5) Every Clone Saga Has a Beginning, “Power and Responsibility”
And Spidey's Clone Saga, and all its evil and stupidity, begins right here in "Power and Responsibilty." The story starts with Spider-man trying to beat the snot out of Ben Reilly, who is back in town because he somehow knows Aunt May is ill and he wants to see her one last time before she dies. Spider-man is going through one of the angsty angry periods that were so popular post-McFarlane and is prone to calling himself “The Spider” in caption boxes. The battle goes to a standstill as the two Spider-Men realize they don’t actually have any reason to be enemies.
Across town, Traveller shows up and takes over Ravencroft, while ponderously pontificating about the nature of Evil as he looks into the various villain cameos. He issues a challenge to Spider-man: come fight him there or he’ll kill all the criminals. And if Spider-man wins they all get released… somehow… in some way Traveller is not going to bother to explain. Spider-man goes so he can wander around and look at all the villain cameos, and see how they, too, are all being written in painfully angsty and overwrought fashion.
Eventually Spider-man goes toe-to-toe with Traveller, who just begins molesting his brain and laughing at him because he’s the bestest Spider-man villain ever. Spider-man goes crazy in a sequence far more humiliating than almost anything else published in the Clone Saga, setting up the clone’s senses-shattering return to action so he can save the guy who beat him up. Yes, Traveller dares the clone to come back and save Spider-man, when it’s in some vague way in his best interests to let Spider-man die. Hey, Mary Jane wouldn’t notice he’d forgotten the last five years, would she?
The clone dresses up in this hilarious costume that is basically a Spidey mask, gloves, webshooters… and then street clothes. He looks like the Laundry Day Spider-man variant action figure, with real removable cloth jacket. Instead, the clone goes off to save Spider-man who’s just been going crazy for a bit, until he up and sees visions of dead people floating in his head and remembers the with great power yadda yadda et cetera. Suddenly he’s not crazy anymore! Well, crazy enough to go beat up the clone again when Traveller locks them in the same room. Spider-man gibbers about being “the Spider” again while all the inmates escape. Carnage jumps Spider-man and the clone so Spider-man can realize he’s been a total dick long enough to team up with the clone and hand Carnage his own ass on a platter.
The ending of this story is what puts it utterly over the top as an act of sheer stupidity. After beating up Carnage… everybody goes home! Seriously, Traveller and his posse just up and disappear, Spider-man decides he’s too tired for this shit and swings off, and the clone wanders off into the streets to feel sorry for himself. The entire story arc is a train wreck of entirely arbitrary, senseless actions happening for no other reason than to progress a plot that’s nothing more than a long series of stupid fights punctuating with Spider-man angsting and screaming. Nothing happens, no conflict is established or resolved, and the whole thing would be utterly ignorable if not for the fact that it was about to saddle the Spider-books with a lot of amazingly stupid characters that would take four or five years of shitty stories to write out.
4) The Manchurian Spider-man Tries to Kill Mary Jane, “Time Bomb"
At this point in the list we’ve gone through most of the welterweight stories and are getting into the shit that’s really, really bad. No, seriously. It’s really just all downhill from here. Okay, so at this point in the Clone Saga the Jackal died recently—not the original, the shitty clone Jackal who ran around in the Clone Saga and shall be discussed more later—and the official line is that Peter Parker is actually one of the Jackal’s clones, while the dude running around as the Scarlet Spider, a.k.a. Ben Reilly, is in the fact the man who was born as the son of Richard and Mary Parker, and had the original Lee/Ditko adventures. But for this synopsis, assume “Peter Parker” means “fake dude” and “Ben Reilly” means “is actually Peter Parker." Yes, it’s about the dumbest fucking way Marvel could’ve handled the inevitable name problems a clone-oriented story would cause.
Anyway, it turns out the Jackal installed a totally inexplicable compulsion in Peter’s now-hateful clone brain. Should the Jackal somehow die, the genetic psychic memory implant hate bomb will direct Peter to kill whoever he loves most. Just… why? Implanting genetic psychic clone memory hate bombs can’t be easy. It might be fun to watch one of the clones kill a loved one, but why fucking order it after you’re already dead and don’t even get that out of it? Did the Jackal just have a spare day with nothing on TV and nothing better to do than set up a chain of dominoes that might, eventually, result in a random person he’s probably never heard of maybe possibly being killed?
