spider-Man history a fraud of sorts. We had been watching, and rooting for, an imposter. We had been fooled. In one fell swoop, Marvel managed to devalue what had come before and completely deflate what was happening then. It was awful on so many levels, a giant middle finger raised slowly and placed right in the face of the audience.

It all crystallized in this issue, as Ben Reilly (re)claimed his “rightful” place as the “real” Spider-Man. And loyal readers shook their heads and looked elsewhere.  

There are a whole lot of things weighing against this one comic, before you even get to its protagonist. First off is its very indicia: it’s a zero issue. Zero issues are nearly always obnoxious, doubly so when they’re used to actually start a series. You can almost — almost — forgive a zero issue when it comes well into a series’ run, when it might serve a creative team to circle around and present an interesting aspect of a character or team’s pre-history. You can get past it and forgive the cash grab. When it comes at the beginning, and doesn’t really do anything but lead right into the next issue, all you can think of is Why isn’t this a number one?

In addition, this comic also has variant covers, a regular one and the more expensive version that you see above, with a lenticular hologram glued on. Which depicts the “old” Spider-Man that people were so tired with, and the hip new version. Which surely makes it much more valuable. Strike two, and we haven’t yet opened the damn thing.

Even the creative team is a bit of an eyebrow raiser — not in a bad way, but just for what one of them is most associated with. Everyone knows Dan Jurgens for his long, successful, pretty well-done turn as writer/artist for Superman at DC, which includes of course killing and re-animating the Man of Steel. His was a decade-defining tenure. He did other things before and after, but he’s artistically typecast, if there is such a thing. It’s kind of in a good way (no one really blames him for the emptiness of the signature storyline in his tenure, as it was plot by committee and got more attention than they thought it would), but it’s an odd feel to have him crafting a Spider-Man tale. The same holds true for Klaus Janson, whose bold inks have embellished some of the grittier storylines for both of the Big Two companies — though his inks blend quite quietly here with Jurgens’ style. The two of them make this feel like an alternate universe web-slinger, like a comic that would have come out during the Amalgam event.

That sort of brings us to the whole point: all these odd feelings are moot. This isn’t Spider-Man. It might proclaim it is in big bold letters — literally, as we’ll see — but it’s not. Jurgens and Janson? On a “Spider-Man” book? Why not? Who cares? When’s the real one coming back?

At this point Reilly was no longer the Scarlet Spider, the guy who looked like Spider-Man but had ammo pouches on his ankles and wore a top from a Jane Fonda workout tape. He was just a depressed, extremely broke young man, pondering his future. The clone Peter Parker who was still the real Peter Parker had gone off with Mary Jane to retire and start a family, and this left Reilly plenty of chances to ponder his past, present and future while sprouting a bitchin’ depression beard:

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Hey look, a Superman reference!:

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Legitimate question: In a world with Thors and Hulks and Captain Americas and Galactuses (Galacti?), would Superman comics exist? Wouldn’t there be decades of pirate comics, like in Watchmen?

One of the nicer features of this comic comes when Reilly sits down and tries to design his new suit, one that takes inspiration from the old Spider-Man look while updating the design. I like a few, especially the stealth togs at the top:

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They call the suit in the middle the X-Men look, but in Jurgens’ hands it has just as much to do with Superman’s Mother Box-provided armor in the Superman/Doomsday:Hunter/Prey mini. Every time this comic tries to get away from Superman, the Man of Tomorrow pulls it back in.

In the end Reilly does become the new Spider-Man to fight a bad guy, and by the book’s close he has a job at a diner, a shave, and a classic villain is set up as his opponent for the next issue. (Please don’t spoil the senses-shattering conclusion!) And, of course, there’s a new costume. Which actually could have been a whole hell of a lot worse, all things considered — you can almost like it:

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“YEE-HAHHH!” this comic book proclaims. And readers wish they could be as enthusiastic.

None of the criticism/sarcasm here is directed at Jurgens. He was and is a scripter/artist with a solid storytelling sense, a workmanlike ability to get a story from point A to point B with pretty enough pictures and words that don’t make you want to put your head through a wall. The problem here lies with the imposter star, and an editorial decision that rejiggered the Spider-Man universe in the most infuriating way possible. (Indeed, there are some indications that Jurgens was less than thrilled with having to make do with Spider-Clone.) It’s infuriating.

Eventually Reilly was killed off, his odd interregnum a footnote much like that season of The Dukes of Hazzard where Bo and Luke disappeared because of a contract dispute and two cousins came to town to take their place. (Remember that?) He should consider himself lucky that he wasn’t rocketed off into space like Poochie, never to be seen again. An aside with a point: I recall my dear departed grandmother, who had been watching the soap opera The Guiding Light for decades — I think she might even have listened to it when it was just a radio program. In the 1990s it too had a clone storyline, in which its most popular character, Reva Shayne Lewis Spaulding Lewis Cooper O’Neill (she got married a lot), was cloned. Yes, cloned, which made even less sense in an afternoon soap than it did for a hero bitten by a radioactive spider. The whole mess managed to shatter my grandmother’s decades-long interest in the denizens of this fictional universe.

Ben Reilly, the Sensational Spider-Man, was in that same vein. The same stupid vein. Excelsior.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2013 7:41 pm

    Despite only know the the soap, All My Children, from when I would sometimes watch with my older sister as a child, I remember there being at least 4 sets of evil twins (in one case, the original was “evil” and the twin was developmentally disabled and “good”).

  2. October 21, 2013 9:32 pm

    Wasn’t there a comic adaptation of Guiding Light where one of the characters got superpowers (like the ones they got in an episode of the soap) and hung out with the Avengers? That was weird.

    • October 21, 2013 9:47 pm

      Indeed, Marvel and The Guiding Light crossed over a couple of times before the show went off the air, with a character called, you guessed it, the Guiding Light. Don’t think she was ever cloned though.

  3. October 21, 2013 9:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Sequential Smart.

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