BACK ISSUE TO THE FUTURE: Spider-Man: The Lost Years

Commentary by Sam S.

As everybody likely knows by now, Ben Reilly, Peter Parker’s controversial clone and occasional Scarlet Spider, has returned to the Spider-Man identity for the first time since 1995. The 90’s clone storyline received plenty of deserved criticism, but there were some definite gems in there. With that in mind, I thought it might be time to revisit one of the best and most defining Ben Reilly stories, Spider-Man: The Lost Years #1-3.

Set during the period between the original Clone Saga of the 70’s and Ben’s return in the 90’s, Lost Years features Ben wandering America, trying to build a life for himself while struggling with the existential crisis of knowing that his face, his powers, his values and his memories all belong to another man. Ben settles in Salt Lake City, falls in love with the troubled Janine Godbe, battles the mob, and encounters the mysterious, depraved killer known as Kaine.

Can Ben continue to hide his true nature as a clone of the Amazing Spider-Man? Can he and Janine possibly have a happy ending with their inner demons and the maniacal Kaine haunting them? Can Ben ever truly be his own man, rather than a shadow of Peter? J.M Dematteis expertly explores this questions in this noir-esque tale.

What sets this apart from many other Clone Sage tales is the focus on the characters. Dematteis has always been a master of dark, character-driven stories and he really gets us into the heads of Ben, Janine and Kaine, all people living on the fringes of society and burderned by secrets and self-hatred. For people who think Ben is just another Peter, this story proves that to be untrue. Ben and Peter are similar in some ways, true, but drastically different in others. If you keep an open mind, you may actually end up preferring Ben.

Janine is a great character also. While she bears a superficial resemblance to Mary Jane Watson, her story is far more dark and tragic. The love story between her and Ben remains one of my favorite romances in comics. You’ll be rooting for them to make it by the end. Lastly, Kaine, the frightening antagonist of the story, is both despicable and sympathetic. Once you start feeling sorry for him, he’ll do something to make you hate him. Once you start hating him, something will happen that will make you feel sorry for him again. It’s a tough balance for a writer to strike, but Dematteis nails it.

For all of the Clone Saga’s failings, “Spider-Man: The Lost Years” is a powerhouse of a story. It spawned an equally outstanding sequel, “Spider-Man: Redemption,” and the two stories are largely responsible for my 25+ year affection for the Ben Reilly character. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone reading this and not becoming attached to Ben and his supporting cast. He may not replace Peter or Miles as your favorite Spider-Man, but you’ll definitely come away from this with a new appreciation for the character.

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