What this amounts to is a classic “conscious mind control” situation, where physically Peter is compelled to hunt down Mary Jane even though he’s still capable of thinking about how he doesn’t want to kill her, and even to say whatever he wants to anybody else. Again, why the fuck did Jackal do this if he wouldn’t be around to enjoy the fireworks? If he just wanted dead clones, he could’ve programmed all his Peter Parkers to up and have heart attacks once he died. It wouldn’t be any dumber than any other genetic psychic memory bullshit bomb triggered by someone else’s death, which incidentally, how does the implant even know about it? Is Jackal so devoted to fucking with his clones that he wears a heart monitor whose sole purpose is to detonate genetic psychic memory bullshit bombs in his clones once something happens that kills him?
Moving on, Peter tries to kill Mary Jane while screaming at her to call the Fantastic Four or the Avengers for help. Mary Jane instead decides to call Ben Reilly, currently the Scarlet Spider and (sigh) a member of the motherfucking New Warriors. Her rationale is supposedly that the Avengers or FF are too likely to end up killing or hurting Peter in the process of catching him. No, MJ, that’s the fucking Punisher. Last time I checked, the FF and Avengers weren’t exactly known for being wanton mass-murderers. No, the real reason why Mary Jane is calling the New Warriors is that they happened to share editorial staff with the Spider-man books at the time.
The New Warriors and Scarlet Spider run around New York, chasing Spider-man who’s chasing MJ, and waste plenty of poorly-drawn pages fighting it out with him. All they accomplish is buying enough time for Mary Jane to hop into a cab and speed off to an unknown destination that, hey, Spider-man can still get to ahead of the New Warriors, even though at this point the New Warriors had a team member whose only ability was flying really fast.
Mary Jane goes to dearly departed (at this point) Aunt May’s house, which has rather creepily been left sitting exactly as it was before she died. Nothing packed up, no signs that Peter intends to sell it. Not even signs MJ and Peter want to move in, which would at least be economical. Anyway, Spider-man catches up to Mary Jane sitting in the dark in a room surrounded by photos of Peter as a gawky Steve Ditko teenager, and she proceeds to give a heartfelt speech about how she’s tired of running and if she dies, she wants it to be in this house, surrounded by these memories. Way to waste the New Warriors’ fucking time, MJ, they could’ve been out having adventures with Niels the Bouncing Cat.
At this moment, Spider-man’s ability to think suddenly overwhelms the Jackal’s genetic psychic memory bullshit bomb, which apparently… I don’t know, stops working or something. He stops feeling the urge to kill and just collapses weeping into MJ’s lap, while Scarlet Spider and the New Warriors look on from outside, pondering their total fucking inability to do anything in this plot but waste pages. Seriously, the ending is cute (if cheap) and all, but why bother getting a superhero team involved in the story if Mary Jane is ultimately going to do something that gets a total, unqualified win by herself? And why bother telling this fucking story? In interviews editor Glenn Greenberg has indicated that it was supposed to get Peter to stop being Spider-man, but actually it just gives Peter a good reason to go crawl in a hole and renounce all contact with other humans. As a story that achieved… well, anything on any level, it was a complete fucking failure.
3) Everyone’s a Goddamn Spider-clone Including the Midget, “Smoke and Mirrors”
Here’s my sad attempt to offer a synopsis of this confusing piece of shit. The first issue starts off with, among some other irrelevant things I don’t care to talk about, Spider-man and the Scarlet Spider having weird memory-implant visions, apparently memories of the Jackal and being or not being clones or whatever. These visions make the Scarlet Spider head up into the Catskills, where he finds (sigh) a midget sized Jackal who prances about like a Renfest jester and says there’s a door all the secrets are behind, but he must defeat the Guardian to get to it! The Guardian is a huge raging dude that Scarlet Spider can just barely beat up by himself and so he ends up passed out in the mountains.
