9) Perhaps There’s a Better Superhero Name Than Green Goblin, Spectacular Spider-man #225
Only when you’re hip-deep in the Clone Saga can a single issue of a comic book manage to be this shitty. Spectacular #225 was a tale of the Ben Reilly Spider-man, who had a great costume and was pretty much doomed not to last more than a year despite a few half-hearted attempts to pass him off as The Real Spider-man, Really. His bizarre team-up with Green Goblin in this issue was one of those attempts. And yes, I said “team-up” there.
For a brief period during the Clone Saga, before Bob Harras waded in and decided Norman Osborn needed to come back to be Peter’s Big Bad, the Green Goblin trademark was just kind of sitting around unused. After stories of the Hobgoblin and (ugh) Demogoblin, and with all of the Osborn clan dead or about six years old, it seemed unlikely there’d be a serious attempt at a new Goblin villain. So… hey, why not work a heroic Green Goblin into the Spider-man universe? (“Because that’s fucking stupid,” isn’t an acceptable answer, either.)
So this comic introduced Spider-man and the reading world to the fourth Green Goblin, dumbass slacker Phil Urich. The story here is that young Phil happened to find one of Norman Osborn’s old weapons caches one day (in defiance of previous stories that established that the Hobgoblin already found them all, but whatever). So, hey, you’re a twenty-something dude in New York who’s just found a cache of exotic super-villain weapons. Do you leave it alone, fearing what the owner would do to you if he found you? Turn it over to the police or the Avengers or Fantastic Four? Fence it for a quick profit?
If you’re Phil Urich, you decide that dressing up in an old supervillain’s jammies and using his stuff to fight crime would be an awesome idea that is not stupid in any way. You also call yourself by the old villain’s name, because hey, that won’t cause you any trouble down the line. No super-accomplices showing up with old scores to settle with you, or old superhero nemeses showing up to try and punch your block off because, you know, you’ve dressed up like a fucking supervillain.
The fact that Urich tried to call himself Green Goblin as a hero is the part of all this stupidity that really kills me. He could’ve used, like, the Flying Prankster or Happy Halloween Man, or anything that hadn’t been used by a guy who killed people. Instead, he opts to do the equivalent of dressing up in a magical Adolf Hitler costume and striding out to become a superhero. This is not a fucking good idea. People aren’t going to take it well. That didn’t stop motherfucking Phil Urich.
Being a shitty character didn’t stop him getting his own short-lived solo book, either, which ends with him losing his Goblin Gear and deciding to go back to being a regular dude… or from being a major goddamn supporting character in Tom DeFalco’s long-running low-selling fanfic, The Amazing Spider-Girl…. or from appearing as a founding member of The Loners, a support group for recovering teenage superheroes. Maybe the heroic Green Goblin was just too ludicrous an idea to fade away quietly. A superhero dressed up as Hitler would be pretty hard to forget, too.
8) Lady Octopus Plans to Download the Internet into Reality!, "Cyberwar"
Clone Saga had the misfortune to be published in the wake of the “Age of Apocalypse” event over in the X-Men books, where all the X-Men books were “canceled” for four months and replaced them all with wacky post-apocalyptic books from the parallel universe the story dealt with. Someone at Marvel decided to force this publishing format on the Clone Saga, even though nothing about the current storylines in the Spider-books suited it. Still, marketing had their way and for a period of about four months, the Spider-man books were “canceled” and replaced with four Scarlet Spider titles.
Problem: Peter Parker had already relinquished the Spider-man identity to Ben Reilly in earlier issues, and there was no real reason for anyone to be running around calling himself the Scarlet Spider. That meant that in order to get their four neat little Scarlet Spider mini-series, the editorial office had to go into severe filler mode. That might’ve resulted in some harmless fun and at least managed some stuff that was inoffensive, but the "Cyberwar" storyline that ran through the four Scarlet Spider books is easily one of the most inane pieces of shit Marvel’s ever published. It deals with Seward Trainer’s brain being trapped in “cyberspace”, which is like the super-VR internet everyone wanted to envision in the ‘90s. The result makes Tron look exceptionally reasonable.
Lady Octopus is the villain of this miserable story and is trying to use the internet to achieve something of interest to a magic man who lives in her computer. She discovered an FBI agent has infiltrated her organization and deals with him by strapping him to machinery and force-downloading stuff about the Scarlet Spider into his brain. This, uh… this somehow creates a three-dimensional, solid, “virtual reality” Scarlet Spider who goes out into New York and rampages mindlessly. Uh, wouldn’t you want to be giving that sort of power to someone loyal to you, and say, not someone who could direct the fake Scarlet Spider to go to your hideout and punch you to death? I guess this sort of timidity is why I up and never became a super-villain.
Anyway, the real and fake Scarlet Spiders inevitable get into a big dumb '90s comic brawl. The evil Scarlet Spider gets the upper hand because he can pull limitless matter out of “virtual reality”, and despite the good Scarlet Spider winning, his… uh, his reputation is ruined? What? This part of the story doesn’t even bother trying to make sense. Anyway, this foreshaows Lady Octopus’s true, mind-bendingly stupid goal: to “merge” virtual reality and actual reality, creating… I don’t know, reality plus or something. Doing this is contingent on Smythe’s Cyber-Slayers eventually attacking her, since the chips she wants are in them. Anyway, Seward Trainer is very concerned and orders Ben to stop it, which he certainly tried his hand at doing.
