I’ve never understood why characters are killed off. Well, that’s not true; I understand why, what I don’t understand are the reasons used to justify it – drama, cheap pathos, sales, etc. My feeling is, if the character’s not worth keeping around, then killing them isn’t going to mean shit to the reader, and if they are worth keeping them around, then keep them around. Why kill off a character you can tell more good stories with. Especially with corporate owned characters, this bugs me; just because the current writer on the book can’t think of anything to do with the character doesn’t mean the next writer won’t. So a lot of the reasoning for my first pitch was to create an environment at Marvel that could remedy these problems.
The first two characters I thought to bring back this way were two characters I thought were horribly wasted just because a writer wanted to make way for a different love interest and another that was killed as some kind of twisted penance for a well-meaning storyline that got out of hand because of overzealous marketing executives. I am of course talking about Gwen Stacy and Ben Reilly, the last real sacred cow of dead characters and a cult favorite that is till reviled by at least half of Spider-man fans. Already I can see that I’m losing you, but please give me a chance to explain. These were two characters killed WAAAAAY before their time, with countless stories left to tell with them. With them also exists a way to get back the early 70s status quo Joey Q is so in love with, without requiring Peter Parker to regress as a character.
Let’s get to the Spider-clone first, since he is the driving force for all of this. He’s Peter minus all the continuity baggage, but twice the emotional baggage, which is what we all love. We like to see things go bad for Peter, but like with Charlie Brown and the football, the gag gets old. If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times, and at some point, he has to kick that football. Peter did get to do this by becoming a member of Horizon Labs, and hopefully he’ll be back there when this Superior Spider-man experiment is over. He’s a great fit there, and having him there for Ben’s tenure as Spider-man will be vitally important. Back to Ben, he’s a guy who’s been on the road for so long that it makes sense his version of settling down would be getting an apartment, get a day job, and start dating. After being a nomad for so long, Peter’s life circa 1970 probably seems like heaven.
So here’s what happened to Ben instead of dying:
Basically, rip of the end of the Clone Saga mini from a couple of years back; instead of dying, Ben survives the encounter with Norman Osborne and goes on the road again to process all the shit he’s been through since coming back into Peter’s life. This time, instead of brooding about finding his own life and what it means for him to be a clone like he did in the Lost Years, he’s just trying to find something that fits for him. This gives Marvel an excuse to do another Lost Years series and they can let J.M DeMatteis write it. This is a bittersweet journey for him; yes, he’s the clone again, but he starts to realize that it doesn’t matter, because he’s got a family now with his brother Pete back in New York and he has a chance to reconcile with Kaine. He’s a human being with his own emotions and desires, now he just needs to find a purpose. He checks in with Peter every now and then over the phone, and maybe even retcon in some team-ups they had when he occasionally came back to New York for a visit.
After this journey, though, he comes to the inevitable conclusion that he has to go home and do what he was always meant to do – become Spider-man. New York is his home, it will always be his home, there’re just too many good memories there to outweigh the bad and it’s where the closest thing he ever had to brother lives. Also, being a hero is in his blood; as he said in the Lost Years, they may have been Peter’s memories, but he can’t help but be inspired by Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom. He needs to be a hero. So at a time when Peter’s back is against the wall, he’s getting broken down by his responsibilities as an Avenger, a Horizon Labs technician (perhaps he gets promoted to head up the new York office while the founder sets up a new lab in LA?), and Spider-man to the point he’s Batman in Knightfall, Ben returns to shoulder some weight. Maybe he could show up to save Pete’s bacon from the Sinister Six?
After Ben gives Peter a reprieve, perhaps replacing him in all his appearances for a couple months while Peter heals from a particularly gruesome wound incurred during the battle where he needed a rescue, Peter realizes something – he can’t be Spider-man forever. At some point, he’s going to have to hang up the webs. He’s done his best to honor Uncle Ben’s memory, but at a certain point he can create a better legacy by focus his talents elsewhere, like improving society with his lab work. He can feel a lot less guilty about this if he knows someone will pick up his superhero slack, so he asks Ben, who gladly agrees, sporting that awesome Dan Jurgens designed costume (if you don’t like it, then fuck you I say). This doesn’t mean Ben takes over completely; no, that would cause a fan outcry and it’s unnecessary when you have a better alternative. Peter continues to be Spider-man, but in a smaller capacity; instead of being on the Avengers, he web-swings around town stopping street-level crime during his free time outside of work and interacting with his own supporting cast. Ben takes to the Avengers and fighting all the classic Spidey foes on a daily basis, because it gives his life meaning and he enjoys it.
How is he able to do all this? Because he gets paid to be Spider-man, specifically he gets paid for the pictures he takes. That’s right, the Daily Bugle is back (in some capacity), and JJJ is heading it up again after a distinguished couple of terms as mayor. His credentials get the financial support and investors needed to get the newspaper off the ground. He needs staff though, and one position he needs to fill is staff photographer. He calls up Peter, not to offer him a job (he can’t after Peter doctored those photos), but to see if he knows anyone who would be adequate for the job. And besides, Peter is much happier at HL. However, he does suggest Ben; after all, he has experience and he would be a nice fit there. Peter vouches for Ben in order to get the position, and now we have the classic supporting cast back. We can get some drama, too, because while Ben has memories of these people, they have no memories of him. This makes things awkward for a while as he tries to settle in.
