In the comments of last week's 12 Dumbest Spidey Stories (Besides the Clone Saga) list, some of you were grateful to me for not ripping on it. First of all, ha ha, since I always planned to make fun of the Clone Saga; second, because it totally has it coming. The Clone Saga—a sequel to a story arc about Spider-man fighting a clone of himself that ran back in the ‘70s, largely an excuse to fake out readers with a “resurrected” Gwen Stacy and a scene where Spider-man battles himself—began when someone at Marvel—had the idea to goose sales by having the Spider-clone come back, after the shocking revelation that he hadn’t died in the original story after all. From there…well, you’ll see.
The Clone Saga managed to span three different editorial regimes, dozens of writers and artists, and well over 100 separate issues of comics that came out over the course of years. The story was horribly disorganized and often contradictory, instead coming out as a rough patchwork of different stories that were usually 2-4 issues long, with the odd done-in-one or longer story lingering. Clone Saga stories generally ranged from “kind of okay-ish” at the high end of the quality scale to… well, at the low end, to the twelve stories we’re about to discuss. To read the Clone Saga from beginning to end is to watch the total systematic failure of Marvel’s editorial and publishing practices at the time. The result has a horrible grandeur unmatched by any other ‘90s comic book spectacle.
13) The Brutal Retcon Bombing of Judas Traveler and Scrier, Amazing Spider-man #417
A “retcon bomb” is a pet term for a particular type of comic book story, usually one that shows up strictly in sprawling superhero books, that exists purely to eject a particular character or other McGuffin from an ongoing storyline. As it happens, Amazing Spider-man #417 isn’t a story at all, but merely an issue-length retcon bomb. There is literally nothing to it beyond the way it throws the previously established and highly inconvenient villains Judas Traveller and Scrier under a bus.
Previous tales dealt with Judas Traveller as a potent immortal magician studying Spider-man’s capacity for goodness, but now suddenly we’re expected to believe that he was just a crazy psionic with delusions of grandeur. He was never really the boss of anybody, not really immortal, and basically yeah all of his previous appearance made no fucking sense at all given what the retcon bomb expected us to swallow. Now, Judas Traveller was a lousy Spider-man villain and had no real potential otherwise, but dispensing of him in one issue after five motherfucking overblown storyarcs of build-up was more than a little galling.
The Scrier retcon bomb dropped here is even worse than the Traveller bomb, though. See, Scrier was at first Traveller’s… uh… his sidekick guy. Who… knew things and watched stuff. Presumably immortal or whatever. He was never vital to the narrative in any previous appearance so his vagueness didn’t really matter. After the retcon bomb, Scrier was suddenly so important that he ended up hanging around the Spider-Books for nearly a decade later. What this comic tries to do is convince everyone that Scrier is in fact a cult-like organization that is answering to a different hidden mastermind guy, who is also the boss of Gaunt, an irritating asshole I’ll go into more detail about later. All of the Scriers dress and look alike, see, so whenever you saw Scrier appearing to mysteriously travel somewhere, it was really a different guy. Seriously. Totally. Even that time you saw him walk through motherfucking walls. That was just… super-technology. Fucking hell, it’s like Marvel editorial wanted to solve the problem of a villain being convoluted and making no sense by seeing if they could get him to make even less sense.
You may wonder why I’m not actually talking about this comic’s plot. The issue is from the abrupt ending of the Clone Saga, which is less awful than what came before it but still pretty fucking awful on its own merits. The narrative in this comic doesn’t even try to pull off anything more than the retcon bombing, after which Traveller more or less disappeared. There’s just no plot to speak of here.
12) Judas Traveller’s Amazing Plan to Look Like an Idiot, The Amazing Spider-man #402 and Spider-man #59
Judas Traveller is one of the worst Spider-man villains when you get right down to it, and this is before he was retconned. You can blame his bombing on this storyline, actually, since it’s where Judas Traveller’s powers got really, really out of hand. In the course of this two-part story, he manages to transport Spider-man to a parallel universe, time travel, captures Aunt May’s soul, promises to resurrect her, and nearly destroys New York entirely based on misusing his own fucking powers.
Although Judas Traveller’s abilities made him infinitely better suited to fight heroes like Dr. Strange or the goddamn Silver Surfer, supposedly, Spider-man is so special that Judas Traveller was inexorably drawn to study him and torment him in order to… uh, to understand the true nature of Evil. Traveller, buddy, you could make more headway on that in the Philosophy and Religion section of your local Waldenbooks. I mean, if Immanuel Kant or Saint Thomas Aquinas didn’t have to run around fucking with random guys in order to understand Evil, maybe you don’t really need to either.
The “high point” of this issue is where Judas Traveller decides to declare that New York will be destroyed in 24 hours due to Peter’s actions, and time-travels to show him New York on the next day as proof of his claims. Traveller seems to think this is some sort of temptation to not do anything, simply because he shows evidence to the effect that Peter and Mary Jane will survive. And, uh, I guess take turns shitting in a coffee can while they eat rat feces? I mean, Spider-man doesn’t seem tempted to let the apocalypse happen so he can live in a pile of rubble, and really, who would be? Traveller then clarifies the situation by saying the cataclysm will be cause by his goons rigging a geothermal plant to explode (which is hardly Peter’s fault), so of course Spider-man scampers off to stop it.
