When we last left the Clone Saga, things were suckier than usual. The Jackal had just convinced both Peter and Ben that EITHER could be the One True Spider-Man, Aunt May had just died, Mary Jane was acting like an emotionally unstable loon, another Peter clone named Freakface came and went, Detective Raven learned that it was Kaine (not Peter) who killed his partner, Ben switched places with Peter in jail as a show of good faith and “Planet of the Symbiotes” was something that happened.
Whoa, that’s a lotta crap. But there’s more to come. Kaine unmasks, Peter and Ben share a shocking revelation and Judas Traveller continues to be a mysterious douchebag. Let’s endeavor to get through this…
Contains: Amazing Spider-Man #402-404, New Warriors #61, Spectacular Spider-Man #225-227, Spider-Man #59-61, Spider-Man: The Jackal Files, Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage Alpha and Omega, and Web of Spider-Man #125-127.
The volume opens with the one-shot story “Lives Unlived” (Web of Spider-Man #125). In this one, Peter (now disguised as Scarlet Spider while Ben serves Peter’s sentence on Riker’s Island) learns that a clone of Miles Warren, using the brilliant alias of Warren Miles, has been living for years in the suburbs of New Jersey. Not only that, but he’s been married to the original Gwen Stacy clone all this time. Peter goes to shake them down for answers, Warren freaks out and there’s a daring car chase which terminates at, guess where? The George Washington Bridge! And who should show up? A brand new Green Goblin! And of course no trip to the George Washington Bridge with Spidey and the Green Goblin could end without…? Gwen Stacy falling off the damn thing!
So yeah, this was pretty awful. It serves to explain what happened to the Gwen Stacy clone from the original 1970s Clone Saga. If you recall, her origin was retconned way back in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8 to reveal that she was actually a woman named Joyce Delaney who was brainwashed into THINKING she was a Gwen Stacy clone. That retcon was then retconned by a later retcon in the “Smoke and Mirrors” arc which revealed that the Gwen Stacy clone was not someone named Joyce Delaney but was actually a clone of Gwen Stacy like we were originally told. “Lives Unlived” follows up on that.
What doesn’t work is that when Peter sees “Gwen” for the first time, he responds like a slack-jawed amateur and the whole situation is played with overblown melodrama. But we JUST endured this exact same situation back in “Smoke and Mirrors” when the Jackal let loose a DIFFERENT Gwen Stacy clone, much to Peter’s discomfort and disbelief. So any “shock and awe” impact that the return of the original Gwen clone might have had has already been spent.
Likewise, writer Terry Kavanagh goes through great lengths to move the setting to the George Washington Bridge for a painful recreation of the death of the real Gwen Stacy. Except this time around, Peter saves her from her fall and it’s the Miles Warren clone who plummets to his doom. What a twist! In a similar inversion, the Green Goblin is there, but this is a new Green Goblin who is actually a HERO (though I hear Phil Urich’s been turned into a villain, recently?) and tries to SAVE Gwen from falling instead of CAUSING her to fall!
Isn’t it all just terribly clever? The back-up strip, “Shining Armor” briefly details the (really gross) romance between Warren Miles and the original Gwen clone in the years between the Joyce Delaney retcon and now. The ending panel is fairly dark and weird, but man, I just don’t care. Like so much else in the Clone Saga, this entire story could have been omitted to no ill effect.
Next up is the two-parter, “Crossfire” (Amazing Spider-Man #402, Spider-Man #59) which focuses mostly on the terribly mysterious Judas Traveller. So naturally, it’s a lot of stupid bullshit.
Basically, this arc spells out Traveller’s purpose: To learn more about good and evil by submitting Peter Parker to a series of bland tests that involve tedious, contrived morality plays. In the first part of “Crossfire”, Traveller offers to resurrect Aunt May at the cost of one total stranger’s life. Peter, of course, refuses. The second part is more challenging, as Traveller sends his Host (four stupid stooges you won’t care about) to explode all of New York City. Peter has to find a way to stop them, but it turns out that Traveller-himself was the unwitting source of the explosion, not his Host, so Spidey has to save Traveller.
