In the last issue, Death came to Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider in the most literal way possible. A new character joined the cast, one long associated with the personification of Death in the Marvel mythos. Her arrival brought with it the death of two other cast members, Kaine and Abigail. In the case of Kaine, little drama surrounded the death of a character who has already died and come back in the past couple of years. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #7 cuts to the chase, and tells us the story about how Kaine returns and the way that it transforms Ben Reilly.
This issue goes a long way towards redeeming a character that seemed almost irredeemable at the start of the series. Over the past several issues, writer Peter David has slowly aligned Reilly more towards the good. It has been gradual, almost too subtle to have truly earned such a turn in this issue. The Ben Reilly we met in issue one was concerned solely for his own survival. This issue depicts a Ben Reilly prepared to lose his life for the sake of two others. His reaction to Kaine’s death almost surprised me. He in no way wished for Kaine’s death the way that Kaine wished for his, but I did not anticipate his emotional response. Of course, while David has generally depicted Ben as sort of a bad guy, he has set a precedent for Ben’s anger towards unjust death. But here, it is unambiguous. It is a huge turn from where the character was at the beginning, the only explanation given is that Reilly’s soul, damaged from his constant regeneration, will heal given time.
It is interesting too that this mystical revelation from Marlo, here revealed to be Death herself, establishes that this is not just a clone of a clone of Ben Reilly, but somehow Reilly himself, resurrected in such a way that defies even Death. It is an interesting solution to one of the series’ biggest problems: fans of the character may have asked for Ben Reilly, but this character so far has hardly resembled the character as he appeared in the 90s Clone Saga. David’s solution both establishes that this is the very same Ben Reilly from the 90s, not merely a clone of a clone, while also establishing that, given enough time, this character should heal and become himself once again. It is an interesting move that makes this series no longer just about a bad guy doing bad things, but about a beloved fan favorite’s eventual redemption. At the very least, this makes for a more compelling hook to this series than just a morally ambiguous, sardonic version of Spider-Man. That role has already been filled by Deadpool in his numerous books.
The character’s sudden moral realignment paired with Death’s sudden decision to grant Reilly a favor makes the issue kind of a giant deus ex machina. That said, I enjoy a book that surprises me and I would have never guessed a few issues ago that the solution to all of Ben’s problems was to punch Death in the face and make her laugh. Not all surprises are created equal, of course, and far too many twists in fiction come out of left field precisely because the author had not properly earned them. This issue teeters on that, if for no other reason than because Death solves so many of Ben’s problems. It is clear that David went to the same playbook that led to the infamous “Superboy punches reality” retcon over at the Distinguished Competition. In the end, it works, but only because Ben was a character with a lot of baggage heading into this series something had to be done in order to set the series on the right path. If anything, something dramatic should have happened earlier in the series to prevent audiences from checking out too soon.
Once again, Will Sliney’s art is competent but stilted and awkward. His figures are stiff and, at times, anatomically out of proportion. They do not look like figures who possess mass and occupy space, but instead like flat figures positioned like cutout on a page together. Mostly, the faces look fine, but the characters look particularly odd when placed in some sort of action pose. So in the book’s full-page shots, which should display the artist’s strengths, unfortunately, highlight his weaknesses.
Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #7 is an abrupt, if not outright odd, change of pace for the series. The new emphasis on Ben Reilly’s ultimate redemption hopefully gives the series a more focused direction. How David gets us there is pretty weird, but at least it sets the book on its own path. Up until this point, Ben Reilly has been a very difficult character to care about and not simply because he was the villain of “Dead No More”. He has been a very difficult character to get a bead on. Between the “Dead No More” event and the first few issues of this series, Ben has acted wildly inconsistently. While a bit on the nose, this issue shows a damaged soul given a chance to heal. That is a story I can stay on board for.