1) Night of a Million Jillion Spider-Clones, "Maximum Clonage"
"Maximum Clonage" was the first of many half-baked attempts to end the Clone Saga, and is also the single worst Clone Saga story. When people talk about how terrible the Clone Saga was, this is probably the exact storyline they have in mind.
The story picks up after the revelation that Peter Parker is a clone, which is making him do shit that doesn’t even make sense for someone being irrational and emotional. He’s decided that since he’s the clone, he has to go live alone in a darkened pit or something, and packs up to abandon his pregnant wife. Meanwhile, the Jackal is off killing the small town of Genericville with his Bullshit Virus. Ben Reilly is having a very strange conversation with Mary Jane where he’s saying he doesn’t intend to attempt to be married to her now that he’s found out he’s the real Peter Parker, which… yeah, Ben, you’re an awesome guy for not raping your clone’s wife. Shine on, you crazy diamond.
A postcard shows up from the Jackal taunting Ben or… whoever about the Genericsville massacre, while Kaine breaks out of prison so he can gibber and scream more about his visions of Mary Jane’s death. (Visions that, I might add, never amount to anything significant in any storyline.) The latter half of the Alpha one-shot is given over to the villain “Spidercide” fighting the motherfucking New Warriors in an attempt to capture someone who survived the Jackal’s deadly bullshit virus.
You see, Spidercide is the evil costumed identity of the (sigh) third Peter Parker clone revealed way back in Power and Responsibility’s ending. He’s mostly just the Jackal’s lackey, but has the singularly stupid ability to “control his molecular composition” or some shit, and basically it means that he’s better than both Peter Parker and Ben Reilly in every way and does whatever he wants in a fight. I’m not exaggerating here, in the space of this motherfucking stupid fight he turns his body into water and alters his body mass and basically smacks around everyone who even tries to fight him. The only thing better than a villain who by all rights is going to be motherfucking invincible until the plot says otherwise is one whose powers don’t even have a passable origin by comic book standards. If the Jackal could give people powers like that, why didn’t he give them to himself?
While this is going on, Peter is sitting on top of the Empire State Building, angsting. The Jackal shows up, and is suddenly acting like Peter’s new bestest friend in the world. He talks about his plan to bring the world to “genetic perfection” through cloning in a way that certainly won’t kill anyone, and invites Spider-man to join him. Okay, so what do you think Spider-man would do in this situation? Refuse to trust the Jackal, based on the dozens of times he’s dicked him over before, and instead try to capture him? Expect the Jackal to pose a threat, and try to escape? Flip him off and tell him that he’s too busy moping to give a shit about the core narrative at this point? Ha ha, no, while any of those options would make sense, that’s not what Spider-man does. Why, he chooses to take the Jackal’s hand and offer to help him execute his assuredly not-evil-at-all plan, because doing so would give his life meaning.
How the fucking hell did all of the two dozen motherfucking people working on Spider-man at this point all, apparently unanimously, decide that this was a great thing to have Spider-man do in a story? How fucking stupid do you have to be, how blind to every defining point of the characters you’re writing about? And thanks to the comics-by-committee system Marvel used at the time, Spider-man’s decision to help out the Jackal comes off even worse and more loathsome than his decision to solve his problems by making a deal with the fucking Devil back in "One More Day." It’s baffling and horrible and amounts to whoever was editing Spider-man at this point just taking a great big shit all over the character.
Oh, but it gets better. After Jackal and Spider-man agree to team-up, the motherfucking Punisher shows up next issue. He has up and decided it’s time to kill the Jackal, because… well, why the hell not? Punisher is also shooting up the place with no regard to bystanders and generally being stupidly written. He tries to shoot Spider-man, triggering his Spider-Sense so he was in no real danger, but the Jackal jumps in front of him and nobly takes the bullets in the chest anyway. This is to cement his hold over Spider-man, which is highly unnecessary because he’s being an idiot in this story anyway. With the plot set sufficiently in motion, Spider-man is allowed to beat up the Punisher now. Then he drags the Jackal away to a regeneration pod in his hideout.
Scarlet Spider tracks down Spider-man to the Jackal’s hideout and there’s a big stupid fight. Spider-man decides he’s too angsty to fight and leaves Scarlet Spider to fight Spidercide instead. Yes, abandon a guy who’s saved your ass dozens of times to fight a guy whose name references his desire to murder him. You’re a saint, Spider-man. Kaine shows up, leaping literally out of the shadows to destroy the Jackal’s regeneration pod and yell at him a lot. Spider-man up and decides that maybe he’s being a dick by letting Spidercide beat Scarlet Spider half to death and intervenes. With the Jackal out of his pod, he starts haranguing the four gathered clones—seriously, they could start a superhero team at this point—until Spidercide just sorta wanders off.
