Prof. Miles Warren cloned Spidey. After battling it out with Warren, Spidey dropped the clone in a smokestack thinking it was dead. Flash forward a few years, the clone has returned, claiming to be the real one. And he wasn't the only one: Kaine, yet another Parker clone, with a scarred face, deranged mind and a body count spanning the country, has also returned. It was decided that the first returned clone was actually the true one, and Peter stepped aside to settle into his role as a family man with MJ and leave New York. Enter the new Spider-man, the blonde Ben Reilly. With the discovery of a skull wearing the remains of a Spidey mask in the same smokestack, the reality Ben thought he knew is once again turned upside down.
Ben's racing across town in costume trying to get to work at The Daily Grind coffee shop. Upon greeting the cast of characters when he gets there, he learns from the front page of the Bugle that the skeleton has been discovered at the smokestack. He's in shock, but then his boss Shirley gives him a list of chores to do outside the shop. He jumps at the chance to get out and learn more about the skeleton, so intent he is that blows past bombshell Desiree who's coming in as he exits. The Grind crew asks if she's coming to Ben's big surprise party. She says she will in a dress that not even a dead man could ignore.
At the Bugle, Jonah is fuming at not being immediately notified regarding the Spider-skull finding. Joe Robertson says he already put Ben Urich on the case--Jonah says he's headed to the morgue to follow up on the story himself.
Kaine and some chick named Muse are skulking through the alleyways, meanwhile. But they run afoul of the Rhino, who says taking them out is worth big money.
Spidey sneaks into the morgue. He says he'll know once he sees the remains whether the costume remnants are his or a fake. He finds the bag of bones--it's real. He wonders if he needs to contact Peter who's in Portland and interrupt his peace to let him know, but reasons he shouldn't because he doesn't have all the answers yet. He also resolves to take the remains with him from the morgue.
Jonah bribes his way in to the morgue so he can see the skeleton. He runs headlong into the escaping Spidey, who Jonah accuses of stealing the evidence of a crime. Ben tells him to go pick on Thor or Iron Man and webs his face. Jonah says he'll expose him as the murderer he really is. Back at Ben's apartment, all his friends are gathered for a surprise party, having chipped in to buy Ben a TV (the Daily Grinders find it really bothersome that NY newbie Ben doesn't even have a TV). Shirley is telling Jessica that she's noticed the attraction between Jess and Ben and that Jessica needs to go for it. Swinging home, Ben runs into Rhino, Kaine and Muse who are fighting in the streets. Rhino crushes a building and Spidey pushes Muse out of the way just in time, but gets buried under the rubble for it.
By the time Ben digs himself out, they're long gone. So much for that. He grabs the skeleton and hurries home where he finds Jessica in his apartment alone, the party-goers long gone. He changes into a spare set of clothes outside and comes in the front door. He apologies for missing the surprise party when she tells him. Jessica admits she really cares for him. Ben says they should be careful, that they hardly know eachother. She says they should get to know eachother better and that she'll worry about any skeletons in his closet later.
While the Peter-is-the-clone attempt at a reboot was generally rejected by fans, this issue shows that while not initially perfect, it had potential. Ben is an interesting if somewhat bland variation on Peter. The Daily Grind crew are also thinly-glossed, Peter-era cast stand-ins. Luckily, Dan Jurgens throws himself into creating this new universe whole-heartedly. His writing is spot-on and his Klaus Jansen-inked breakdowns are sketchy but irresistable.
It's been often pointed out that the current "Brand New Day" Spidey continuity reset is the Mach 2 version of what we see here. Marvel has some pathological issue with Peter being married to MJ, and him being the clone and fading into the background was a way to get a single Peter (Ben) swinging into action with a 70's-style Spidey status quo. In One More Day, Peter undid his marriage with MJ after a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May's life. Harry is now alive again and running a--wait for it---coffee shop. Both the clone saga and One More Day reeked as fixer-storylines, but it's the creator's (or the editor's) iron-clad mandate that Peter be unmarried and doing his webslinging thing.
Anyway, not a whole lot else happens here. They're still trying to establish Ben's world and supporting cast. The Rhino comes and goes, as does Kaine. There was an annoying habit at this time of running a storyline through each and every title every month, so this is just a quarter of the Kaine tale.
Jurgens' work here is great as usual, which bumps this up one web. The new status quo is shaky, but it's not altogether terrible. It's harder to care about the endless "Peter's the clone, Ben's the clone, Peter's the clone" baiting. They want to leave the door open to undo Ben as Spidey which is patently obvious; unfortunately it holds the story back. Sure beats the Scarlet Spider though.