Spider-man is having weird memories of awakening in a clone tank, and then of the Scarlet Spider all beaten up somewhere in the Catskills. Somehow Spider-man knows exactly where to go to find the Scarlet Spider, which is impressive given that the Catskills are really a very large place and I doubt that Spider-man had a GPS. When they get there, the two Spider-Men have amusing dialogue for about a page before more relentless godawful bullshit sets in. Mini-Jackal shows up and leads them to the highly significant Door in the Woods that hides the Secrets. What, did M. Night Shyamalan write this shit? Anyway, the Guardian shows up again, keels over blaming Mini-Jack, and Mini-Jack “explains” the situation by removing his mask.
Now Mini-Jack is… dear Christ, Mini-Jack is yet another fucking Peter Parker clone. So was the Guardian. The Guardian turned out too big, while Mini-Jack turned out as a capering midget who has apparently been forced for years by the Jackal to dress up like his tiny duplicate. Mini-Jack takes them to the regeneration chamber where the ‘90s Jackal is about to step out and ruin many a comic book. He starts off by alleging that the Jackal who died back in the ‘70s was a clone, and then proceeds to waste everyone’s time with lots of nauseatingly unfunny quips and asides. There just aren’t words for how obnoxious his fucking dialogue is.
So the Jackal minces and sashays and drops bon mots all over the fucking place, claiming both Peter and Ben will start to degenerate soon because they’re both clones . Then he shows off a Gwen Stacy clone he’s apparently had gestating for goddamn years just to fuck with Peter for a few hours. Then he tries to get Ben to believe he’s the real deal and urges him to kill Spider-man (although not long ago he was telling Ben he was also a motherfucking clone and Ben would have to be more of a mental midget than Mini-Jack to take anything he says at face value). The Jackal and Mini-Jack stop taunting and just up and start punching Spider-man and the Scarlet Spider. What the hell, it’s a ‘90s book, somebody needs to start hitting somebody soon.
Gwen hugs Spider-man for… some fucking reason, I don’t know, then immediately degenerates into a pile of goo. Funny how that clone degeneration never sets in fast-like for fuckers like Kaine or Mini-Jack, huh? Apparently content with this time-wasting experiment, Jackal up and declares that he’s going to blow up the building, because all shitty action stories need to end with somewhere exploding, and heads for an exit. He gabbers about the real Peter Parker being in a pad in the building, but Spider-man and Scarlet Spider finally realize they should ignore this shithead and just leave anyway. Of course, the building’s explosion doesn’t destroy one dramatically convenient pod, and… fuck, we’ll get into that later. I’ve written about all about this story I can stand.
2) Assistant District Attorney Steve Carnage, “The Trial of Peter Parker”
With "The Trial of Peter Parker" we’re getting into the nasty core of the Clone Saga, a four-episode storyline that somehow manages to be a symphony orchestra of fucking awful writing and terrible plot. Okay, the story here is that someone with Peter Parker’s fingerprints killed a bunch of people in Utah, where Ben Reilly and Kaine were hanging out at the time. The murders happened to occur during the period when Kraven the Hunter had Spider-man buried alive, though, so Peter Parker’s actual whereabouts can’t be accounted for.
Peter is out running around as Spider-man trying to clear his name while Ben Reilly actually goes through the song and dance of prison and trial. Kaine, an enigmatic bad guy who sees the future and has terrible fashion sense, really wants to see Ben Reilly get convicted and killed, but Spider-man thinks Kaine’s testimony could clear Peter Parker’s name and save Ben’s life. Most of the first issue is basically just Spider-man and Kaine running around and yelling and fighting each other, in that pornographically detailed and stupid way that defines the Big Dumb ‘90s Fight Comic.
