What to do with the clone mess, circa December 1995? The most obvious way out is to kill Ben off and reveal Peter is truly the original, ignoring all of the evidence presented to the contrary and months spent establishing Ben as the “true” Spider-Man. Marvel would never be that cheap, I know. Marvel, at this point, wants to keep Ben around, and I can understand why revealing him as a clone could hurt his appeal as a solo star. Making Peter the clone is an even worse idea, potentially alienating anyone who’s purchased the books since 1975. I would dismiss the issue immediately. Peter and Ben run the tests, but without Miles Warren, the creator of the cloning process, around to analyze the results, the answers are inconclusive. (Dr. Seward Trainer is no help at all. Perhaps he’s dead by now.) Maybe each is convinced that he’s the original, or perhaps Ben is convinced Peter is the original while Peter is adamant that Ben is the original. Regardless, both decide to move on with their lives.
Is this a copout? Perhaps. But remember that the ending of the original clone storyline in Amazing #151 wasn’t very different. Peter had a chance to know if he’s a clone or not and literally threw it away. He had enough confidence in his own depth as a human being not to need a test to show him if he’s “real” or not.
If it’s a given that Ben has to stick around and can’t be killed or written off, I would give him half of the monthly Spider-titles. Web could remain Web of Scarlet Spider (in this fantasy world, Web would keep its original numbering and none of the Scarlet Spider minis would’ve existed), and adjective-less Spider-Man would be cancelled and replaced with Scarlet Spider. Marvel gets to keep that “Scarlet Spider” name that the marketing department loves, and no one is being forced to choose between Peter and Ben. That leaves Peter with Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man. (Spider-Man Unlimited, if it had to stick around, could be a flip-book focusing on both characters.)
Amazing and Spectacular focus on Peter and MJ as they prepare for parenthood. He’s back as Spider-Man, working for the Daily Bugle, fighting his traditional rogues gallery, and each of the titles has a healthy amount of character-driven subplots, following Gerry Conway’s successful lead on Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man. I have no idea if the baby should be born or not. Kidnapping the child and having the Parkers believe that she was stillborn isn’t a great solution, but it does give the creators time to stall and give serious thought over where to go with the concept. (Aw, screw it. Let’s just reveal the kidnapped baby has somehow been a cat this entire time.)
Ben Reilly can continue traveling the country on his motorcycle, having Incredible Hulk TV-style adventures with a different set of supporting cast members every few months. Under most writers this would get old fast, but I can see it working with the right creative team. Another option would be to have Ben enroll in college somewhere, far away from anyone who might recognize him as Peter, and just live out the “classic” status quo of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Let’s face it, this is the set-up Marvel absolutely can’t let go of, so let Ben be the one worrying about his grades and supervillains while two beautiful co-eds vie for his affections. Too bad Ben can never manage to keep a date with either one of them! Dan Jurgens apparently joined the Spider-titles specifically to do these types of stories, so just let him have them.
Amazing and Spectacular would steer clear of pretty much anything clone-related. All of the villains and new characters created for the clone storyline would appear in Ben’s titles, assuming there’s much of a desire to see them again. It would probably be best to let Ben make a clean break from all of the clone nonsense as well, although there are still some dangling threads with Kaine that should be resolved.
All of this assumes that there is an audience for two different Spider-Men. The fact that one of the heroes is a clone might be too big a hurdle for some readers, although putting the two characters in noticeable different status quos and locations would do a lot to differentiate Peter and Ben. (Ben should also have some cosmetic deviation from Peter’s look, although hopefully someone can come up with a better solution than bleached blond hair.) I do question how long Ben could last as a solo star, but who knows? Maybe a healthier market could’ve kept War Machine and Thunderstrike going. There is a segment of fandom with a strong devotion to Ben, and perhaps by temporarily dismissing the question of which Spider-Man is the original, the hardcore opponents to the storyline would’ve lightened up and given Ben a chance.
Eventually, the core question behind the clone saga would have to be answered. And, c’mon, there’s no way Ben can be the original Spider-Man. If Ben’s books aren’t doing well, then Marvel could do the quickie copout and reveal that he’s been the clone the entire time. I would lean towards killing him off as well, but that is a very obvious way to go. If executed properly, a vague death scene might work just as well, and give Ben’s fans hope for a possible revival.
If Ben’s titles are commercially viable, I wouldn’t see a need to change the format. Peter doesn’t need more than two monthly titles, and neither does Ben. Splitting the line between two Spider-Men could actually create tighter, more effective storylines within each corner of the Spider-verse. I still maintain that the basic clone story could’ve been done by using college student Anthony Serba as a genetically modified “genetic duplicate” of Spider-Man, so if there is a sense that Peter and Ben are too alike, a storyline could be done that revives Gerry Conway’s original retcon. Ben discovers his past life as Anthony Serba and becomes literally a different person. Perhaps he can somehow physically become Serba again, but maintain his spider-powers. This would allow Scarlet Spider to move even further away from Peter’s shadow, and open up new story avenues.
So, that’s my humble solution to the quagmire. This also marks my final appraisal of Web of Spider-Man. I still have a soft spot for Web based on my initial encounter with the book in the late ‘80s, but it’s hard to deny that this title was too often an afterthought with no real identity of its own. The only redeeming quality of the book for a long stretch of its run was Alex Saviuk’s art, and even that’s marred by some inappropriate inking towards the end. For what it’s worth, Web published over three times as many issues as Sensational Spider-Man, Marvel’s attempt to replace Web with a glossier product. Are there more Spider-Man posts to come? Yes, but don’t expect Sensational Spider-Man #0 just yet…