Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 9: The Lost Years

The Spider-Man Clone saga is one of the most reviled story lines ever. It featured the return of Spider-Man's clone Ben Reilly, but also dragged Spider-Man through one of the strangest, series of conspiracies and narratives that the franchise have ever seen.
But... is it really as bad as the internet would have you believe? Come with us as we review the Clone Saga story arc by story arc as we uncover how one of comics' most infamous series holds up today.

"The Lost Years"
Spider-Man : The Lost Years #0-3
Writers: J.M. DeMatteis
Artists: Liam Sharp, John Romita Jr.

Review by Eric Lee

We're taking a brief break to cover the Spider-Man: The Lost Years mini-series. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to cover the series for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, it's ancillary mini-series. Secondly, the publishing time table was all over the map. It started with a zero issue, but the original content for issue #0 was actually back-up stories in the "Power and Responsibility" , "The Gift", and the upcoming " Aftershocks" arcs. Furthermore, the majority of the mini-series was not released until near the end of the Clone Saga, so there are some potential spoilers that we haven't covered yet.

Chronologically, it's the first story of the Clone Saga, but publishing schedule-wise, it's actually one of the last ones.

I decided now seems like a good time to cover Lost Years, because it informs what occurs in the upcoming "Aftershocks" story line. Specifically, it dramatizes how Ben Reilly, Kaine, and Detective Jacob Raven met. It also reveals that one murder that Peter Parker was arrested for at the end of "The Gift". 

Confused by the Westworld-esque time line? Cool, lets talk about the actual story.

So Lost Years starts literally at the beginning. Like, it actually shows Ben Reilly's evolution from a single-cell organism to an artificially aged man. It doesn't specify what the passage of time is, but we all know that this is not how cloning works in real life, right? You readers are always so smart!

It's funny that writer JM DeMatteis tried to add some pseudo-scientific explanations on cloning, but he skips over the whole "artificially aging process". Like, how would artificial aging work at all? And how many times have I heard the term "artificially aging" in superhero comics with minimal explanation? Think about it. It happens a shocking amount.

Another weird thing that kinda gets glossed over is how Ben Reilly has Peter's memories. I think it's implied that he was "born" with  it. But it also dramatizes  Professor Miles Warren  doing weeks of "hypno-therapy" to create Peter's consciousness. Once again, that's all silly comic book science, so lets just forget that.

Unfortunately, this is not really a definitive account of Warren's cloning process. We know from other Clone Saga stories that Kaine was his first experimental clone. We never see his creation. We also never see when Warren actually discovered that Peter Parker possesses Spider-Man powers. By the time Warren clones Ben, he already knows. 

Anyways, Warren's creepy demeanor and constant verbal abuse results in Ben running away into the city. Amusingly, Ben is caught by Warren while wearing his Jackal outfit, complete with a jet pack.

Remember when I made fun of the fact that in "Smoke and Mirrors"  we never see the Jackal wearing a jet pack again? It's referencing this very scene. I rescind my joke.

 So, Ben beats down the Jackal until he's stopped by Gwen Stacy's clone. Time has passed and now Ben is hypnotized into dressing as Spider-Man. Now we're caught up with the events of Amazing Spider-Man  #149, where Peter and Ben fight for the first time. The only difference is that it's all done in Ben's perspective. 

We see Ben survive being crushed by debris and tossed in a smokestack. Then he instinctively goes back to Peter's apartment, where he sees Peter and Mary Jane together. That makes Ben snap and he falls into an alleyway and grieves for his lost identity.
Side-bar: Liam Sharp's art is gorgeous. I always thought his work looks best in a fantasy series, but man, it's hard to not love his Spider-Man art. It certainly contributes to this weird, surreal and confusing feelings of Ben's early life. Is it a dream? A hallucination? The Jackal manipulating Ben's head?
Speaking of artist, John Romita Jr. illustrates Spider-Man for the first time since his initial run on Amazing Spider-Man. Apparently, Romita Jr. was a huge "get" for the Spider-Man editorial staff, and it's not hard to see why the editors wanted him: his art looks fantastic.

If Sharp drew the surreal parts of the series, Romita handled the "gritty noir" aspects with great aplomb. In fact, once we pass the initial superhero part, the series shifts into a hardcore crime drama. Barely any fantastic elements from here on out.  Romita's then-new style perfectly suits the gritty tone DeMatteis was going for.

So after Ben recollects himself, he steals clothes and money from Peter and takes a bus out. He meets a stranger named Cliff who grouses about how great his life is. But when Ben and Cliff get drunk, Cliff confesses that he made actually is almost divorced and is searching for meaning in his life. Ben gets annoyed by how trivial Cliff's problems are and flips out on  him.
Ben even taunts Cliff to "...just f***ing disappear and never come back". Despite his tantrum, Ben feels very remorseful of the awful things he said. But when enters Cliff's motel room, Cliff has a gun in his mouth.
Ben stops Cliff and aggressively apologizes for insulting Cliff earlier. There's something very real about Ben being so rude, yet caring underneath. He's hardened by the idea that he's a "fake" but at the same time, he's still compelled by a sense of responsibility to help everyone.

This comes back to my original hypothesis of why Ben Reilly is so appealing to readers. He is an even more down-trodden, hardened version of Peter Parker, but still wants to do good. In this way, that underdog feeling makes Ben more optimistic than Peter at times. It's a character arc that is revived in 2014 Scarlet Spiders mini-series.

