By Alicia Ashby
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.)
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.
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.
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.