This week the Scarlet Spider returns, and “The Button” continues in The Flash!
Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider #1 (Marvel Comics)
This isn’t the first time that Marvel has tried to restart the Scarlet Spider, but it is the first time they’ve done it with Ben Reilly, the original character to don the blue hoodie. With writer Peter David and artist Mark Bagley on the book, Marvel is banking on the 90’s nostalgia pretty hard, but this series is so tied to the events of Clone Conspiracy that it may be hard for new readers to jump on board with the title.
Ben Reilly is back with a new lease on life after being defeated by Spider-Man in Clone Conspiracy. Relocated to Las Vegas, Reilly immediately starts attempting to confront local criminals and hoodlums, but he quickly finds that crime in Vegas is completely different from what he was used to in New York City. Oh yeah, he also has no place to live, no money, and has been seeing visions of his former selves in the forms of Scarlet Spider and The Jackal. With so much going on in his head, will Ben Reilly be able to start up a new life?
Well, if he is, I’m not sure that I’m that interested. Peter David is a legendary writer, but he paints Ben Reilly as pretty much insufferable here. While there are some pretty funny exchanges between Reilly and the citizens that he saves (I actually chuckled at him asking for cash from a woman he rescues), a lot of Reilly’s inner monologue just reads as him being super whiny and disjointed. His motivations seem all over the place. He wants to be a hero like Peter Park, so he finds an old lady named “June” in a casino to fill his “Aunt May” role. But then he’s also struggling with the Jackal part of him that brought people back to life in Clone Conspiracy, and seems to act like a villain. Then there are times where he’s somewhere in the middle, helping people but also looking out for himself (like the part I mentioned earlier with the woman being mugged). If David’s intention was to show us a Spider-Man without the sense of responsibility, then he doesn’t do a great job of it, or at least he doesn’t show us something we haven’t already seen before in the last Scarlet Spider series and Superior Spider-Man. The book tries to cover too much ground in too little time, but the parts that do work, like Ben confronting his inner demons, are solid. If the book had that as the main focus, then David’s script probably would’ve been more compelling.
Like Peter David, Mark Bagley has a long legacy with Marvel, and even more so with Spider-Man. There’s nothing here that’s really all that different from Bagley’s usual style, but that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, Ben Reilly is a great showcase that Bagley still has the artistic chops that some of his other colleagues don’t still have. Bagley even makes Scarlet Spider’s dumb new costume work, except when you notice that his lips can be seen through his mask.
Despite my misgivings with Reilly’s characterization here, I’m still intrigued by enough of what Peter David and Mark Bagley have in store to keep going. The idea of Reilly coming to terms with the things he’s done from his past is pretty cool, and if the team continues to look into that it could make this series pretty interesting. But if the book keeps jumping all over the place tonally, or becomes just another “he’s Spider-Man without the moral code” book then we’ve seen that plenty of times. Guess we’ll just have to see where David and Bagley take Ben.
The Flash #21 (DC Comics)
“The Button” continues with The Flash #21, which continues the mystery revolving around the smiley face button found in the Batcave from DC Rebirth. Current Flash writer Joshua Williamson and artist Howard Porter bring some new layers to the mystery, but this issue is definitely a step down from the first installment in Batman #21.
Since the first installment was such a jaw dropper, it only makes sense for the second part of this story to slow down and delve more into the mysteries behind the Button and the Reverse Flash’s attack on Batman. Williamson does a great job of bringing people up to speed on the Flash’s history in case readers are jumping over from Batman and reading Flash for the first time, but if you hadn’t read DC Rebirth you might be left scratching your head, as Williamson makes a ton of callbacks to events that happened in that special issue. Williamson is clearly having a blast peppering more clues about the mystery of the button to the readers, and pairing Batman and Flash on the mystery. The two characters work so well that I’m surprised they haven’t teamed up more often. Williamson also showcases a piece of Flash history that I was sure was gone forever, which leads to yet another jaw dropping final page.
Anyone following Jason Fabok on art is going to have a difficult time, so it’s a little unfair to compare the art in this and Batman #21. That being said, Howard Porter’s style serves the story just fine, but does look a little rushed at points, especially in the middle pages of this issue. He is able to sell the big action set pieces though, and his depiction of the Flash running through the Batcave placing evidence markers is pretty fantastic.
While The Flash #21 is definitely the “breather” issue after the huge Batman #21, there’s still plenty in this issue to justify sticking with “The Button”. I mean, the last page alone means that there’s still plenty to come from this story, and while we may not get ALL the answers behind that button by the time this story ends, it seems like Tom King and Joshua Williamson’s ride will be one that was worth taking.