Spidercide goes down to the end of the sort of long empty corridor that ordinarily only exists in video games so there can be a single treasure chest waiting for you at the end. Scrier is waiting at the end of this one, and he gives Spidercide a totally random power-up and sends him off to go kill the Jackal for him. Spidercide’s all for that, because… uh… well, why the hell not? Back where the Jackal is yelling at people, Kaine decides to skulk off and Spidercide returns to throw Ben into an apparently-empty room. When the lights go on, Ben sees a horde of hundreds and hundreds of Spider-man clones, all in cute little matching Spider-man costumes. You know, where did the Jackal find time or resources to mass-produce the costume? For that matter, where are all these Spider-man using the bathroom? I hate to think the answer might be “in the corners of the room."
Ben tries to get the hell out of dodge while the million billion Spider-men try to kill him. Meanwhile, Jackal sends Peter out to retrieve the Gwen Stacy clone that’s still wandering about, a dangling plot thread from both the original Clone Saga and the Evolutionary War crossover. Kaine shows up at Mary Jane’s place—sure, why not?—so he can get a pep talk from Mary Jane about how being a clone is no fucking excuse for running around killing people or dressing like that. Kaine admits he’s been a dick and decides to change. To live like the hu-man, to love like the hu-man…
Kaine shows up at the Jackal’s lair (the smokestack where the clone original woke up, which future stories will shit all over) to help Ben Reilly fight the million billion clones in a humane, non-lethal fashion. They fight until, seriously, the clones all spontaneously die of clone degeneration. They were let out of the oven before they got baked all the way through. Seriously, that’s the explanation.
Fuck this story.
Mary Jane uses all of Peter’s spider-tracers at once to generate a huge fucking signal, so he’s forced to stop by her place with Gwen Stacy clone on the way back to the Jackal’s lair. She begs Peter to stay with her and the baby, but Spider-man refuses because he “doesn’t deserve them”, certainly not because he’s a “contemptible coward with no spine or consideration for others.” He heads off to the Jackal’s lair anyway. Way to enjoy a total disregard for your wife, Peter!
Back at said lair, Spidercide is betraying Jackal by giving his files on the Carrion virus (a deadly McGuffin that, trust me, nobody ever cared about) to Scrier. Jackal tries to make Spidercide degenerate but Scrier’s removed his… degenerate… thingy. Spidercide instead starts trying to kill the Jackal, but Kaine interferes because of… goodness? He’s a daddy’s boy? The story doesn’t seem to know either. Spidercide appears to kill Kaine, who Jackal hauls into a regenerate pod so he can hop out and ruin some stories on down the line. Spider-man shows up later to find out, whoops, the Jackal is gonna kill everyone, so he heads off to the damn Bugle, too.
Meanwhile, all the degenerated clones sort of gooshed together to make a big kaiju thing that the Scarlet Spider is off trying to fight. Ben only beats it when the Jackal informs him he’s going to kill everyone at the Daily Bugle, so maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, huh. Jackal runs off to set a big Carrion virus bomb there that will apparently destroy all human life everywhere, so Scrier shows up and sics Spidercide on him. If everyone’s dead, who is Scrier going to mysteriously loom over? Scarlet Spider also joins in. Eventually Spidercide gets hurled off the building and falls to the street below, which kills him even though with his powers he should be immune to impact damage. Whatthefuckever.
Now the conflict is just the Jackal and Scarlet Spider, at least until Spider-man and Gwen show up. Now Spider-man is inexplicably ready to do the right thing and it’s a big three-way brawl. Jackal gets webbed up so now the Spiders just have to go through a tedious bomb-defusing sequence. That done, Gwen Stacy’s clone shows up with a gun, intending to shoot the Jackal. The Spiders try to talk her out of it. There’s a scuffle, she falls, someone catches her. The Jackal tries, fails, gets a lame falling death. Gwen Stacy is okay and ready to wander out of the core Spider-man books again. Scarlet Spider hurls the bomb into the air so it can explode, harmless and virus-free. Spider-man goes home with MJ, apparently his willingness to leave her to fend for herself while he mopes on rooftops forgiven. Now all Ben and Peter have to do is figure out which one of them will be Spider-man! Ha ha ha, cue sitcom laughter.
Jesus fuck, there is nothing right with this story. Nothing, on any level. The villains were ridiculous and ill-motivated, at least two of the characters involved were functionally invincible and lacked any sort of real motive, Spider-man is an asshole, Scarlet Spider just battles things randomly, and we’re supposed to sympathize here with motherfucking Kaine, who just wants the Jackal to love him? This story could only be redeemed if it could somehow kill off the Jackal and Spidercide twenty or so more times within its pages, and even then it would only be somewhat passable.