Warning: contains spoilers for Free Comic Book Day: Spider-Man/Venom #1!
As Spider-Man comics near the beginning of a new era, Bill Reilly is set to replace Peter Parker as Marvel Comics’ Wallcrawler, and readers get to see his first adventure in Free Comic Book Day: Spider-Man/Venom #1. While Peter Parker’s fate is still up in the air – and it’s possible he could be badly injured or even killed as a result of the supervillain battle royal taking place in Sinister War – the flash-forward Free Comic Book Day story sees Ben Reilly take on the Spider-Man mantle once again with an upgraded suit that has one feature Peter has desperately needed since his first days as a superhero.
A clone of Peter Parker who famously replaced him as Spider-Man when the two temporarily believed Ben was the original, Ben Reilly has since existed as a darker version of the Wall-Crawler, initially coveting Peter’s life but later finding redemption as the street hero Scarlet Spider. With Amazing Spider-Man #75, Ben will lay claim to the Spider-Man mantle, working alongside the mysterious Beyond Corporation, seemingly taking over from Peter as “the real Spider-Man,” as he’s called at the end of ‘Test-Drive’ from Zeb Wells, Patrick Gleason, Alejandro Sanchez, and Joe Caramagna.
Ben Reilly is generally depicted as having the same powers as Peter Parker, but this issue gives him a new ability in the form of his armored costume. In a battle against Bushwacker, Ben reveals that the Beyond Corporation’s suit is made of impact-thickening polymers which get harder under duress. This new Spider-Man shows he can take even close-range fire from Bushwacker’s cybernetic guns, splintering the weapons by placing his hands over their barrels. It’s an awesome upgrade for Ben, and one that ironically would have been the ideal addition to Peter’s arsenal, given that it could turn his constant masochism into a strength.
One of Peter Parker’s most defining attributes is his guilt over the people he feels he’s allowed to come to harm, from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy to Captain Jean DeWolff. Having neglected to stop the criminal who later killed his beloved uncle, Peter’s heroism is in many ways both an attempt to recreate that failure with a better outcome and to punish himself for allowing it to happen. Countless comics have made it clear that Peter views the pain he experiences as Spider-Man as penance for the harm he’s allowed to befall others, and in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #19 – from Peter David and Pat Lee – Mary Jane even accuses him of seeking out death, pointing out he’s never made minor upgrades (like indicator gauges that would show when he’s low on web fluid) which would make his vigilantism far safer on a daily basis.
Whether or not Peter has spent his career as Spider-Man seeking death, he’s definitely spent it putting himself in harm’s way, acting as bait for villains at the slightest provocation and jumping in front of countless bullets and blades to save others – even his most destructive villains. As Spider-Man, Peter always put his own welfare second, and now Ben Reilly is hitting the streets in an armored costume that would actually have made this instinct for self-sacrifice a benefit. When Ben throws himself on his enemy’s gunfire, he doesn’t just protect others, he actually defeats the villain by doing it.
Peter has experimented with armor and advanced suits when he’s had the resources, famously devising custom equipment for the Sinister Six in ‘Ends of the Earth,’ but Ben’s genius armor is simpler than those Peter has developed, and even seems to work on a similar principle to his webbing. Hopefully, Peter Parker survives his showdown with Kindred and is around to challenge Ben for the Spider-Man name in ‘Spider-Man Beyond,’ but if not, at least his clone won’t suffer from the same fatal flaw.