The news is out that Amazing Spider-Man #75 marks the start of a new era for the title with an expansive creative team of five writers, four artists, and more still to be named and plans to release three times every month. Dubbed 'Spider-Man Beyond,' the new direction also brings back Ben Reilly, the so-called Spider-Clone, to once again replace Peter Parker as the mainstream Marvel Universe's Spider-Man.
But with every new piece of information or art about 'Spider-Man Beyond' also come new questions, right down to why Peter Parker needs a replacement - and even which version of Ben Reilly will be under the mask.
That's right - there are multiple versions of Ben Reilly from around the so-called Spider-Verse, and evidence from teaser material for 'Spider-Man Beyond' suggests it might not be the original version (whatever that means when we're dealing with clones to begin with).
While the classic Ben Reilly is certainly alive and well in the Marvel Universe, he's already appearing as the Scarlet Spider as a supporting character in the ongoing Iron Man title, and he's had his share of psychological issues as a result of his cloning process (which may or may not have been sorted out in the story Spider-Geddon). All of that coupled with the teaser art and images shown have us asking ourselves if the Ben that will soon star in Amazing Spider-Man is the same guy that's been in the Marvel Universe lately.
And if it's not the mainstream Marvel Universe Ben Reilly, which one is it? There are some interesting tidbits in what Marvel has released so far that point to a version of Ben readers have already met, who has a very different history as Spider-Man than the one who once replaced the core Marvel Universe's Peter Parker.
Who is it, and what's pointing that direction? We'll break it all down right now.
Into the Spider-Verse
Right off the bat, there's an interesting bit of storytelling going on in one of artist Michael Dowling's interior pages (which Marvel confirms is a page from Amazing Spider-Man #79) that was released as part of a preview which seems to indicate that the title won't be strictly sticking to the mainstream Marvel Universe.
The imagery seems to show Ben Reilly, unmasked but in his Spider-Man costume, being plucked from a moment of danger by some scientists by way of a teleportation device.
It's not clear what threat Reilly is facing in the first panel, nor exactly who the scientists are, or even where or when they're pulling him from, but we can make some educated guesses.
First, the elephant in the room: Marvel has confirmed the 'Spider-Man Beyond' era will tie into the villainous Beyond Corporation (who we'll dig into momentarily), but the scientists and equipment seen here don't resemble any of the wacky, metaphysical aspects of the Beyond Corporation that have previously been shown on the page.
That said, there are some indications in the art of a connection to a much more Earthly corporation from Marvel Comics lore: Alchemax.
Introduced as some of the prime antagonists of the Marvel 2099 Universe in the line's flagship Spider-Man 2099 title, Alchemax is a somewhat prototypical evil, dystopian corporation with a superhero twist, in that in the year 2099 they're particularly preoccupied with cloning 20th and 21st-century heroes and villains.
The futuristic villains of Alchemax also found their way to the contemporary Marvel Universe in the Superior Spider-Man era, when they manipulated events to send Spider-Man 2099 back to the present day as part of a plan to ensure the creation of their own corporation in the 21st century. This story also solidifies the present-day Spider-Man's connections to Alchemax by showing that the company was created when Liz Allan, ex-wife of Harry Osborn, merged her corporation Allan Chemical with Osbcorp and Horizon Labs, one-time employers of Peter Parker.
Though the scientists on the page don't specifically look like characters we know, from Alchemax or otherwise, the machine they're using to summon a version of Ben Reilly looks a heck of a lot like the machine Alchemax used in Superior Spider-Man to teleport Spider-Man 2099 through time and space - potentially indicating that the Ben Reilly they've got in their employ is a new agent from another time or place, just as they once had Spider-Man 2099 working for them.
Evil Corporate Overlords
That brings us back to the Beyond Corporation. Introduced in Nextwave: Agents of HATE as a kind of absurd, metaphysical organization from outside the core Marvel Universe dedicated to mucking around in the Multiverse and timestream for their own amusement (a kind of totally opposite Time Variance Authority), the Beyond Corporation has been out-and-out villainous in all of its appearances in a way that Alchemax hasn't - which makes it a little tough to parse exactly how and why Ben Reilly may come to be associated with them.
In Nextwave, the Beyond Corporation uses increasingly bizarre and absurd attacks on the very reality of the Nextwave team, culminating in a 'reveal' that literal time-traveling T-Rex Devil Dinosaur (in actuality a clone created as part of the Beyond Corporation's games) is at the head of the organization. They also employ strange, android-like agents who they grow in actual crops on a farm.
The Devil Dinosaur Clone's death resulted in the disbanding of Nextwave and the apparent defeat of the Beyond Corporation, though they resurfaced a few years later in Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, in which they subverted a human mad scientist/businessman named Jason Quantrell who was accidentally exposed to their home dimension and used him as a vessel for their schemes on Earth.
