I’ve put it off long enough; it’s time to get back to the Clone Saga. It’s been a bit since I last tackled the series, but I can only take so much punishment.
This next batch of stories brings about yet another transition in the Spidey comics of the early ‘90s. The insipid “I am THE SPIDER!” era is gradually phased out and Peter attempts a return to sanity. We get a nostalgia trip involving many of Spidey’s classic villains and we bid a fond farewell to one of his most prominent (don’t worry, it won’t last). Kaine steps out of the shadows and begins his war on whatever he’s warring against. And Aunt May continues to have health problems because dammit if that old bat can’t stay out of a hospital bed for more than ten minutes.
So let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at a few more of these storylines from a very troubled time in Spider-Man’s publication history. With luck, we can get through this…
Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #395-399, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #218-221, Spider-Man #54-56, Spider-Man Unlimited #8, Web of Spider-Man #120-122, Spider-Man: Funeral for an Octopus #1-3
The first arc included is “Back from the Edge” (Amazing Spider-Man #395-396, Spectacular Spider-Man #218-219), though a better title might have been “Back from the Crapper.” As I mentioned in my review for the last volume, by this point in Spider-Man’s history, Webhead was knee-deep in his angst-fueled “I am THE SPIDER!” routine and boy did it suck. The whole point of this arc was to finally get Spider-Man to knock it the hell off. The manner in which writers J.M DeMatteis and Tom DeFalco achieve the desired result is pretty hilarious, too.
Because Daredevil is always good for a laugh.
Essentially, Spider-Man is forced to encounter a horde of other Marvel Comics characters in rapid succession, all of whom are trying their own hand at the angst gimmick, each desiring to suppress their civilian identity and be a hero/villain fulltime. First he fights C-lister the Puma, who has lost his human mind to his animal identity and become a rampaging monster. Next, Spidey seeks advice from Daredevil, who is going through a similarly unfortunate phase where he faked the death of Matt Murdock in an attempt to be all Daredevil, all the time (while dressing in a black and grey costume because angst is color-coordinated, even when you’re blind). The two then team-up against the Owl and the Vulture (during the time when Vulture was a “youth vampire”… sigh) and find that the bird-themed villains are hatching a scheme to destroy their previous identities by infecting anyone who ever knew them with a deadly virus.
It’s all laid on pretty thick, but the end epiphany from Spidey is pretty damn funny. He sees all these characters running around, brooding and soliloquizing their inner turmoil while trying to destroy their own humanity and comes to the conclusion, “These guys are acting like a bunch of assholes. Oh god… I’VE been acting like a bunch of assholes!” And lo, the “I am THE SPIDER!” era comes to a long overdue conclusion.
There’s also some crap about Mary Jane reconciling with her estranged father, but Jesus Christ, who cares?
Next up is “Web of Life” (Web of Spider-Man #120-121, Spider-Man #54-55). By this point, Ben Reilly has usurped two of the four Spider-Man ongoing titles and jeez, did it just dawn on anyone else that there was a point when Peter Parker was starring in four monthly books at the same time? A guy can only have so many adventures, you know. Giving half of Peter’s titles to Ben was one of the more reasonable results of the Clone Saga, especially considering that Peter had been acting like a tool in all of them.
“Web of Life” sees Vladimir Kravinoff, the Grim Hunter, seek vengeance against Spider-Man for causing his father’s death (in “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, a Spider-Man story arc you actually SHOULD read). At the same time, Kaine has been having precognitive visions of an unknown enemy killing Mary Jane and seeks to protect Peter from all foes who might fulfill that prophecy. And along for the ride is the Scarlet Spider, who thinks both Kaine and Grim Hunter are nuts and wants to take them down.
For those who enjoyed the recent “Grim Hunt” storyline that acted as a conclusion to “The Gauntlet” epic, this particular arc might be of some interest. It follows the first of many ill-fated attempts to revive a Kraven-esque character for Spidey to battle, though Vlad wound up being one of the shorter lived (he only appeared once before and dies at the end of this arc). Kaine also enters the spotlight for the first time since the flashback stories from last volume, and for those who have read “Grim Hunt”, he plays a large role in that story, too.