Then it turns out that Traveller’s time-travel actually causes a giant green hole to open in the sky above New York, and Traveller realizes that his own time travel is what ends up leveling New York in the future he, uh, already visited. Again, I have to point out that this is hardly Peter’s fucking fault. Anyway, Traveller gets sucked into the glowing green hole, presumably to overload and explode. While Traveller’s posse do nothing, Spider-man leaps in and drags Traveller out, averting an explosion. That’s… that’s it, really. Yes, the sum total of Spider-man’s contribution to the action was pulling a dumbass out of a hole.
As bad as this story is, it becomes double-ludicrous if you consider it in light of the Secrets! retcon bomb we covered earlier. So if Traveller is just a crazy mutant with the ability to alter people’s perceptions, why did he want Spider-man to perceive that he’s an incompetent fucking moron who needs to be dragged out of the hole he accidentally created in the space-time continuum? Why the flaming fuck would anyone do that?
11) The All-New, All-Different, All-Womany, All-Shitty Dr. Octopus, The Greatest Responsibility
As hard as the ‘90s may have been on Spider-man, the decade was even harder on his on his villains. The classic ‘60s stable were edged aside by violent newcomers like Venom and Carnage, prompting the editorial team on the Spider-Books to screw around with virtually all of the originals. The Scorpion was briefly replaced by an angry chick, Vulture was stuck in a lameass “young guy” mode, Mysterio’s head got set on fire… and we got a new Doctor Octopus, just a little over a year after the positively shitty death of the original Otto Octavius.
Doctor Octopus II, later called Lady Octopus, was Otto Octavius’s secret apprentice who somehow has her own set of octopus arms even though there was an entire miniseries devoted to detailing what actually happened to Dr. Octopus’s arms after his stupid-ass death. The new Ock’s arms are of course ten billion times better than the originals, shooting electricity and acid and fire and god knows what else, while Ock herself sits in the center, shielded by a personal force field that honestly Spider-ma—er, the Scarlet Spider—has no non-bullshit way of breaking through. The actual resolution of this involved a ridiculous implementation of impact webbing that made no fucking sense at all, and Ock’s new forcefield quietly disappeared from future appearances.
Lady Octopus also managed to have a personality and backstory as majestically stupid as her new robot arms. Lady Octopus is actually Dr. Seward Trainer’s angry daughter Carolyn, who hates her father for unspecified reasons and bitches about him a lot. She leads a shadowy organization with shadowy nonsense goals by yelling at people at lot, and gets wrapped up in the fucking ridiculous “cyberspace” plotlines that will be coming to a head soon, and appears to have that quaint '90s internet power that lets her be in any computer anywhere at any time for any reason, whether or not the damn thing is even connected to a phone line, and her tentacles help her do this because of mumble mumble internet.
Lady Octopus is just everything goddamn wrong with '90s comics in general. There was no reason to call her a new Doctor Octopus, no reason to kill off the old one, and very little effort put into making her a credible villain besides making her an unpleasant person. More thought honestly seems to have been put into her technology upgrades to the arms than any aspect of her personality. Ha ha, who the fuck reading a comic book would care about a villain’s personality?
10) The Last, Goofy Temptation of Dr. Octopus, "Web of Death"
“Web of Death” was the Peter Parker counterpart to Ben Reilly’s “Web of Life.” It is slightly less bad than the other, but both stories are pretty terrible and in mostly the same way. Both stories have very little plot to speak of and a whole lot of shock and stupid poured in as empty filler. “Web of Death,” for instance, kicks off with Spider-man dying of a bullshit Vulture toxin. Doctor Octopus stumbles upon his dying form and feels a strange compulsion to exposit at length about how much he loves Spider-man and can’t bear to see him both dying and being written as an angry humorless asshole.
Doc Ock begins working on a cure for the Vulture toxin, using the hoary old villain excuse of not wanting any other villain to kill Spider-man before he can. That sounds badass enough for the other guys in the Sinister Six to take it seriously, right? Meanwhile, Peter goes home to die for a bit and Mary Jane tells him she’s pregnant, which wasn’t an intrinsically stupid plot thread, at least not to me. A lot of good mileage could’ve been gotten out of Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Dad. Of course, knowing where that fucking plotline ends (which we discuss later, of course), it’s just kind of sad and lamentable in retrospect.
After a lot of nonsense involving a near-death experience and communing with Aunt May’s soul, Doc Ock’s more serum finally gets around to saving Peter’s life. Hooray! Doc Ock even called the police to come and arrest him at just that very second, so Spider-man won’t feel obligated to get into a fight with him. While he is expositing how he’ll escape whenever he damn well feels like it as he’s cuffed and lead away, the whole thing smacks of the script running out of pages and the writer just wanting to get on with it. Kaine shows up, and just as in "Web of Life," he’s spent most of the story thus far looming on rooftops and having visions of irrelevant shit. For whatever reason, perhaps just to be a massive dick, Kaine decides to kill Doctor Octopus, which he manages with about a page’s worth of effort.
This is really the offense that puts the book over the top. Kaine killing Doc Ock makes not even a tiny bit of fucking sense in light of what his motivation turns out to be, and even within the context of this story it’s totally unmotivated and irrelevant to Spider-man (who has already gone home to be in a scene with his wife that isn’t very shitty at all). It’s always lame to try and make your audience like a character by attaching a big body count or stupid-high power levels to him, but having him kill one of the all-time awesome, classic Spider-man villains offhandedly at the end of a story that didn’t concern him, and for literally no reason at all, is fucking ridiculous and stupid. Thank God this kind of shit mostly died with the ‘90s. (I’m looking at you, Jeph Loeb.)