This three issue limited series recounts one of Ben Reilly's "lost" adventures that took place during his roughly 5 year long period of exile between his presumed death in Amazing Spider-Man #149 and his return to New York in Web of Spider-Man #116. It is a murder that occurred in this story that would later get Peter arrested in Amazing Spider-Man #400. This story is meant to be read after "The Trial of Peter Parker" crossover since Kaine's identity (first revealed in that storyline) is mentioned in Lost Years which is a story narrated with knowledge of that "present time" in the Spidey comics. Otherwise you don't need to read any clone saga issues as Lost Years is a self contained story.
If you want to read Ben's story from the beginning then start with the backup story "The Double" in the flipbook editions of the "Power & Responsibility" crossover and then the three part backup story titled "The Parker Legacy" which appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #400, Spider-Man #57 and Spectacular Spider-Man #223 before you read Lost Years. Alternatively you can read Lost Years #0 which reprints all those stories. Again not absolutely necessary but it provides good background for this story.
Lost Years takes place about three years into Ben's exile. Believing himself to be a clone he's a lone nomad who reluctantly helps people from time to time during his wanderings. Unbeknown to Ben, Kaine has been shadowing his trail wishing only to see him suffer.
Ben on his way to Salt Lake rescues some people from a highway accident before continuing on his motorcycle. Already in Salt Lake, Kaine is drinking in a bar having tracked Ben for quite some time. He believes Ben to be the real Peter Parker and hates him for it. His thoughts are interrupted by an obnoxious pimp whose face he smashes into the counter. This gains the attention of a woman and they experience a brief moment of mutual attraction. That woman is Louise Kennedy, a plain clothes cop and friend to detective Jacob Raven. They are attempting to shutdown the remnants of the local mob's drug operation after having already put their boss, Vincent Tannen, in jail. After Kaine leaves the bar, Kennedy is approached by Jimmy, Tannen's nephew.
Ben uses fake credentials and a recommendation from his friend Seward Trainer to get a teaching assistant job at the local university. After his successful interview, Ben goes to a nearby diner where he meets a beautiful red-headed waitress named Janine. Despite being strangers they immediately hit it off only to be briefly interrupted by Detective Raven who asks for his usual order. Ben takes a liking to Raven but Janine is visibly nervous around him. After he leaves Ben awkwardly asks Janine out to dinner. Janine initially says no but then says yes just as Ben is about to leave.
Kennedy is making a deal to buy drugs but instead of meeting with Jimmy, an associate of his meets with her claiming that Jimmy was sick. Kennedy attempts to arrest the associate but he isn't alone as his gun toting buddies arrive. Kaine having tracked her, crashes in and beats the bad guys. Kennedy tells Kaine she knew he'd be there and asks what they could do next. Kaine has a few ideas and they go to her apartment.
After missing his bus, Detective Raven is kidnapped and thrown inside a car by Tannen's men. On his way to see Janine Ben's spider-sense detects some serious danger. Before he's able to identify the cause, a house explodes and he rescues the injured mother and child inside. Kennedy receives a phone call informing her of the explosion and the disappearance of Raven. She's upset and asks Kaine to hold her.
Later at the hospital Reilly eavesdrops on some cops and discovers that the people he rescued were Raven's wife and son and that Tannen's organization is most certainly behind the explosion but good luck to anybody trying to prove it. Ben feels the urge to help more but decides it's not his responsibility. The issue ends with a small panel of Detective Raven with a gun to his head.
The tone of Lost Years is grittier and darker than your average Spider-Man tale. JRJR's style is well suited to it but many of his characters tend to have a fat, "blocky" look. There's an overuse of hatching and an excessive amount of lines used particularly with folds in clothing. Overall it doesn't distract from the story but it could've been better.
This introductory issue establishes the main players well. The main characters, Ben, Kaine and Raven all have their own internal monologues detailing their thoughts of the events in hindsight. We really get to know their characters through their monologues. There's some excellent characterization here and the setup leaves one wanting to read the next issue.
3.5 webs for the series. It's worth a read even if you're anti-clone and a must-read for Reilly fans.