Lady Octopus merges reality and virtual reality, which means the world stays mostly the same but is full of dinosaurs and skeletons and shit. She’s bringing Ultima Online to life! Her cyber-boyfriend also starts becoming flesh, but internet relationships are doomed to never work out. Scarlet Spider puts an end to it by uploading a thingy into the cyber doowhazzis, which is kind of why internet-oriented plots never fucking work out right in superhero comics. So the upshot of all this is really just everyone starting to hate Scarlet Spider because of the evil holographic one, which prompts Ben to change his identity to… Spider-man. Yeah, see, because nobody ever calls Spider-man a terrorist or a creep or a monster, and everyone loves him. Fuck this fucking story.
7) Marvel Tries to Convince You Kaine Is an Awesome Badass, “Web of Life”
“Web of Life” is a story that makes you think that this entire Clone Saga mess may have just been the result of overworked editors trying to come up with more ways to fill pages every month. During this phase of the Saga, Ben Reilly starred in one story as the Scarlet Spider while Peter Parker was in another as Spider-man. The major sin of “Web of Life”, much like its sister story “Web of Death,” is the utterly ham-fisted way it tries to force readers into thinking mystery villain Kaine is an absolutely rockass new character who deserves his own ongoing monthly title. Actually, he was a pretty damn boring villain and gets worse once you know his secret backstory, but we’ll get into that later. For now, he’s just a generic more-powerful-than-thou douchebag with vague motivations and a hilariously terrible costume, who exists to destroy all possible sense of joy and entertainment in a comic.
See, most of this storyline revolves around Grim Hunter, the '90s replacement Kraven, wanting to avenge his father by killing Spider-man. Of course, he can’t tell old-school Spider-man from Scarlet Spider and ends up tracking Ben Reilly instead of Peter Parker. After a few battles he knows that something’s off and that Reilly is definitely not the guy from his research material. Instead he decides to stalk Peter Parker, that asshole who always seem to hang around Spider-man. At the time of the story Peter’s dying of a weird toxin the Vulture infected him with, so Ben justifiably freaks out at the notion of a supervillain crashing Peter’s pad because he was too much of an amateur to stop him.
What marvelous conflict and drama comes out of this, you may wonder? A big cool battle between Scarlet Spider and Grim Hunter, with Peter Parker’s life hanging in the balance? Why, no, that would be too damn interesting for Clone Saga stories. Instead, the Scarlet Spider runs smack dab into Kaine, who has been skulking around Peter Parker’s apartment. Kaine offhandedly beats the shit out of the Scarlet Spider and nearly kills him, making him look like a chump, and then starts giving Grim Hunter the same treatment. Their battle is a bit more credible, rampaging all the way from Soho to Central Park. Scarlet Spider tries to intervene and is basically impotent. In roughly the span of a page or so, Kaine has dismantled the Kraven stand-in and kills him with his stupid “Mark of Kaine” face-disfigurement move I can’t even bother to want to explain.
Yeah! Doesn’t that make you want to go out and read a million Kaine comics right now? I mean what could be more interesting than scowling on a rooftop and then slapping around all of the interesting characters before offhandedly killing the bad guy? I’m sure at the time Marvel wrote the issues they were dreaming of a Kaine ongoing series and Kaine underoos and Kaine video games. Thank God fans actually reacted to Kaine’s shenanigans with all the apathy the fucker deserved.
6) The Disturbingly Boring Return of Norman Osborn, “Revelations”
“Revelations” was one of the two major storylines that concluded the Clone Saga, and it failed as a satisfying conclusion on just about every level. It also fails pretty hard as a Spider-man story, since shadowy all-knowing hyper-competent villains tend to feel really out of place in his books. Spider-man is more about fighting individuals than dealing with shadowy conspiracies, since really, his powers and his M.O. aren’t suited to it in any way. The all-knowing life-ruining type of villain is more of a trope suited to Daredevil, who’s more of a detective and can do more interesting things in that context.
At the Daily Grind where Ben still works, a new waitress gets hired and put on shift mere hours before MJ and Aunt Anna are going to have dinner there with Peter and Ben. MJ orders a cup of gumbo that is actually poisoned baby-murder gumbo that drives her into labor. Ben and Peter, meanwhile, never show up at the restaurant because mystery man Gaunt shows up with some evil robot kids (don’t ask) to basically have a big stupid fight with them for a bit. Gaunt reveals himself as Mendel Stromm, the “Robot Master," a thoroughly forgettable villain from the 60’s who appears to have been brought back purely in interests of wasting everyone’s fucking time and a lot of pages. Once Stromm is defeated, Peter rushes off to the hospital while Ben (as Spider-man) hangs around so Gaunt’s boss can show up and beat the shit out of him, and also kill Gaunt.
At the hospital, Mary Jane is sent to a doctor who isn’t her usual doctor, and shockingly, the baby is stillborn… except for how it isn’t, because you see the evil waitress who administers the baby-murder serum earlier sneaking out of the hospital, disguised in surgical scrubs, with some sort of package. In an infamous scene, she meets a mystery man on a pier who is paying her to go to Europe and make sure the package is never seen again. The mystery man introduces himself as Norman Osborn. Everything was just as planned!
If you think this shit was boring to read about here, imagine it stretched out over four tedious issues with no consistent writing or art, no surprises, no joy, and lots of time wasted. The tone of the books in Revelations is back to the exact kind of moody, angsty shit that the Clone Saga was started purely to get away from. It wasn’t fun and it absolutely didn’t read like a good Spider-man book. It was one of those unfortunate cases of trying to correct a wrong turn with a franchise by writing something differently terrible, instead of bothering to make any meaningful improvements.