But Marc Guggenheim, writer of the upcoming "Who Is Ben Reilly?" arc in Amazing Spider-Man, won't confirm that Ben Reilly himself is returning -- only that he "appears" within the pages of the story. Starting in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36 in July, "Who Is Ben Reilly?" continues in issues #608 and #609 in October. While the storyline's title seems a dead giveaway that the focus will be Ben Reilly's return, it turns out that the plot is at least initially driven by a new villain who's after Peter Parker.
Bringing back Ben Reilly would be an unexpected move. The return of characters like Mary Jane Watson, Black Cat, Electro and the Rhino all make sense, as fans have been clambering for a glimpse of Spidey's more familiar cast members. But Reilly, the clone of Peter Parker who played a central role in the controversial Clone Saga of the mid-'90s, isn't exactly a character fans were demanding would return.
Yet along with the recent announcement of a revisit of the original Clone Saga story by Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie, the announcement of a "Who Is Ben Reilly?" storyline looks to also touch upon the Clone Saga story, this time within the pages of the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man.
We talked to Guggenheim to find out more about "Who Is Ben Reilly?"
Newsarama: You've teased about “Who Is Ben Reilly?” before, but we don't know a lot of the details. Now that it's been officially announced, is Ben Reilly actually coming back?
Marc Guggenheim: Well, the point of the arc is to answer the question of who is Ben Reilly. Beyond that, I don't want to spoil anything. So I'll just say that Ben Reilly does make a return appearance to the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.
I think for the longest time, the Clone Saga has been the dirty little secret of the Spider-Man universe. It was treated with a "don't ask/don't tell" policy for many years. And this is the first arc I can remember for awhile that actually acknowledges his existence and couldn't exist but for that original story.
NRAMA: It seems like a lot of what the Spider-Man team is doing, now that the new status quo and new supporting cast are established, is going back to some older characters like the more familiar villains in The Gauntlet or the return of MJ in the upcoming “Red-Headed Stranger” storyline. Was that the thinking behind Who is Ben Reilly?
MG: No, actually, this story didn't evolve that way. It's sort of the exact opposite. The original genesis of this story was that I was asking myself, 'Has there ever been a Spidey villain who went after Peter Parker because he was Peter Parker' as opposed to a villain who went after Peter Parker because he knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man? So I came up with the idea for a brand new villain whose sole motivation would be revenge. So he's not looking to rob a bank or take over the world or anything. And as I explored that and played around with that notion, the Ben Reilly/Clone Saga/lost years all started to come into play. But this story began with the idea to create a new villain to put on the playing field who was a little different from the villains we've seen before.
NRAMA: So this story is a little more than just the return of Ben Reilly. There's also this revenge plot against Peter?
MG: I didn't say it was the return of Ben Reilly.
NRAMA: Ah, you got me.
MG: Thank you for playing. But yes, there is a lot more going on here than just the question of who is Ben Reilly. I think the best way to say it so people won't get the wrong impression is, the goal is to tell a really great present day Spider-Man story that has roots in the past. Now that having been said, I'm taking great pains to write the story from a new reader-friendly perspective. If you've never read the Clone Saga, you'll be fine here. And I actually have to go the extra mile because there's not even a trade of the Clone Saga to pick up to familiarize yourself if you haven't read it originally. So it's really designed to be new reader friendly. It has this element of Spidey's past coming back to haunt him, but you don't have to have read the Clone Saga in order to pick up this arc and follow it.
NRAMA: OK, there's no promise that Ben Reilly is returning...
MG: There's no promise he's returning.
NRAMA: ... but in examining who he is, we're definitely going to see him, right?
MG: Ben Reilly does appear in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man for the first time in a long time.
NRAMA: But is this just a flashback, or are we going to actually see him in present time?
MG: I'm not going to say that. I'm just going to say he appears within the pages of #608 and #609.
NRAMA: In a new story?
MG: [laughs] That, I will not comment on. But you're good! It's very tricky. I'd love to tell you more, but we're trying to sell comics here.
NRAMA: Then let's switch gears. Do you have any idea who the artist is going to be?
MG: We're playing around with a couple options on the artist front, so we can't really talk about those. But the first part of this arc is actually going to appear in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36, and that's being drawn by Pat Olliffe.
That's the first part of the arc. And then the arc in a couple months will pick up with Amazing Spider-Man #608-609.
But Pat Olliffe is drawing the Annual. And he's doing a great job. He's so good on Spider-Man stuff. I've been a big fan of his book since Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which remains among my all-time favorite Spider-Man comics. So this is really exciting for me. The chance to work with him and have him design a new villain for Spider-Man who will hopefully make enough of an impact that we'll want to see him again -- that will just be icing on the cake.
NRAMA: Anything else you can tell us about those two issues in October?
MG: I can tell you that, in those two issues, I'm going to do something pretty unconventional for a Spider-Man book. Typically with Spider-Man, you tell stories in a linear fashion. You know, there's a beginning, middle and end, and you don't mess around with time. I played around a little bit with time and the non-linear structure at the beginning of my “Kraven's First Hunt” arc. And arguably also in my Flash Thompson issue, Amazing Spider-Man #574.
But here I'm going to go a little further, and over #608 and #609, I'll tell two different stories over two different time frames. One story will take place in the present. And the other will take place during those lost years. For readers who are familiar with my work on Blade, I'm adopting the same structure so that you'll see that half the story takes place in the present and the other half takes place in the past, and those two storylines talk to each other.
We're trying to be as new reader friendly as possible with this new villain and this new situation for Spider-Man, but at the same time, if you're familiar with the Clone Saga, there's this added layer of returning to this semi-beloved character and semi-beloved period in Spider-Man history that has not gotten a lot of love lately. And with the way we're doing the storytelling, I think it's all coming together into something really fun.