Saturday, May 24, 2014

Favorite Marvel Character #9 - Ben Reilly

Character: Scarlet Spider (Ben Reilly)

Creators: Ross Andru and Gerry Conway (weird how the artists' last names keep coming before the writers alphabetically)

First appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #149, as the Scarlet Spider it would be Peter Parker, Spider-Man #52

First encounter: I was getting comics as gifts from the Sears Christmas catalog, along with grabbing whatever looked good off the spinner racks at a bookstore in the mall, so the chronology is fuzzy. It was either Amazing Spider-Man #400, Web of Spider-Man #121, or the aforementioned Peter Parker, Spider-Man #52 (though it didn't add the "Peter Parker" to the title until later). I know that cover isn't from any of those books, I just picked it to appeal to the ladies.

Definitive writer: Hard to say. the Spider-books were all so interwoven during that stretch, it's probably a group effort between guys like Tom DeFalco, David Micheline, Howard Mackie, J.M. DeMatteis. I might lean towards DeMatteis, because he wrote The Lost Years mini-series, and that established certain things about Ben I find interesting.

Definitive artist: Again, hard to say. The different images I see when I think of the Scarlet Spider are a mix of artists. Mark Bagley's in there - big surprise, since he was drawing Amazing at the time. Steven Butler was drawing Web of Spider-Man, so some of it is him. And some of it is Tom Lyle, who drew the future Peter Parker: Spider-Man title. If I had to pick, I'd guess Lyle for Ben as the Scarlet Spider, Bagley for when he became Spider-Man.

Favorite moment or story: Ben cobbling together a costume and rushing out to stop Venom, when he isn't even sure of the reasons in Peter Parker Spider-Man #52, 53 is a nice one. His trying to fight Sentinels during the whole Onslaught mess was another (PP: S-M #72, Amazing Spider-Man #415). I'm always down for Spider-Folk fighting against serious odds.

What I like about him: Now I know what you're thinking.

'Calvin, we know you're going to put Spider-Man on this list. You just wanted to put him on the list twice!' But you'd be wrong.

Obviously, I put the Scarlet Spider on here to indulge in my love for hoodies. Three guesses who'll be representing on the DC list.

Seriously though, I liked the hoodie as part of the costume as a kid, and I continue to enjoy it now. It was meant to be a hurried, rushed-together costume Reilly made out of what he had handy, and questions about why he had red spandex with no webs on it, but a blue hoodie with a spider on it aside, that's what it looks like.

It might work better if he occasionally had used the hood. You know, he's observing some criminal from a rooftop, it's raining, he pulls the hood up. It wouldn't work when he was web-swinging - either it'd be blowing off in the wind, or it would impair his hearing (and possibly peripheral vision). But there are times it would have been practical. You don't always want to waste web fluid making an umbrella, or rely on old newspapers.

Moving past the hood, I find the stories of people who were essentially created to be someone else's weapon, who try to move past it/deal with the consequences of it kind of fascinating. Cassandra Cain for one, Ryoko in the Tenchi Muyo universe for another. For Ben, it might be worse in some ways. Miles Warren (or Osborn working through Warren or whatever) didn't simply create (or try to create) a perfect killing machine. He made Ben a copy of Peter up to that point, with all the memories, thoughts, and feelings Peter has, then tried to use him as a disposable weapon.

When Ben survives the initial encounter, he's left with an ugly realization. He doesn't have a life of his own. The person who created him was a crazy, evil person who tried to make him do things the person he's a copy of wouldn't do, and so Ben believes those things are wrong. Ben resents this because that morality was imposed on him. In theory, a person would develop their own beliefs over the course of their life, based on their own experiences. Ben wasn't given that opportunity, knows it, and so fights against it. He actively tries not to be a hero because that's not him, it's Parker, and he's not Parker. He rejects the idea of great responsibility tagging along with great power. Ben Parker wasn't his uncle, the spider didn't really bite him, that was all someone else.

And that's always in the background for Ben, the question of how much of what he does is his decision, and how much of it is the Parker influences he tries to reject. Whatever he might say, he couldn't stay away when Aunt May was in the hospital. And one of the enduring images for me of Ben is from Amazing Spider-Man #400, as Peter, MJ, and Aunt Anna cry over May's body as she dies. Ben had told Peter earlier he was leaving. He came to New York to check on May, she appeared to be fine (it was only a brief improvement), he should leave. But as she passes, Ben's sitting alone on the roof, crying his eyes out. Like it or not, those feelings and memories are part of him.

Even so, I still think Ben, when he decides to truly start helping people, as opposed to merely defending himself and Peter from a myriad of threats - Kaine, the Jackal, all the rest - is done from his own desire to help. I'm sure he feels Peter's guilt over Uncle Ben's death, but I think he rejects it, since it isn't his memory. Which means it shouldn't be driving him to help people as it has Peter at times. Ben's helping because like it or not, it's the right thing to do. This is the attitude I think Peter has most of the time, the guilt thing just kicks in when he starts thinking of throwing the costume in a trash can again.

Plus, there's the aspect of Ben returning to a place he remembers, a place full of people he remembers, none of whom know him. He has all the memories, but it's a one-way street because someone else already occupies the spot in their lives he would. Which makes him feel that unreality of his existence more keenly. He stays, partly for selfish reasons, partly to help Peter, and he's able to build a life of his own. Get a job, make some friends of his own, build acquaintances with people he knows from Peter's memories, but all those people know him as Ben Reilly. Being around Peter actually gives him the chance to try and define himself more fully from Peter, to show he's a separate entity by leaving a legacy of his own. One of the things I like about Spider-Girl is he's her "Uncle Ben", and it's his costume she wears, rather than her father's. Ben is able to overcome the ugly particulars of his birth and with a lot of ups and downs, formed connections, formed a life and is carried forward in the memories of others and his deeds, which is maybe the best you can hope for in life.

I enjoy how Ben is kind of a study of what defines a person, and how sometimes it's hard to tell when our actions are influenced by others. The idea that everyone has worth, and no one is just a copy to be used at someone else's discretion and tossed aside. Not to give up on people just because they get a little lost or confused for awhile. Also, he had impact webbing and those little stinger things he could fire out of his web-shooters and I thought those were pretty cool.

As a final point, having Peter retire from web-slinging to focus on being a husband and expectant father, handing the title of Spider-Man off to Ben is a heck of a lot better way to get single Spider-Man than the One More Day nonsense Quesada and Co. foisted on us.

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