The end result of this arc is that, guess what? When faced with a life-or-death decision, Peter Parker always makes the right choice because he’s a good guy! How suspenseful. I mean, really, did anyone actually think for a minute that Spider-Man would make a deal with some mystical, sinister supernatural entity to bring Aunt May back from the dead?
Don’t answer that.
I guess if Traveller served any purpose in the grand scheme of the Clone Saga, least as I can suspect, it’s that he acted as a red herring for the true mastermind behind the conflict. His whole gimmick revolves around setting up challenges to test Peter Parker’s resolve, both physically and morally, and with Traveller (via his partner, Scrier) already shown interacting with the Jackal, one might have presumed at the time that he was the Head Honcho. When the reader takes a step back and looks at the whole Clone Saga, Traveller’s meddling is revealed as the pointless diversion it always was.
Of slight consequence is the advancement of the Detective Raven subplot. Peter (in the guise of Scarlet Spider) has a talk with him and Raven resolves to get Parker off the hook for the crime he never actually committed. Baby steps, but at least we’re getting somewhere.
The crapfest continues with “The Return of the Green Goblin” (Spectacular Spider-Man #225), a double-length “extravaganza” that acts as a follow-up to the introduction of the all-new, all-hip, all-fresh heroic Green Goblin. In this one, a terrible new villain named Firefist is setting Manhattan’s homeless ablaze, so Peter (who has ditched the Scarlet Spider costume and returned to his old duds) reluctantly teams up with the new Green Goblin to stop him. Meanwhile, the Jackal is working on a new version of the Carrion virus and has enlisted the aid of YET ANOTHER Peter Parker clone. Also, Mary Jane considers an abortion.
Look, I know the Phil Urich incarnation of the Green Goblin has his fanbase, and I’m rather ignorant of the character as I never read his ongoing series, but he really sucks in these issues. Tom DeFalco tries to write him with a “hip” and “youthful” personality and most of it consists of awkward, unnatural slang, such as “whoah-baby”, referring to everybody as “man” and constantly parsing sentences with “like”. It’s kind of fun to read his sane and coherent inner monologue as he mentally works through his power set and how to counter Spidey’s attacks, but when he won’t stop mentioning his LUNATIC LAUGH over and over and over again, even that takes its toll on your nerves (seriously, DeFalco seemed really proud of the term “Lunatic Laugh”, the way he goes on about it).
Mary Jane continues her Abortion Quest, which has basically been all the melodrama she’s had to latch onto for a while. Seward Trainer (remember him? He was supposed to be important) basically told her that Peter’s irradiated sperm may leave their child deformed and so she goes to prison to ask Ben if she should abort it. In case you didn’t see this coming, a clone who basically survived the latest term abortion on record is decidedly pro-life (but he still gives MJ the rhetoric about ultimately deciding for herself).
And the cliffhanger ending couldn’t be anything more irritating. Hasn’t the shock value of “gasp! A P-P-Peter Parker CLONE!?” been worn down to a nub by this juncture?
The back-up story, “He Was Such a Nice Boy…” is quite a bit better, as it leads in more to the “Trial of Peter Parker” arc that’s coming up. Basically, Ben Urich goes around interviewing Pete’s classic supporting case from the Lee/Ditko era for personality reference and they all recall some of those old stories. It’s basically character witness stuff, but it’s neat. Jonah, ultimately, thinks that Spider-Man is the real murderer and Pete’s just covering for him.
The 4-part “Trial of Peter Parker” arc (Web of Spider-Man #126, Amazing Spider-Man #403, Spider-Man #60, Spectacular Spider-Man #226) finally sees the whole Kaine/Reilly/Detective Raven subplot through to the end. For a storyline that lingered on and on and on, naturally, the resolution takes its sweet time getting to the point.
