Marvel continues right along with their “Epic” volumes reprinting the infamous Clone Saga that hit Spider-Man in the mid-90s, however now they’ve succumbed to their favourite practice of renumbering, as this volume is The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Volume One as opposed to being Volume Six of the Complete Clone Saga Epic. But make no mistake, it’s the sixth overall volume, seven if you include their recent release of Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga, and not that great a jumping on point if you don’t already own the rest of the trade paperback collection.
This new collection starts off the weakest of the line thus far, as the first story presented is the book that capped Peter Parker’s tenure as Spider-Man, as he packs up his and MJ’s belongings and they move to Portland. It’s not a bad issue, but it really belonged at the back end of the last Clone Saga tpb as opposed to this one, and isn’t helped out by the fact that immediately afterwards a New Warriors issue is reprinted, which I for the life of me can’t figure out why, as it doesn’t concern Ben Reilly, he doesn’t make an appearance, and isn’t even mentioned.
The third story in is where we finally get to the Ben Reilly stuff, but sadly the first issue is Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1, an absolute train wreck of an issue, which is less an actual issue and more continuity maintenance, as the stories that were originally published to refute the original Clone Saga were themselves refuted by a horrible story about the High Evolutionary and the Jackal.
After the reader suffers through that, we jump into the Scarlet Spider books, which essentially was a two-month stunt where the Marketing Department had the creative teams restart each book as a #1, with Scarlet Spider in the title instead of Spider-Man, to help mimic the style of the recently successful Age of Apocalypse event over in the X-books. These issues feel rushed, sloppy, and definitely are not a highpoint of this era of Spider-Man comics. Not only that, but they are also horribly dated by today’s standards, with a lot of weird virtual reality stories taking place which don’t make a lot of sense. The final story in the volume is an excellent one, although perhaps it would have been best served up in the next collection, as it shows Ben Reilly taking on his most famous look, as he dyes his hair blonde, and redesigns the Spider-Man costume so that going forward you knew who was who by the dynamic new Spider-Man costume.
Of the entire clone saga, and this is a pretty bold statement to make, this volume collects potentially the least engaging and interesting issues of the saga. Peter Parker had just left, and nothing was in the way of Ben Reilly becoming Spider-Man, except the Marketing Department at Marvel which wanted to get a bit more use out of Scarlet Spider, and so we got the two-month experiment that was the Scarlet Spider books. The issues feel very uninspired, the artwork feels rushed, even by normally solid vets like Mark Bagley, the definitive ’90s Spider-Man artist. Perhaps this is why Sensational Spider-Man #0 was included in this volume, so that it could end on a high note, as it sets up Ben Reilly for his own run as Spider-Man, and introduces his supporting cast, including Shirley, Devon and Buzz from the Daily Grind, not to mention his future love interests Desiree and Jessica.
For fans of Ben Reilly and of the Clone Saga (and I know you’re out there somewhere), this is an important chapter, although not necessarily a particularly memorable one. The presentation is very clean, with only one issue looking at times a little blurry, that being the instantly forgettable Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1.