I recently read an old 'But I Digress' column on Peter David's website, where he talked about the Clone Saga back when it was just a crazy rumor that Marvel would never, ever do...right? And it reminded me of the Clone Saga (yes, I know, they have medication for that now...) and the big question I've had about the Clone Saga for a few years now.
Namely, who was Ben Reilly, really?
Because I remember reading the Clone Saga at the time, and Ben Reilly was the clone of Peter Parker who died in Amazing Spider-Man #149, and who Peter threw into an incinerator in #150. As we were told, he was merely unconscious, not dead, and he survived the fall and woke up at the bottom of the shaft and escaped the flames and went on to make a new life for himself as beloved Nephew Ben.
Except that a while back, thanks to the magic of Marvel's Essentials collections, I actually read Amazing Spider-Man #150. And Peter doesn't just throw his clone down the chimney shaft. He first keeps him in a walk-in freezer for a few days so that Curt Connors can autopsy the body and definitively determine whether it's a clone or not. (Peter doesn't read the results, a conclusion that Gerry Conway probably would have never written if he'd known what he was setting up.)
The clone wasn't just "a little banged up". He was dead. Even before taking a header down a smokestack, his body was frozen and cut open to see how it died. I'm aware that Curt Connors and Peter Parker have both made their mistakes when it comes to biology, but never the kind that involved storing a dead body for more than 24 hours without noticing that it was still alive.
So with that said, who was Ben Reilly? Was he just a recent clone, created with fake memories of years on the run (and, presumably, supported with an elaborate cast of back-up clones who could corroborate his story?) Or did the Jackal just create dozens of Spider-Man clones, sending them off into the heartland of America while his "best model" perished at Spidey's hands? Given how toxic the Clone Saga is to fans, I doubt we'll ever find out.
At the very least, it explains that stupid skeleton in the smokestack, though.