SPIDER-MAN: THE COMPLETE BEN REILLY EPIC BOOK 3 (Marvel, 2011; Softcover)
Note: Actually released in 2012
Collects Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 409. 410, Sensational Spider-Man Nos. 2, 3, The Spectacular Spider-Man Nos. 231-233, Spider-Man Nos. 66, 67, Spider-Man: The Final Adventure Nos. 1-4, Spider-Man Team-Up No. 2, and Spider-Man Unlimited No. 11 (cover dates December, 1995- April, 1996).
Writers: Fabian Nicieza, Roger Stern, George Perez, Todd Dezago, Dan Jurgens, Tom DeFalco, and Howard Mackie.
Artists: Pencilers- Darick Robertson, Dave Hoover, Tom Grindberg, Sal Buscema, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley, and John Romita, Jr.; Inkers- Jeff Albrecht, Josef Rubinstein, Bill Anderson, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, Larry Mahlstedt, Al Williamson, Jimmy Palmiotti, Arne Starr, Greg Adams, Chris Ivy, Dick Giordano, Randy Emberlin, Art Thibert, and John Stanisci.
Colorists: Gregory Wright, Tom Smith, Chia-Chi Wang, Bob Sharen, Kevin Tinsley, John Kalisz, and Malibu's Hues.
I was on sabbatical from the hobby when all of these issues were originally published, so this was all new to me. After purchasing eleven of these chunky trade paperbacks (five Complete Clone Saga Epic and six Complete Ben Reilly Epics) and reading eight of them (while currently working on the ninth), I must say that these are some solid, enjoyable comic books. I would honestly rather read about Ben Reilly than Doc Ock inhabiting Peter Parker's mind, the so-called Superior Spider-Man.
The writing and artwork are good, although some dated aspects of the '90s rear their head every now and again. This is acceptable, since some of those pop culture references in the '60s comics don't hold up much better today. The biggest drawback that this material has going for it is the hand lettering. Lettering took a turn for the worse during this decade, so much so that Richard Starking and ComiCraft's computerized fonts were a breath of fresh air. The then-state of the art computer color separations look limited by today's standards, but one must take into account how revolutionary these were at the time. No longer were comics limited to four colors or even the expanded palette of the flexograph printing process. The sky was now the limit and the colorists went wild.
The thing about the writing that blows me away is how tight a ship editorial must have run at this time. Nearly every month was a four part crossover, running across all four titles, meaning that you had a new “chapter” each week. More amazing still is how there is not one continuity gaffe here, despite the fact that each book had it's own individual writer. That's just crazy. We saw something similar, albeit on more of a rotating arc basis, with the Spidey Brain Trust of writers in the Brand New Day era of Amazing Spider-Man. It must have sucked for fans in the '90s being forced to buy all four titles every month, though.
There are many enjoyable moments throughout the book. Peter Parker loses his super powers, seemingly setting the stage for Ben Reilly to take over as the one and only Spider-Man forever. The Mad Thinker/ Silver Surfer/ Quasimodo story in Spider-Man Team-Up # 2 was a blast. I love the juggling act of the “game” which involved Kane and the Rhino. The Spider-Man skeleton found in the smokestack where Peter dumped the clone comes back to haunt him. The skeleton is proven to be another clone. If you listen closely, you can still hear faint echoes of fanboys gnashing their teeth across the ether. Jessica is proving to be an interesting love interest for Ben. Things come to a head with her in the next book. The Carnage/Spider-Carnage arc is great. There is an overall sense of fun here, with heroes being heroic. Sad to say that this seems like a novelty in this day and age. Not everything is roses here. The Ravencroft Institute is blatant ripoff of the Arkham Asylum over at DC, for instance. There is more to rave about than complain about, though.
This was a very enjoyable read. I can't see why fans hated the Clone Saga so much. Sure, it may have gone on for a good while, but the stories and artwork were solid enough. There is a huge uptick in the artwork in this book over volume 2. I just hope that Marvel doesn't go and slap all of these in Omnibus hardcovers now that I have bought them all. Knowing their propensity for double dipping I'm certain that my money will leave my wallet again for this same material...and I'll thank them for it. Kill me.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.
The OCD zone- I love these chunky trades. 432 pages of full color goodness! Bring on the Epic line!
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga Made Easy. Yeah, Right! article (four pages)
Sal Buscema variant for The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 231.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. There are a few pages that look merely good, but all in all everything is excellent.
Paper rating: 4 out of 5. Thin glossy stock. I'm not crazy about it but it holds the color well and the thinner stock helps...
Binding rating: 4.25 out of 5. ...the book to lay completely flat. The binding, combined with the thickness of the book due to the page count, gives this book a malleability that allows it lay flat in one hand like a giant periodical, which is just incredible for a softcover book.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. I love the thick, waxlike lamination that Marvel uses on their cardstock covers.