The brief 90's period where Ben Reilly stood in for Peter Parker as Spider-Man is not one fondly remembered by fans and critics alike. Ben's status as the 'real' Peter Parker was seen as a slap in the face by many of the wall crawlers longtime followers and it could be argued that as a result he was never given a fair chance to shine as Spider-Man. Despite his generally lukewarm reception there are two Spider-Man stories that are generally cited as hidden gems from his brief run wearing the webs, both written by experienced Spider-Scribe J.M Dematteis. The first of which, titled The Lost Years told an untold story of Ben's time on the road and was a huge success. As a big fan of the story I was very much looking forward to reading Dematteis' follow up mini-series, Spider-Man: Redemption.
Set in the present (at the time) day, Redemption deals with the return of Ben's ex-lover Janine. Despite leading an initially blissful existence the pairs happiness together is shattered by the return of arch-nemesis Kaine and his final plan to end both his and Ben's lives.
It's kinda sad to say it but I really wanted to enjoy Redemption more than I did. The Lost Years was a great story, and while its follow up isn't bad at all, it fails to reach the heights of its predecessor. Part of the problem is the art. Mike Zeck is a very capable artist, as can be seen from his excellent work on Dematteis' critically acclaimed Kraven's Last Hunt. However, his art here fails to capture the brutal, gritty tone of the story as well as John Romita Jr's did in the The Lost Years. While Zeck's linework is as solid as ever the colours appeared far too pale and washed out for me.
The strength of the story, as is typical with Dematteis is in its characterisation. Dematteis clearly has a great love for and understanding of the characters of Ben, Janine and Kaine and portrays them all realistically, capturing the complexities of their characters. Janine in particular is really allowed to shine here and it's a real shame that she will probably never be seen again. Dematteis is infamous for the psychological nature of his stories and this is no exception. While his style can appear overdone and unnecessary at times it is the perfect fit for Redemption.
Sadly the plot fails to match the depth of characterisation on show, often hinging on overly contrived and unbelievable elements. While Kaine is a good villain and is used effectively in the story his plans seemed very unconvincing and poorly defined at times. Also, while it isn't Dematteis' fault, the story now appears depressingly inconsequential. Ben's vow to watch over Janine at the stories conclusion seems somewhat hollow as he died shortly after and Janine has never even been mentioned since. This obviously has nothing to do with Dematteis but really harms the stories conclusion.
Sadly Dematteis' story is ultimately harmed by it's lack of impact. All three of the main characters disappeared from the Spider-Man universe shortly after this story and thus the emotional growth in this story seems almost redundant. Dematteis' characteristic strong emotional depth manages to rescue a weak and unconvincing plot, but this is ultimately a dissapointing sequel to a superb story.
I can't wrap up my review without congratulating Dematteis for sneaking in the most blatant sexual innuendo I have ever seen in a comic book. If this was unintentional then it is certainly a hilarious coincidence. If you missed then I'll give you a clue...it's in one of the flashback sequences.