Note: This article contains mild spoilers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse features literally hundreds of versions of Spider-Man pulled from all corners of the Marvel multiverse. And while not every character can possibly enjoy their moment in the spotlight in one movie, there are a few Spider-People who steal the show. One of those is Ben Reilly, voiced by none other than Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andy Samberg. Finally, Peter Parker's forgotten clone is able to shine on the big screen.
Ben Reilly may be a comic relief character in the movie, but he's also one with a very complex and often bleak back-story in the comics. Let's break down the very convoluted history of the original Spider-Man clone and why Ben Reilly holds such a unique place in the Spider-Verse. These are the topics we cover here:
- Who Is Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider?
- Ben Reilly's Powers and Abilities
- The Origin of the Spider Clone
- The Infamous Clone Saga
- Ben Reilly's Return as a Villain
- Ben Reilly in Across the Spider-Verse
Who Is Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider?
When Peter Parker refers to himself as "the one and only Spider-Man," that's not exactly true. There's another out there who shares his powers, his looks and even his memories. That's Ben Reilly. Ben is a clone of Spider-Man created by the mad scientist known as the Jackal. He's so much like the real Peter Parker that, for a time, Ben thought he was the original Spider-Man.
He may not be the real deal, but that hasn't stopped Ben from following in Peter's footsteps. He's called himself the Scarlet Spider and even taken up the mantle of Spider-Man on more than one occasion. But there's also a level of darkness and pain to Ben Reilly that even Peter couldn't understand. He's been both one of the Marvel Universe's brightest heroes and one of its most dire threats.
He's so much like the real Peter Parker that, for a time, Ben thought he was the original Spider-Man.
Ben Reilly's Powers and Abilities
As a clone of Peter Parker, Ben Reilly shares all of Spider-Man's superhuman abilities. He has the proportonate strength, speed and agility of a spider. His Spider-Sense allows him to sense danger on a psychic level. He even has his own pair of trusty web-shooters.
Ben's mind is the one thing that sets him apart from Peter. While both men are gifted scientists, Ben's life as a wandering nomad has allowed him to push his scientific genius to greater heights. Ben is so skilled in areas like biology and chemistry that he was able to replace his creator as the cloning-obsessed villain the Jackal.
The Origin of the Spider Clone
Ben Reilly may not have risen to prominence until the '90s, but his roots in the Marvel Universe go back decades earlier. Technically, the character's first appearance came in 1975's The Amazing Spider-Man #149.
That issue features Empire State University Professor Miles Warren (secretly the Jackal) creating clones of Spider-Man as a means of revenge for our hero's role in the death of Gwen Stacy. Peter and his clone are manipulated into fighting each other, each believing the other to be the imposter. In the end, both the clone and Warren are seemingly killed in an explosion, and Peter is left to assume he's the real deal because of his feelings for Mary Jane Watson.
However, much later readers would learn that both Warren and the clone survived. The clone, now realizing he isn't truly Peter Parker, ventures out into the world and takes up the new identity Ben Reilly (a mash-up of Uncle Ben's first name and Aunt May's maiden name). He would return two decades later, as Marvel teed up one of the most infamous comic book crossovers of all time.
The Infamous Clone Saga
Ben Reilly's first appearance as a named character occured in 1994's Web of Spider-Man #114. He resurfaces in Peter's world after learning that Aunt May has suffered a stroke. With Ben's return, Peter Parker is given new reason to doubt whether he's actually the original Spider-Man and not a clone. That's basically the premise behind The Clone Saga, an ongoing storyline that dominated Marvel's five monthly Spider-Man titles between 1994 and 1996.
It's difficult to neatly summarize the plot of The Clone Saga, given how sprawling and downright convoluted the crossover is, but the crossover pits both Spider-Men against villains like the Jackal and Judas Traveller and fellow Spider-Man clones Kaine and Spidercide. Through it all, Peter undergoes an emotional gauntlet as he deals with Aunt May's death, his impending fatherhood and the big reveal that he, not Ben, is actually the clone.
That last twist set up a new status quo in 1996 where Peter retires and Ben Reilly becomes the new Spider-Man. To say that development was controversial among Spider-fans would be putting it mildly. It was also the source of major editorial friction behind the scenes, especially as the crossover grew bigger and more unwieldy.
