When this newest volume of the Complete Ben Reilly Epic was released, I remembered how disappointed I had been with the first volume in terms of the issues collected, and hoped that this new volume would be an improvement. Thankfully, it is, although the collection remains bogged down by the unfortunate mini-series which were not produced with nearly the same level of care as the regular issues of the time.
The last volume ended with Sensational Spider-Man #0, which I noted was an odd place to stop, considering how it’s generally regarded as the true beginning of Ben Reilly’s tenure as the sole web-slinger in New York. This collection starts with the “Return of Spider-Man”-bannered issues which came out immediately thereafter, fun one-off issues focusing on Ben Reilly getting back into the swing of things as Spider-Man. In fact, the first issue is one of my favourite issues of the period, having gotten it when I was just twelve years old. The art by Mark Bagley remains fantastic as always, a far cry from the rushed artwork that lined the pages of the poorly-conceived Scarlet Spider books in Volume 1 of the Complete Ben Reilly Epic. However, all good things must come to an end, because once these stories are finished, the final New Warriors/Scarlet Spider/Spider-Man story comes about, and it is not that well-conceived, although it fares better than expected. Marvel’s marketing department decided to keep Web of Scarlet Spider running two months longer than the rest of the Scarlet Spider books, leading to an odd situation where they introduced a new Scarlet Spider just to keep the book running and to create conflict, as well as to create a situation where Ben Reilly would never take the identity again because it was tainted. Plus the New Warriors play a role, considering how Ben Reilly had been a part of their team as the Scarlet Spider for a short while.
Afterwards is where the collection really bogs itself down, as there are two mini-series reprinted, Spider-Man/Punisher: Family Plot and Venom: Along Came A Spider. I must admit to never having read these stories before, although I was more or less aware of them, and they were not enjoyable in the least. The scripts were exposition-heavy but light on actual solid character moments, and the artwork was typical mid-90s excess. To whit, there’s a panel of The Punisher where he’s actually wider in the chest than he is tall, just as an example of anatomy gone wrong. The Venom mini-series features unbearable artwork as well, with some truly confusing images of She-Venom. But once you’ve managed to slog your way through, you get to the first crossover storyline of the “Ben Reilly as Spider-Man” era, Media Blizzard, as the redesigned Mysterio goes up against Spider-Man with a new gimmick and new plan to try and gain new power and control. It’s a fun storyline, a great palette cleanser, and the artwork by the regular creative teams is well put-together. As I said previously, the two issues of the Scarlet Spider experiments had been rushed-looking and lacked substance, but here that was most definitely not the case, as the issue boasted some very memorable and enjoyable artistic sequences.
I can’t wait until we finally get to Volume 3, and see more of the core Spider-Man books of the time reprinted, so that readers can enjoy the tempo and rhythm of the old Spider-Man books without being thrown off by poorly created mini-series.