[Warning: contains SPOILERS for Amazing Spider-Man #22 and the Clone Conspiracy saga.]
The twists and turns keep coming in Dan Slott’s attempt to take back the clone saga – which, arguably, he’s succeeded at doing in his latest Spider-Man event. Whether or not Marvel fans will forgive the oft-maligned genetic-duplication story arcs, The Clone Conspiracy has been nothing if not engaging. The third entry in the series brought with it a surprise reveal and a shocking plot twist that was actually teased, if you caught all the hints Slott layered throughout the narrative.
It turns out Miles Warren, a.k.a. The Jackal, isn’t truly himself these days. His very first clone, Ben Reilly, the original Scarlet Spider, usurped his identity and subverted his cloning process to his own designs. Of course, those remotely familiar with the Wall-Crawler's prior overtures recall when Ben disintegrated in Peter’s arms at the conclusion of Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75 (in 1996), effectively dropping the curtain on the most drawn-out chapter of the clone epics to date. At least, fans thought Ben was dead.
Ben Reilly’s Horrific Return
In the world of Miles Warren, dead is rarely dead. After revealing himself, Ben tries to entice Peter into a cooperative effort with the prospect of bringing their Uncle Ben back to the land of the living. Naturally, Spidey doesn’t take kindly to the reanimation of his beloved uncle, answering with a volley of fists. After taking a few punches for the cause, Ben launches into an explanation as to how, after he'd died in Peter's arms all those years ago, he was still alive, much less willing to carry on the Jackal's morbid research.
He unravels the lurid tale of his latest rebirth, or more so, multiple rebirths. After his (supposedly) penultimate death at the hands of the Green Goblin, Miles Warren crept out of the shadows, scooping up samples of his DNA. After tweaking his process to revive not just cells but memories, he sought to perfect his clones by resolving the one issue which has plagued them since the first go-around: tissue degradation. In order to satisfy his disturbed version of the scientific method, Warren killed and revived Ben 27 times – all of which he remembers in agonizing detail.
After reaching his pain and despair threshold, though, Ben finally broke through Warren’s restraints and attacked the deranged doctor.
Ben Reilly Comes into His Own…as The Jackal
Dying a thousand deaths allows Ben to realize that he no longer needs to live in the shadows of Peter Parker and Spider-Man anymore. Rather than killing The Jackal, he takes his place, using his keen mind to discover a way to inhibit the cellular degeneration process – the once-daily supplement of New U pills. In that way, Reilly invents his own means to freedom of sorts and truly becomes his own man, apart from the web-slinger identity.
Of course, the true irony is that Ben finally escapes from Peter Parker’s footprints but immediately leaps back into another man's shoes by assuming Miles Warren's alter-ego. His new calling also means he has to hide himself and his dedication to, admittedly, some pretty mad science, beneath an Anubis mask and a stylishly-tailored scarlet blazer. But will his dream of resurrecting all those he’s lost end in the ultimate desecration, the revival of Uncle Ben?
Will Peter Parker Make a Disturbing Choice?
Throughout his nearly 70 years (give-or-take, continuity-wise), Spider-Man has dealt with things most mortals can only imagine. He’s lost the young love of his life, Gwen Stacy, to one of his greatest foes (who also happened to be his best friend’s father) and watched her come back to life and die at least a time or two. He also was forced to choose between being married to Mary Jane or keeping his Aunt May from dying, admittedly, a ridiculous hook, in addition to losing dozens of family, friends, and even enemies in the course of his adventures.
As lamentable as his losses are, one death arguably had more influence on the young Web-Head than any others: his Uncle Ben. Ben Parker was a father figure to Peter, as well as the beloved husband to his surrogate mother May. Even casual audiences have probably heard the 'Great power' speech and know what Uncle Ben means to Peter (hint, he’s not just a rice fan).
Writer Dan Slott is well aware of this and knows he can toy with our emotions, which certainly makes things interesting in the Spider-Verse. Deep in our heart of hearts, we know Peter Parker would never taint the memory of his uncle...or would he? Through all the suffering Spider-Man has endured, all the trials he’s faced, it’s not difficult to see why Ben Reilly took the path he did, and why Peter is on the verge of joining him. If he does, though, he could cause the very zombie-like "carrion" plague that destroyed the planet, which Spider-Gwen and Kaine set out to prevent.
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Amazing Spider-Man #22 is currently available. The Clone Conspiracy #4 arrives on January 18 of 2017.