This plot entirely stops in the second issue, when Judas Traveller shows up to waste an issue springing the old “kangaroo court” plot on Spider-man. Come on, you’ve seen this one, probably in Saturday morning cartoons: some situation causes all the bad guys to get power over the good guy, who then put him on “trial” for making their lives crappy. In this case, Judas Traveller drags Spider-man to Ravencroft, assigns Kaine as his defense attorney and Carnage as the prosecutor, and looks for a stupidly-timed answer to the question “Does Spider-man’s presence actually create his villains?” Shockingly, if you ask his villains this question, they pretty much say “yes.” Everything rapidly degenerates into a massive fight between Spider-man and Kaine and Carnage and a bunch of other villains, and it doesn’t stop until Traveller reveals it was all an illusion, the inmates are really in their cells, and everyone involved is free to go about their business. Fuck you, Traveller, and fuck whoever decided to waste an issue on this shit in the middle of a totally different storyline.
The next issue brings us back to Spider-man and Kaine having big dumb brawls all over the city. They fight their way into the courthouse where Ben is being tried and cause the court to go into recess, and then proceed to tear a path of destruction through the courthouse. Eventually Kaine finally gets tired of punching Spider-man and reveals his true identity by taking his mask off: he’s actually a flawed Peter Parker clone, face malformed by clone degeneration. This degeneration has somehow enhanced all of his powers instead of, you know, killing him or making him weaker. I mean, when I think “degenerative condition” I don’t think “wow that shit is gonna pump you up," but that’s just me.
Anyway, Kaine has allegedly tried to spend his entire life protecting Peter Parker, so he killed a bunch of people in Utah so his identical-to-Peter’s fingerprints would be all over everyone and run the risk of exactly this sort of shit happening. Brilliant! Anyway, Peter isn’t too impressed and heads back to the courtroom to pull his mask off and confess to being… what exactly, I don’t know. Anyway, this spurts Kaine into going into the courtroom an confessing himself to, uh, killing a bunch of people because Peter Parker took a picture of him committing murder, so see, he hated him so much he had his fingerprints and DNA altered to match his and then killed a bunch more people. Of course! What’s sad is that events in the Marvel Universe had gotten so stupid in general at this point that there was really no way for a reasonable judge to deny the story. Kaine was taken into custody (so he could break out later) and all was well for now, except for how it wasn’t.
Dr. Seward Trainer, an extremely plot-convenient super-geneticist guy that Ben Reilly knew for what increasingly seemed to be no reason, wanted Peter, Mary Jane, and Ben to all come see him about the status of Mary Jane’s baby. When everyone’s together, Trainer declares that the baby is healthy, but one of its parents appears to be some sort of… clone. Peter flips out, but Mary Jane asks him and Ben to redo the tests themselves and double-check. One science montage later, the results are in: Ben Reilly is in fact the original Peter Parker, and our current Peter was the clone ever since Amazing Spider-man #150. Now, this is heavy stuff, but Peter reacts to the news roughly in the manner of a 5-year-old. He starts beating the shit out of Ben, as if he could somehow beat the dude’s DNA out of him, and screaming about how Reilly and Trainer aren’t trustworthy. Well… no but that didn’t stop you before.
Amazingly, the revelation that Peter was the clone ended up not being the part of the issue that got the strongest reaction from fans, already a sign of trouble. During the big stupid fight, Mary Jane tries to calm Peter down by putting a hand on his shoulder. Peter is so interested in savagely beating a dude whose life he just saved that he doesn’t bother to find out who is behind him before he whips an arm back. As a result, he sends his very pregnant wife Mary Jane flying across the room. Peter is immediately ashamed and sorry and mercifully stops acting like a psychopath, but the damage was done and fans completely lost their shit over Peter hitting MJ. Interestingly, it was actually a nastier blow than Hank Pym landed on Janet back in the day, but he’s still the guy stuck with the wife-beating rap.
After the clone soap opera mercifully winds to a close, the comic has one more fucking stupid bomb to throw at us. At this point in the Clone Saga the reborn Jackal is still alive and hatching his fucking incoherent plan to somehow turn every person in the world into a Peter Parker clone, so… uh… profit? Anyway, he has a spare Peter Parker around with enhanced powers, who he gives a little speech to and also gives little costume to and then sends out to go steal some science shit. The spare clone is about to assume the identity of who I’d argue is really the second all-time worst Spider-man villain ever, Spidercide, but we’ll talk about him… well… next.