Scarlet Spiders was a part of the Spider-Verse crossover, starring the clones of Peter. Ben Reilly was featured as being the most wildly-optimistic of the group. I feel like the writer MIke Costa felt the same way about Ben as I did.

We then flash-forward three years. Ben is traveling around the country and helping people where he is needed. He grew out his hair and now is applying for a job as teacher's aide in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, Kaine has been tailing Ben for some time to torment him.  Here, Kaine looks relatively normal- albeit a bushy, overly-muscular man. He only has a scar on the left side of his face that resembles a burn mark, but it's not as intense as his full-body scarring later. 

In Kaine's internal monologue, he drops a major bombshell- Ben Reilly is the real Peter Parker. This is the main reason why I was unsure where the reading order placement of Lost Years was supposed to be. Clearly, Kaine's a future narrator talking about the events that occurred in the main Spidey books that were published around the same time.
This series also introduces Kaine's love interest: the hard-bitten detective Louise Kennedy. Louise is also the partner of Detective Jacob Raven. If you don't recall, in the main books, Raven was hunting for whoever killed his partner. So, um, don't get too attached to Louise.
Finally, there is a mob boss who runs the Salt Lake City crime syndicate: Tannen. Raven busted Tannen and now he resides in jail. Despite that, Tannen is still somehow able to run his criminal organization just fine.

Random: but doesn't Raven look like Donald Trump? Weird.

So Ben meets a Janine, a cute redhead waitress and feels pretty good about asking her out. However, he encounters a building explosion. He saves the family inside, who turn out to be Detective Raven's wife and son. It appears that Tannen is targeting Raven and his family. Furthermore, Raven is kidnapped by Tannen's men. 

Time to dole out vigilante justice!

Dressed in a ninja mask, Ben saves Raven from Tannen's men. What is it about Romita Jr. and drawing super cool poses of non-costumed heroes? His proto-Daredevil Matt Murdock look in Man Without Fear is so iconic, Netflix made it the main suit for much of the show run. Similarly, Ben looks like such a badass posing in the rain with his hands clawed out.

Despite Ben saving Raven, his wife dies of her wounds. Worst yet, Tannen's men kidnapped Raven's son Matthew. 

Kaine and Louise also get together and consummate their love. But in the middle of their fornication, Kaine's body starts to blister and crackle. Kaine's entered the final stage of his clone deterioration. Now Kaine is just this big, disgusting lump of scabs.

With his body breaking down on him, Kaine focuses his hatred on Ben. In the middle of trying to rescue Matthew, Kaine interrupts and beats up Ben. Kaine leaves him, but is surprised to find out that Louise is working for Tannen.

 Upon seeing Louise's double-cross, Kaine felt betrayed and began ripping through Tannen's men, allowing Ben to escape.

Eventually, Kaine caught up with Louise and Kaine, but couldn't bring himself to kill her yet. He then moved on to trying to kill Ben who was accompanied by Janine. This leads to a climatic three-way battle between Ben, Kaine, and Raven and Louise-who still didn't tell Raven about her duplicity. 

However, Kaine's rage got the best of him and he killed Louise by burning a scar into her face- the mark of Kaine. Naturally,  Raven comes at the wrong and misses Kaine- only seeing Ben standing over Louise's body.

So that's how Raven started his mission to hunt for his partner's killer. And since Kaine is a clone of Peter and has the same fingerprints as him, that's why Peter's now a suspect.

That catches up Ben and Kaine's story more or less. However, there is still a two years gap from then until when Ben returns to New York. So a lot of unknown stuff happened between then. Like, when did Kaine start wearing a costume? What happened to Janine? When did Ben ever meet  Wild Whip- a villain who he seemed to know in "Power and Responsibility"?

By the Numbers

Lets tally up to see what the Clone Saga has done so far:

Notable Developments:

  •  First time Ben names himself "Ben Reilly"
  • First Kaine and Ben confrontation
  • First and only living appearance of Louise Kennedy
  • Chronologically, first appearance of Detective Jacob Raven
  • First appearance of Janine
  • Kaine's clone deterioration increases, causing him to look more monstrous
  • Kaine murders Louise, unintentionally framing Peter Parker

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Detective Jacob Raven - DEMYSTIFIED
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Mr. Nacht

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane is pregnant
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • Kaine stalks Ben Reilly AND Peter Parker
  • Daily Bugle report Ken Ellis' obsession with Scarlet Spider
  • Peter is arrested by Lt. Raven as the primary murder suspect
  • Mr. Thorpe wanting to kill Spider-Man for unknown reasons
  • Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider are unsure who is the real clone
  • Who is the new Peter Parker clone?
  • Jackal's mystery plans related to Ravencroft

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine
  • New Peter Parker clone

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows:17
  • Number of times the Scrier spies on others: 3
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: 3 (Ben, Kaine, New clone)  
  • Number of times Peter lies saying that he is fine when he's really not: 4
  • Number of times Peter lies specifically to Mary Jane about stuff: 4
  • Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for Ben Reilly: 5
This is a great series. It helps clarify a lot of plot points referenced in the Clone Saga. In fact, it is a little annoying that a story this important was not integrated into the main books. How many Spider-Man readers really picked up a limited series that has almost no superheroics? If you never read this, there is no context for Raven's  plot.

Man the presentation and the art is gorgeous too. It's too top-notch artists- Romita Jr. and Sharp- at the top of their game. Romita Jr. was perfect for a gritty, street-level thriller. It's a weird Spider-Man comic, but a great noir comic.

For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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