Quantrell and all the other Beyond Corporation agents are depicted as husks with gaping portals where their faces should be - a departure from the way they were shown in Nextwave, potentially owing to the different circumstances of their presence on Earth. Quantrell is finally defeated by Max Brashear, the son of the Blue Marvel and the "first person to travel outside the Omniverse and survive" - the Omniverse being Marvel's term for its Multiverse and all existence beyond - who drags Quantrell into the 'Neutral Zone,' a place apparently located outside the bounds of the Omniverse, however that's possible.
Oddly, Quantrell's story is somewhat similar to that of Owen Reese/Molecule Man, a lab worker who was exposed to energy from the extra-dimensional realm of the Multiversal villains the Beyonders - one of whom orchestrated his own cosmic game in 1985's Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars. That's an especially interesting connection considering Spider-Man's role in that story, which introduced the Symbiote costume that would go on to become Venom. And of course, there's the similarity in the names 'the Beyonders' and 'the Beyond Corporation', along with the extra-dimensional nature of both groups.
What's also odd is that, in Nextwave, part of the Beyond Corporation's scheme to take down Nextwave involved creating a team of ersatz Avengers, just slightly off-kilter versions of known heroes, from around the Multiverse. Could they be looking to put a fresh Spider-Man in their pocket, one free from the baggage (and apparent injuries/death) of the mainstream Peter Parker?
Beyond Ben Reilly
So with what appears to be a time machine in the mix, along with a usually villainous corporation or two that have strange connections to Spider-Man, we can't help but be left with the same question we posed right up front: which Ben Reilly is starring in Amazing Spider-Man come October?
Well, there's an established version of Ben Reilly in the Marvel Multiverse who has his own history as Spider-Man, from a world where Peter Parker never resumed the identity after the events of 'The Clone Saga' in which Ben took Peter's place for a little while. In that Ben Reilly's world of Earth-94 (the mainstream Marvel Universe is usually considered Earth-616), Peter's powers faded permanently and he retired with his wife Mary Jane Watson, while Ben stayed on as Spider-Man in his stead.
This Ben Reilly was introduced in 2014's Amazing Spider-Man #9, which kicked off the 'Spider-Verse' story, in which Spider-Man teams up with a veritable army of Spider-heroes from around the Multiverse to defeat villains that are hunting them down one by one.
He survived Spider-Verse (though some alt-Spideys did not), and went on to be a co-star in Scarlet Spiders, a limited series in which several characters from around the Multiverse who used the codename Scarlet Spider, which was Ben Reilly's original superhero identity.
Unfortunately for Ben Reilly of Earth-94, he apparently perished in the finale of Scarlet Spiders in which he detonated a bomb meant to destroy the Inheritors, the Spider-Verse villains who hunt Spider-heroes across the Multiverse.
Here's the thing though: at least in the mainstream Marvel Universe, Ben Reilly has a habit of not staying dead (him being a clone and all). In fact, he's said to have died and come back so much that Marvel's embodiment of Death itself has taken notice of him - could that transcend just one specific Ben Reilly of the Multiverse?
And on that note, given that Earth-94 Ben Reilly already left his home universe and seemingly perished away from his own reality, what's to stop the Beyond Corporation or Alchemax or both from plucking him away from the moment of his death and planting him in the mainstream Marvel reality?
It seems hard to imagine that anyone who may be in charge of replacing Peter Parker as Spider-Man would choose the mainstream Ben Reilly, considering his recent history as both a villain, having briefly taken over the identity of the Jackal in Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy, and his subsequent return as the Scarlet Spider with a much darker, more violent outlook.
Though he's apparently been cured of the clone madness that was driving him to villainy following a confrontation with the Inheritors in the story Spider-Geddon, he's since been living a much more low-key life working a day job while recently moonlighting as part of Iron Man's crew in his ongoing title. It's entirely possible that his time with Iron Man has gotten the mainstream Ben Reilly's head on his shoulders in a new way, but considering his recent past with Peter Parker - and the fact Peter has an actual heir apparent as Spider-Man in Miles Morales - he'll need to make some real strides to fill Peter's web-shooters in an ongoing way.
This is why the imagery and plot details that have come out hinting at a more Multiverse-based story, and the seemingly refreshed Ben Reilly at the tale's heart, make it seem more and more like the Beyond Corporation might be all too happy to have their own experienced Spider-Man in the form of Earth-94 Ben Reilly.
That would leave two Ben Reillys walking around the Marvel Universe (unless something were to happen to one of them...again), but that would hardly be the weirdest thing Ben Reilly has ever been involved in - let alone Spider-Man as a concept.
There's the even bigger implication to potentially consider here as well - that the 'Spider-Man Beyond' era may not be limited to just one single replacement for Peter Parker, perhaps even bringing in multiple Ben Reillys or even multiple different Spider-heroes from around the Multiverse depending on the mission at hand. But that's another theory for another time.
For now, we're hedging our bets that, if that does wind up being the mainstream Ben Reilly in the art we've seen, the Multiverse and its many alternate versions of Spider-Man seem to be setting up to be a major aspect of the 'Spider-Man Beyond' era.
Stay on top of everything coming for the wall-crawler with our listing of all the new Spider-Man comics planned for release in 2021 and 'Beyond' (see what we did there?).