Peter’s trial begins with Ben taking Peter’s place while Peter, as Spider-Man, tries to track down Kaine and drag him to the courthouse. They fight for four straight issues, as various speed bumps get in their way, from Judas Traveller performing his own trial to scrutinize Peter’s character, to the bitter Stunner attempting to kill Kaine and get revenge for Doctor Octopus’s death. When all is said and done, Kaine reveals that he’s actually the first clone of Peter Parker who has spent his life trying to make sure Peter is happy and Ben is dead. With that startling revelation (and Kaine’s fingerprints), Peter/Ben is let off the hook and acquitted of murder. But another startling revelation ends the arc: Dr. Seward Trainer concludes that PETER is the clone and BEN is the original! All that and the Jackal uses yet another Peter clone to gather materials for his upgraded Carrion virus.
The above paragraph may sound like a lot of story, but believe me, it’s not four issues’ worth of story. The lengths the writers go to in order to stretch out Peter’s fight with Kaine can get more than a little embarrassing. The entire faux-trial at Ravencroft that Judas Traveller calls to order is just so much fluff. With Carnage on prosecution and Dr. Kafka on defense, and a jury made up of D-rate villains (we’re talking Shriek, Vermin and Carrion II, here), the objective of the trial is to determine whether Spider-Man created his rogues gallery by merely existing. Didn’t an episode of Batman: The Animated Series do this exact plot? Anyway, the entire story is rendered pointless at the end, when Traveller declares the jury’s verdict inconsequential, as it was all just another test to see if Peter was really a good guy or not. Again. Gettin’ real tired of your shit, Judas Traveller.
The first big reveal, Kaine’s identity, would be a shock if the prequel story, “The Lost Years”, hadn’t already been collected in the first Clone Saga trade paperback. But looking at this huge moment through a lens of ignorance, I mean really, ANOTHER clone? At what point are the writers going to realize that “CLONES CLONES CLONES” is no longer viable for shock value? Hell, this arc ends with ANOTHER Parker clone getting sent on a mission from Jackal. They’re a dime a dozen. Kaine’s motivations for trying to put Ben in prison and killing off all of Peter’s rogues (well, 2 rogues, really… er, one of them was Grim Hunter, so I guess that’s more like 1 and a 1/2) would be interesting, but he spends a good two issues screaming “I DID IT ALL FOR YOOOUUUUU!!!” at Peter and refusing to go to the courthouse like a fussy puppy that doesn’t want to see the vet. That’s the Clone Saga, for you. Even when the ideas are good, they’re bad.
And speaking of “bad”, we get the even bigger Big Reveal that the Peter we’ve been following since the 70s is actually the clone and Ben is the original Peter from when the comic began. Peter immediately flips his shit and has a mental break down, complete with slugging Mary Jane in the jaw in a blind rage. Funny, when Hank Pym snapped and decked his wife in the face, nobody ever let him live it down. But when Spider-Man does it…?
Punctuating the previous arc and the next is that obsolete relic of a bygone era: The sourcebook. You know, those things you had to buy before Wikipedia was invented? In this case, it’s Spider-Man: The Jackal Files #1 (of 1). The bookending segments see the Jackal upgrading his latest Peter Parker clone: Uploading information on all relevant characters into his brain, enhancing his powers so that he can change his mass at a molecular level, giving him a boring new costume and, lastly, slapping him with the name Spidercide.
The bookending segments are kind of necessary to bridge you from “The Trial of Peter Parker” to “Maximum Clonage”, but only in regards to the new Peter clone taking on his stupid new identity (for the record, he’s actually Freakface but with a new name). The profiles that fill the sourcebook are written in-character by the Jackal, so they thankfully aren’t dry reading. His incessant propensity for making instantly-dated pop culture references (Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovitt…?) can get a little irritating, though. As expected, this sourcebook drives home the fact that Peter Parker is the clone and Ben Reilly is the original, to the point where you might end up thinking, “doth protest too much”. I mean, he won’t shut up about it.