But in any case, Ben's tenure as Spidey wouldn't last beyond 1996. Marvel eventually brought an end to The Clone Saga with the ultimate reveal that the entire conflict was orchestrated by Norman Osborn as a way of psychologically torturing Peter. Even the medical test confirming his clonehood was falsified by Osborn. Mary Jane's pregnancy also ended in a stillbirth, though that didn't stop Marvel from launching an ongoing Spider-Girl seres exploring an alternate future where Peter and MJ's daughter May "Mayday" Parker takes up her father's mantle.
Marvel opted to kill off Ben by having him sacrifice himself to save Peter and immediately wither away, proving once and for all that Ben was the clone. Thus, The Clone Saga finally ended. But it wasn't to be the end of Ben Reilly's story.
Ben Reilly's Return as a Villain
Marvel would finally opt to revive Ben Reilly as part of 2017's Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. But this time around, Ben became the central villain of the story. Readers learned that Ben was revived by the Jackal and subjected to dozens of deaths and resurrections, finally driving him insane. Ben eventually overpowers his creator and christens himself the new Jackal, deciding that he'll use Miles Warren's super-science to end death once and for all.
With that, Peter Parker and his clone butted heads once again. The Clone Conspiracy sees Ben form a company called New U Technologies that offers life-saving organ transplants. Meanwhile, Ben establishes a settlement called Haven where clones of Spider-Man's dead friends and enemies live in harmony. But as Peter soon discovers, these clones are carrying the Carrion virus and will soon break down and die. Ben has made the ultimate mistake for Spider-Man – abusing great power with no sense of responsibility.
The Clone Conspiracy ends with most of these resurrected characters perishing and Ben himself horrifically scarred and desperate to find a way of redeeming his technology.
Ben's story would continue in a short-lived monthly series called Ben Reilly: Spider-Man, as well as in the 2018 Spider-Verse sequel Spider-Geddon. Over time, Ben achieves a measure of redemption for his crimes and recovers from his ordeal as the Jackal's pawn. Sadly, it wasn't to last.
Ben eventually returned to the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in 2021's Spider-Man Beyond storyline. After Peter Parker is hospitalized from radiation poisoning, Ben again takes up the mantle of Spider-Man, this time with the backing of the powerful Beyond Corporation. But after enduring a new wave of psychological manipulation, Ben again loses touch with Uncle Ben's lesson about power and responsibility. Spider-Man Beyond ends with Ben losing his memories entirely and evolving into a villain named Chasm (so named because of the void that now exists in his soul).
As Chasm, Ben serves as one of the main villains in 2023's Spider-Man/X-Men crossover Dark Web. Only time will tell if he can once more heal his broken mind and achieve redemption all over again.
Ben Reilly in Across the Spider-Verse
Ben Reilly has made several animated Marvel appearances in the past, including major roles in both Spider-Man: The Animated Series (vocied by Christopher Daniel Barnes) and Ultimate Spider-Man (voiced by Scott Porter), as well as silent cameos in both X-Men: The Animated Series and Fantastic Four. But thanks to Across the Spider-verse, he's finally making his big screen debut.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andy Samberg voices Ben in the film. The character is one of many multiversal Spider-Men recruited to join Miguel O'Hara's Spider Society. He also happens to be one of the biggest sources of comedic relief in the movie. Across the Spider-Verse casts Ben as a parody of the grim and gritty anti-heroes of '90s superhero comics, a Spider-Man burdened by his tragic past yet also proud of his "bulging muscles." And true to form, Ben has a habit of narrating his own actions with overwrought exposition.
It remains to be seen in Samberg will reprise the role in the upcoming Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. But given how entertaining his character is, we can only hope for more of this brooding, emotionally troubled clone.
If you need a refresher on all things Spider-Verse, here's our breakdown of 5 things to remember before watching Across the Spider-Verse. You can also see where the original Into the Spider-Verse ranks on our list of the best animated action movies, or brush up on every Spider-Man movie and series in development.
You can also vote on your favorite Spider-Verse character in the sequel by heading over to our Across the Spider-Verse Face-Off.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.