And as he settles in, he rediscovers his passion for photography, something he didn’t realized he missed until he got the chance to do it again. While he is good at inventing things, he doesn’t really have the credentials for science work, and besides, that’s Peter’s thing now. He’s the accomplished scientist; Ben would rather make it at his own thing. Peter tried a stab at being a professional photographer but it never took because his passion was always science. Ben didn’t get to do that much with science when he was on the road, it became a hobby for him, something he tinkered with when he had spare time and equipment. Now that he’s Spider-man full-time, he has many more opportunities to take pictures too, and hone his craft. The more he does it, the more he likes it. Plus, he’s not just getting photos of Spider-man, he’s getting photos of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc. He covers by this for being the Daily Bugle’s official superhero paparazzo; his hero buddies cover for him by saying they let Ben tag along to take pictures after he signed a waiver. Boom – plothole covered.
I’ve covered Ben, but what about Ms. Stacey? I don’t have as much for her because I’ve just recently gotten into her character from reading the Marvel Masterworks ASM collections, unlike Ben Reilly, who I’ve been a fan of for a while and been thinking about things to do with his character for a couple of years now. But I do have ideas.
For one, we’re going to say the whole Sins Past thing never happened; it’s lame and unnecessary, so it can go. Instead, we’re going to revamp her character a bit, adapting traits from the Spectacular Spider-man cartoon and the Amazing Spider-man movie. These are good adaptations of her character, adding an intellectual and girl-next-door aspect that makes her more Peter’s type, only she won’t be dating Peter (I’ll get into that in a second). We’re going to say she was studying particle physics at ESU, and after a traumatic experience where Peter was just barely able to save her from the Green Goblin, she graduated and went to Bern to work as an assistant at the collider. She partly left for her career, but also because she found out Peter’s secret and the shock was too much for her. She was going to try to make it work, but Peter decided to go noble on her; he broke it off, seeing that it made her uneasy being with the man she’d blamed for her father’s death for so long and that being around him, knowing his identity may put her in harm’s way. She became a distinguished scientist through her work at the collider, and while both her and Peter moved on, they still have some lingering feelings for each other. This makes sense, they were each other’s first loves.
She returns to New York when Max offers her a position at Horizon, coming back into Peter’s life at a time when he’s getting back with MJ; she’s a bit sick of the jet-setting life and Peter is trying to wind down his superhero career, it’s the perfect time to start again. While Gwen can create some romantic tension, ultimately Peter has to choose MJ because they have so much more history and despite the fact that he’ll always love Gwen, he did move on. His relationship with MJ was robbed from him, she was the one he was always meant to end up with.
This doesn’t mean she won’t be dating a Parker; no, there’s going to be some attraction between her and Ben. He’s always visiting Pete at work, asking for tips on fighting villains, getting tech support for new web-shooter stuff and one off-suits, and just to hang out in general. While there, he runs into Gwen, someone he still has feelings for because of Peter’s memories. Meanwhile, to Gwen, he’s just like the Peter she remembers – quippy, but still a bit of a loner. Where he differs from Pete is that he’s a lot more worldly, plus he’s got an alternative rocker thing going on that we’ll say she finds sexy (and who doesn’t?). He’s essentially a single artist living in the city, and he’s got a glamorous thing going on as the high-profile photographer of everything spandex in NYC. With the two of them, you have what was going on between MJ and Peter in the old days, the scientist and the celebrity, only the roles are reversed.
Now, I don’t want to pull a Silver Age Superman Red/Superman Blue; no, Gwen’s going to have some competition. Matt Murdock was able to get Elizabeth Tyne off the hook by proving what she did was in self-defense, and she’s ready to come back to NYC and pick up where her and Ben left off. Felicia Hardy becomes taken with this new Spider-man who seems to prefer the webs to his civilian life; this is a Spider-man more to her taste, and Ben, who is trying to remain single while he figures himself out, isn’t going to mind her constant flirting since he knows she’s open to a less traditional relationship. I haven’t figured out which way I’d like to go with all of these potential love interests yet, but there’s a whole realm of interesting possibilities by playing them off one another.
So there it is, my Spider-man pitch. You could easily get three Spider-man books out of the deal: ASM, which would cover Peter and his fellow scientists at Horizon. He can hang out with Gwen and MJ, plus Ben would show up once in a while, too. You’d get Spider-man, which would cover Ben’s exploits as a hero, plus his love life and shenanigans at the Daily Bugle. Finally, you’d get Spectacular Spider-men, a book that is all about Ben and Peter hanging out, being brothers, stopping crime together and talking shop while they grab some coffee at the Daily Grind. Not too shabby, I’d say; when it comes to the Retcon Two-Step, I’m a tap-dancing fool.