“Maximum Clonage”. “Maximum” fucking “Clonage”. (New Warriors #61, Maximum Clonage Alpha, Web of Spider-Man #127, Amazing Spider-Man #404, Spider-Man #61, Spectacular Spider-Man #227, Maximum Clonage Omega)
You may not think the writing during this era could get any worse, but Marvel always finds a way to surprise you. The short of it is that Peter goes bonkers after learning that he’s the clone and defects to the Jackal’s side. Jackal plans to exterminate the entire population of Earth with his new Carrion virus and replace them all with clones who will follow his bidding. Kaine escapes from jail and dies but who cares. Then Spidercide defects and joins Judas Traveller and Scrier. Then Ben hurts his ankle and won’t shut up about it for 80 pages. The Gwen Stacy clone comes back because I guess she needed some closure. Jackal falls off the roof of the Daily Bugle and dies. Peter accepts his clone status and stops acting like a tool. I suddenly lose my will to live. The end.
Now hit her! She actually kind of deserves it, this time.
Of course, that’s not even half of the bullshit that makes up this 7-part story arc that feels more like it’s 20 issues long because it just. Won’t. END. There’s a subplot about a guy getting infected by the Carrion virus and mutating into a new character named Helix, whom the New Warriors court because there was a time when Marvel took the New Warriors seriously. The Punisher shows up for absolutely no reason whatsoever and wastes an entire issue trying to get revenge on the Jackal exactly 20 years too late for anyone to give a shit. Jackal unleashes an army of Peter Parker clones who melt into a pile of goo as well as an army of midget Peter Parker clones in Jackal costumes, who just sort of… disappear when they’re no longer relevant to the story.
There’s no focus to the arc as it jumps from one idea to the next with each chapter being more slapdash than the last. “Maximum Clonage” was supposed to function as the definitive end to the Clone Saga, giving all the answers and determining once and for all who the REAL Peter was, but the writers couldn’t have fumbled it worse if they were quadruple amputees. If anything, the arc reads like it was written in a “round robin” style; one author writes a chapter, then hands it to the next who writes a chapter deliberately contradicting the previous one, then the next guy contradicts the last guy and reinstates the ideas of the first guy, then the guy after THAT just goes and writes some weird bullshit without even reading what the other three dudes wrote and it’s all just a lot of surreal, random, inconsistent bullcrap.
The characters can’t even behave with a single attitude from one issue to the next. Part 5 ends with Mary Jane and the Gwen Stacy clone meeting for the first time and having a tearful “reunion”, as they recall the great friendship Mary Jane had with the original Gwen. When part 6 begins, however, Gwen is antagonizing MJ, trying to seduce Peter to the darkside and get him to walk out on MJ and be with her. Hell, even the individual chapters aren’t consistent with the characterization, as by the end of part 6, Gwen is all “good girl” again and decides to sneak away in a crowd so as to not further upset Peter’s life.
Then there’s Peter joining up with the Jackal. No, it wasn’t him going undercover and trying to trick the Jackal or anything. Peter makes the conscious decision to join a super villain and help him carry out a scheme to kill every person on the face of the planet. At the end of the arc, they try to write it off as “a case of temporary insanity” because learning that he was a clone “broke” Peter, but that doesn’t excuse any of it. With every page of melodramatic, redundant, achingly verbose inner monologue, the writers make it clear under no uncertain terms that Peter chose to turn evil. It is terrible.
And of course I’d be remiss not to comment on the Final Verdict: Peter is the clone, Ben is the original. We all know how THAT turned out, don’t we? It makes “Maximum Clonage” even more painful to read, as the writers really, really, REALLY try to drive home the fact that Ben is the original, not so much with evidence, but by just having the characters say it over and over again until it sticks. This arc tries SO HARD to get readers to accept Ben as the original, but knowing that it’s only going to be retconned in a year makes the whole exercise feel brutally insincere.
The Clone Saga hasn’t been great thus far, but I think this volume is where it just self-destructs into complete shit. There isn’t a damn thing redeemable about a single one of the stories collected in this FIVE HUNDRED PAGE volume and I’m truly starting to feel my fortitude withering. And oh sweet Jesus I still have 7 more volumes to go.
If you have some kind of morbid curiosity or just enjoy self-inflicted harm of any kind, take a look at Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 4 for yourself. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.