By now it’s something of an understatement to describe Peter David as an extremely prolific “writer of stuff”. Throughout his decades-long career, he has worked in media as diverse as prose, comics, and video games, to name but a few. Among the countless properties with which he has been involved, he has had a particularly longstanding association with Spider-Man. Later this month, a new chapter in that long history will begin, with the debut of ‘Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider’, a new ongoing starring Spider-Man’s newly resurrected clone. As ScienceFiction.com’s self-appointed Spider-Guru (and, it must be said, a shameless ‘Clone Saga’ fan), it was my privilege to sit down with Peter at the recent Great Philadelphia Comic Con to discuss the book. Join us as we explore his thoughts on Ben Reilly, the structure of the book, and more.
Science Fiction: Though Spider-Man’s clone was first introduced in the ’70s, Ben Reilly wasn’t really established as a character until he was re-introduced during the ‘Clone Saga’ of the mid-’90s. At that time, what was your first impression of the character?
Peter David: I wasn’t blown away by the concept because one of the things they wanted to do was replace Peter Parker with Ben Reilly. They wanted to finish Peter’s story and continue with Ben as the Spider-Man character. I was not really taken by that notion because my feeling was that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. End of story. Indeed, when we did the ‘Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man’ story, Marvel even suggested that I have it be Ben Reilly because they said, “He’s the Spider-Man of the future.” And I said “No he’s not! Don’t be ridiculous, Peter’s going to be back.” And indeed, I turned out to be 100% right. Anyway, my attitude was there’s no way that he’s the Spider-Man of the future. Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and that’s it. And indeed I was proven to be right, and eventually they killed off Ben. But as I think we all know, death in comic books doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as death in real life. I’ve often said that in the Marvel Universe, the pearly gates of Heaven are actually a giant revolving door.
SF: As a writer with a great deal of Spider-Man work under your belt, how does your approach to Ben – now that you’re writing him full time – contrast with the way you’ve approached Peter in the past?
PAD: Well, they’re two entirely different characters. I mean Peter’s been through a lot, God knows, but Ben has been in a situation that Peter can’t even begin to conceive of. Which is that Ben has died over and over and over again. That’s gotta screw with you at some point. And the Ben Reilly that I am writing about is really keeping his questionable sanity together with spit and bailing wire. He has, shall we say, a very erratic personality.
SF: What can you tell us about Kaine’s role in the series and his relationship – such as it is – with Ben?
PAD: Oh, Kaine wants Ben dead. He wants him to pay the ultimate price for his activities as the Jackal. To say nothing of the fact that I think Kaine has some personal issues, in that basically they’re both clones of Peter Parker. And Kaine sees the things that Ben has done as a dark future of himself. And no hero wants to be facing his own dark future. And he would like to get rid of him if it is at all humanly possible. So he will be stalking Ben to confront him and ideally to put an end to him.
SF: What I find interesting about that dynamic going forward is the way it echoes what J.M. deMatteis did with ‘Spider-Man: The Lost Years’, how Kaine would just relentlessly hound Ben, but back then Kaine was the killer or dark mirror.
PAD: Yes, well it’s amazing how things have changed.
SF: What can you tell us about the setting and supporting cast of the new book?
PAD: Well, I don’t want to tell you too much because I don’t want to give stuff away. I will simply say it is set in Las Vegas and Ben will be seeking out a woman who he attempted to do some services for. And she’s quite rich, and he goes to her to get some financial help since he has no money. But she has absolutely no cause to or desire to help him, and actually wants to kill him.
PAD: Pretty much. [laughs]
SF: During his time as Spider-Man, Ben developed a supporting cast of his own that was abruptly jettisoned upon his death. Have you given any thought to revisiting any of those characters in time?
PAD: None whatsoever. Sorry!
SF: For years, Marvel seemed content to leave all things ‘Clone Saga’ in the rear view mirror. But over the past several years we’ve started to see a reversal of that, with the reintroduction of characters like Kaine and now Ben Reilly. What do you think has been driving that change?
PAD: It’d probably be better to speak to Dan Slott or some of the people who are actually doing it. But if anything, I would say nostalgia. I mean, I hadn’t written ‘Spider-Man 2099’ in twenty-some years, and all of the sudden they bring him back in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ and everyone wants to see a book. There’s always a tendency to love the things from one’s youth. And people who were indifferent to characters back in the ’90s are now revisiting them and getting all kinds of fuzzy memories from them. That’s fine. That’s pretty much typical.
For more from Peter David, including updates on all of his current and future projects, make sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter. You can also head over to Crazy 8 Press to check out his latest prose work. And while you’re at it, be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more Spider-Man news, including updates on this summer’s ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’!