Really, “Web of Life” is more of a Kaine story than a Scarlet Spider story, with Ben just sort of trying to keep up and mostly getting his face punched in throughout the duration. It also picks up on the plot elements left behind after the “Lost Years” arc seen in the previous volume of the Clone Saga collections. Detective Raven makes a comeback, looking for his partner’s killer (Kaine) and following some prints the assailant left behind. Dr. Seward Trainer also shows up to become a supporting cast member for Ben once more. Expect just about zero follow-up on any of these plot threads in this volume because holy shit is this thing drawn out.
“Web of Life” seeks to establish Scarlet Spider as a legitimate part of the Spider-Man universe and spin him off into his own books with his own cast and his own foes. But in seeking to set up all those elements, Ben sort of just sits on the sidelines and watches the pieces fall into place. The real folly is that the whole story revolves around the threat of a laughable villain who never should have existed in the first place. This is Grim Hunter’s first appearance since his introduction and already he’s being killed off, like the writers realized he was a bad idea from the start and felt inclined to sweep him under the rug.
The next story arc is the one I was really excited about reading in this collection. “Web of Death” (Amazing Spider-Man #397-398, Spectacular Spider-Man #220-221) was the first chapter of the Clone Saga I purchased back in the day; specifically Spectacular Spider-Man #221. It was the concluding part of the arc and had quite the shock ending. I remember rereading it over and over, back in the days when I was young and naïve enough to think that death in a comic book actually meant something.
“Web of Death” sees Spider-Man, having just gotten over his emo self-loathing shtick, facing down imminent death at the hands of the Vulture’s virus. Doctor Octopus and his hench-woman/lover, Stunner, happen upon the unconscious and helpless Spidey and rather than kill him, Ock decides that Spider-Man’s life must be saved. Over the course of the story, Doc Ock comes to realize how much he values his rivalry with Spider-Man and how empty his life would be if Spider-Man were to die, not by his hands, but by something as stupid and random as a virus. Eventually, Doctor Octopus saves Spidey’s life but is quickly murdered by the enigmatic Kaine.
Peter sure meets Uncle Ben’s ghost a lot. A wonder why he even misses him.
One could probably draw a lot of parallels between “Web of Death” and the recent Superior Spider-Man stuff, as both stories cover some of the same themes. Both involve Doctor Octopus exploring his relationship with Spider-Man, learning his foe’s secret identity and coming to understand and respect what Spidey does. Both even feature Peter entering the outskirts of the afterlife and being reunited with the spirit of Uncle Ben! So hey, if you’ve just read Amazing Spider-Man #700 and want to see a similar yet different take on basically the same scenario (only with a very different ending), then you ought to check out “Web of Death”.
This was the defining Doctor Octopus story for me, as it spelled out the moral code of the villain while not necessarily taking off his edge. He saves Spider-Man’s life not because he wants to be his best buddy, but because he needs the challenge Spider-Man offers to make life worth living. It worked a lot better than other stories where Spider-Man “comes to terms with old foes”. Try reading “Light the Night” (Spider-Man #40) where Spider-Man talks a psychotic Electro down from ultimate victory by telling the downtrodden joke of a villain that, in his civilian identity, he’s ALSO a loser that gets picked on and bullied! Electro and Spider-Man then hug, with Electro vowing to turn over a new leaf. Yeah.
Also, some of Ock’s inner monologue about needing Spider-Man can get a little… gay.
Just a little.
This mostly has to do with his choice of analogy; calling their relationship an “endless dance” and asking Spider-Man to “take his hand” and “dance with him.” I get the feeling that Stunner was only introduced to the story strictly to offset the homosexual undertones, as she shoves her tongue down Doc Ock’s throat every time he finishes a monologue describing his desperate yearning to be with Spider-Man forever. There’s also a juxtaposition given between Peter’s relationship with MJ (where they’re about to have a baby and their future seems bright) and Ock’s relationship with Stunner (where Kaine kills Ock at the end and their future seems pretty bleak), but it doesn’t really work because the “romance” between Octopus and Stunner feels so shallow. Besides, we all know that Ock’s one true love will always be Aunt May (he even calls to see how she’s doing in the hospital once he learns Spider-Man’s secret identity).
As for Kaine killing Ock, well, it kind of sucks that he died a page after upsetting his status quo with Spider-Man and turning the nature of their relationship on its head. Kaine’s already killed the Grim Hunter by this point, so adding Octopus to his bodycount seems like another flimsy measure to illustrate to the reader just how “serious” this Kaine guy is.
And to answer your question, Doctor Octopus was brought back to life several years later by ninja magic, only with no memory of the last 24 hours before his death, thus he forgot Spider-Man’s true identity. Hooray for comics!
