The Spider-Man “Clone Saga” has a special place in the hearts of many of us due to it being released when people now in their early 30’s were getting into comics. I dabbled a bit before reading “Clone Saga” but it was generally the first time I took comics seriously and followed the storylines.
Boy, what a terrible first impression. The series is convoluted, confusing, and filled with many false starts… and yet, rereading the recently republished Epic Book 3 has brought back so many fond memories! I read through all 464 pages of the epic book 3 to answer the question, is it good?
Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 3 (Marvel Comics)
So what’s it about? The official summary reads:
Clones and jackals and symbiotes – oh my! Spider-Man’s clone is back, costumed as the Scarlet Spider, and neither of them is sure which is the genuine article! Will the real Peter Parker please stand up? Plus: Aunt May on her death bed! Mary Jane pregnant! Peter arrested for murder!
Why does this book matter?
This volume collects a ton of issues written by many people including Stan Lee, Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Howard Mackie, Tom Lyle, Terry Kavanagh and J.M. DeMatteis with art by Mark Bagley, Robert Brown, Sal Buscema, Steve Butler, Ron Garney and many more! There’s a lot of talent involved in this story arc because it collects many different Spider-Man series. Those include AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1962) 400-401, SUPER SPECIAL; SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (1976) 222-224, SUPER SPECIAL; SPIDER-MAN (1990) 57-58, SUPER SPECIAL; SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED (1993) 9; WEB OF SPIDER-MAN 123-124, SUPER SPECIAL; SPIDER-MAN: THE CLONE JOURNAL; VENOM SUPER SPECIAL. There’s a lot here!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The opening journal issue helps carry you up to speed. Also, it gets you in the mood for bushy haired Peter!
This volume opens with Spider-Man: The Clone Journal which was printed in 1995 and recaps the events that started the “Clone Saga” quite well. Having picked up this volume I didn’t find it hard to understand where the story was at due to this opening issue. Of course, my memories of the event helped remind me what was going on too and truly a lot of fond memories bubbled up as I read this volume. From the “Planet of the Symbiotes” to the trial of Peter Parker in the “Mark of Kaine” story arc there’s plenty of highlights.
One of the more agreeable elements of rereading a robust volume like this is how well planned the event was. Seemingly chaotic and filled with false starts, this volume proves the writers had intended for a mysterious Peter Parker to show up laying clues early on of their existence and then having them drop in many issues later. The element of Mary Jane’s pregnancy is also an underlying story element that pops in and out of the story which helps make the entire book feel tethered to something. The strongest element that permeates the entire series is how Ben Reilly is truly the most heroic character and it’s clear the writers always intended for him to outshine even Spider-Man. Given the big reveal that comes in the later volumes that makes sense. Because Ben Reilly assumes he’s the first clone he ends up sacrificing himself throughout this volume, which is a big part of what makes Spider-Man so great. While he deals with Spider-Man, Kaine, and eventually a third Peter Parker, he always does what is best for Mary Jane and who he thinks is the real Spider-Man.
While certain story lines never reach their end in this volume there are a few that are introduced and wrap up here which makes the reading experience satisfying. That includes the “Planet of the Symbiotes” which introduces the concept of Venom wanting to be a hero and ending with a 12 story tall Carnage wreaking havoc on the city. This story brings back a lot of fond memories from my childhood and does a great job explaining where the Symbiotes come from and how their culture functions. Another involves Jackal’s plotting and planning which ends up getting him stuck in jail. He’s a crazy character in this volume who is delightfully written with punchy dialogue and a knack for pissing everyone off. He’s certainly a villain I miss in the current comics!
Overall the art in this volume is good. Mark Bagley was a big favorite of mine growing up and his issues here and there are nice highlights of his stuff. A darker tone permeates throughout this volume, which makes the heavier inked work of Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz’s work feel natural to the story. This was a darker time for Spider-Man and you can gather that by simply flipping through the pages and seeing how dark the art can get.
Oh no, Aunt May is dead…until she wasn’t later…
It can’t be perfect can it?
Seeing as this is a third volume there are many story threads that aren’t finished. For instance, we get to see Peter thrown in jail, but never get to see how that gets resolved. The Traveller enters the story, but he’s more of an outsider looking in for this volume. To mix it up, a self-contained story that’s unsatisfying (because it feels unfinished but actually is all here) is the death of Aunt May. It appears the writers wanted to have a big life event happen for Peter due to the 400th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but it feels like half-baked and sensational storytelling with no meat to it. It helps convey the conflict Ben is having being an outsider of his own life, but it also comes out of nowhere and derails the larger story. For those of you interested in hearing AiPT!’s thoughts on the entire series, read our very own Mark Pellegrini’s Spider-Man: The Clone Saga (Let’s Just Get Through This) series.
From Mark’s reviews, I agree with his assessment of the “Mark of Kaine” storyline, which ends this volume. It’s overlong and grows tiresome. In part 4 of the 5 part story, Kaine, Spider-Man and Ben Reilly end up fighting a very dumb genetic abomination Peter Parker who grows huge and grotesque. The sad thing is, the three parts that lead to this issue were great, but it seems the writers felt going nuclear with a monster battle was a better way to end (come to think of it, Carnage growing huge earlier in the volume is the same way they ended that story too!). Funny enough, part 5 isn’t really the ending with things wrapping up in 4. Instead, part 5 continues the story but reads more like a one-shot where Spider-Man’s biggest villains plan to kill Kaine since he’s picking them off. As Mark pointed out, this story arc is needlessly bloated.
Since so many artists contributed to this volume it changes in style quite often and makes the book as a whole feel uneven. It’s hard to knock a volume like this for that though seeing as they weren’t writing these comics for the intention of them reading perfectly well in a collection. That said, a few issues here and there have art that’s messy, or unsuited to the story being told.
Is It Good?
It may not be the best of reads on its own due to storylines not finishing, but I generally liked this volume. That’s in part due to the nostalgia of revisiting stories I read when I was younger, but it’s hard to deny Ben Reilly is a true heroic character. This volume captures the heroic nature of Ben Reilly and his rise in becoming a great hero, which is a fitting volume to read now that Ben Reilly is back in action.