Also, since I already mentioned Superior Spider-Man, where Doctor Octopus becomes Spider-Man…
Here’s a story where Spider-Man becomes Doctor Octopus!
“Funeral for an Octopus” (Spider-Man: Funeral for an Octopus #1-3) picks up right where “Web of Death” left off. Peter and Ben face off against Elias Hargrove, Doc Ock’s only heir, who hires the four remaining members of the Sinister Six (Hobgoblin, Vulture, Mysterio and Electro) to procure Otto’s various scientific and technological breakthroughs from the government so he can sell them and make a fortune.
I’ve always been a sucker for Sinister Six stories, at last back in the day when they weren’t trotted out quite so much. Incidentally, both Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider spend the miniseries battling the same foes, but contrived circumstances keep them from interacting. All in all, this is rather clumsily a filler storyline, so I guess editorial wanted to make sure the narrative impact of Peter and Ben reuniting wasn’t diluted later on by having them team up for this needless diversion. Still, purposeless though it truly is, it’s fun to see all the classic rogues lined up for an action-oriented storyline and Spidey, now free of the “I am THE SPIDER!” bullshit, acts like Spider-Man for the first time since the Clone Saga began.
Following all that, we have “Behind the Terror”, a one-shot adventure from Spider-Man Unlimited #8. In this one, a group of armored terrorists impressively named Terror Unlimited take hostages in the World Trade Center (Mary Jane among them) and threaten to set off a nuclear bomb. Both Peter and Ben arrive on the scene to stop the villains, without ever interacting a single time.
I think whoever was putting this trade together got mixed up, since “Behind the Terror” probably should have gone between “Web of Death” and “Funeral for an Octopus.” It features Ben reading about Doc Ock’s death in the paper for the first time and he’s shown attending Ock’s funeral in the “Funeral for an Octopus” miniseries.
That anal retentive little note about continuity is pretty much the most enthusiastic thing I have to say about this story, which is really uneventful and boring. Like “Funeral for an Octopus”, it has to jump through hoops to star both Ben and Peter but not let them bump into each other. The excuse is that Peter’s busy busting heads in one tower while Ben is off fighting villains in the other. Also, that homeless guy Ben met in the first Clone Saga volume dies, because Ben needed more pathos, I guess.
Volume 2 concludes with “Smoke and Mirrors” (Web of Spider-Man #122, Amazing Spider-Man #399 and Spider-Man #56), the story that feels like it should have happened closer to the beginning of this damn saga. Basically, Peter and Ben start sharing psychic vision that lure them to a secluded bunker/lab in the mountains. There they encounter Professor Miles Warren, alias the Jackal, who has survived all these years, plotting revenge. He sows the seeds of paranoia, implying that either Peter or Ben could be the REAL Peter Parker. Or maybe neither of them are. THEY’LL never know! Meanwhile, enigmatic Kaine watches intently from the shadows. And meanwhile some more, the enigmatic-ier Scrier watches Kaine intently from the shadowy-er shadows.
Lots of serious backtracking plagues this one, as the Jackal retcons the earlier retcon that his clones were all just brainwashed college student. And rather unceremoniously, as a matter of fact, as he brushes that storyline under the rug with a very quick sentence or two. Mostly, this one consists of Jackal running back and forth between Ben and Peter saying, “You’re the real one! Or ARE you?” while doing some zany Joker-style antics to fill 3 issues (we’re also treated to two more Peter clones; a midget and a hulking brute).
The mysteriousness reaches levels beyond absurdity as while all this is going on, Kaine lurks and monitors everything (we aren’t supposed to know who he is yet); plotting something possibly sinister. Then while he’s doing that, some asshole named Scrier is secretly watching HIM while plotting something possibly sinister. It’s like an inception of bullshit that boggles the mind.
Whereas before, the Clone Saga was just a lot of dull ‘90s clichés and some bad characterization, with the end of this volume, the confusing and contradicting story elements all start to fall into place, muddying it all up. On the bright side, both Peter and Jackal spend most of the arc making fun of Scarlet Spider’s costume.
Anyway, after two volumes and what has to be 1000 pages, we’re finally starting to get somewhere with this whole Clone Saga business. But I mean that in a “one step forward, two steps back” sort of way.
You can pick up Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 2 for $25 from Amazon right now and save about $10 on your purchase.