Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 1: Power and Responsiblity

The Spider-Man Clone saga is one of the most reviled story lines ever. It featured the return of Spider-Man's clone Ben Reilly, but also dragged Spider-Man through one of the strangest, series of conspiracies and narratives that the franchise have ever seen.
But... is it really as bad as the internet would have you believe? Come with us as we review the Clone Saga story arc by story arc as we uncover how one of comics' most infamous series holds up today.

"Power and Responsibility"

Web of Spider-Man #117, Amazing Spider-Man  #394, Spider-Man #51, and Spectacular Spider-Man #217

Writers: Terry Kavanagh, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Mackie, and Tom DeFalco

Artists: Steve Butler, Mark Bagley, Tom Lyle, and Sal Buscema

Review by Eric Lee

The Clone Saga officially opens with a bang. Aunt May is in a coma, dying. Peter Parker has been traumatized where he has abandoned his human side to become the "full Spider". Most importantly, Spider-Man meets his long-thought-dead clone in a rooftop confrontation.
Spider-man meets his clone for the first time.
This is an interesting period for a lot of reasons. This is also the first time Marvel starts the weekly episodic connecting narrative across all four of their Spider-books. So in many story arcs, Web handles part one, Amazing is the part two, Spider-Man is part three, and Spectacular is part four. This follows a similar formula in the Superman comics at the time.

When done right, it can contribute to an epic event feeling to the books. However, it can also be very tiring for creators who only write a portion of a story, thus contributing to a lack of creative control. Also, it requires more editorial coordination, but over the course of the Clone Saga, it results in amusing story inconsistencies.


Anyways, getting back to Spider-Man versus Ben Reilly fight. To say the least, Peter is a real jerk throughout this story. To be fair, he is undergoing a lot of hardship, but, man, is he a jerk. Much of his dialogue sounds like a villain. The fight also ends with him getting knocked out and Reilly escaping.

Spidey acts like a real jerk when he first meets his clone.
Meanwhile, Ravencroft Mental Institution has an unusual guest: Judas Traveller. For fans who never heard of Judas Traveller.... well, he never really appeared since the Clone Saga ended. And for a good reason. He is the worst type of new villain character. He is has a mysterious past, a vague power set, and broad motivations.
Judas Traveller takes over Ravencroft for reasons.
Traveller and his Host take over Ravencroft for...reasons. Well, he claims he is studying the nature of evil- whatever the heck that means. One other reason why he is a terribly boring character, his power seems infinite. And he quickly defeats villains like they are nothing. Shriek? No problem. Chameleon? A joke. Carnage? Easy, just remove his symbiote. He is the ultimate example of a new villain showing what a threat they are by easily defeating more established villains. This is a common trope in the Clone Saga.
Traveller easily defeats Carnage.
So when Spider-Man confronts Traveller, he is quickly overpowered. However, since Traveller seems to be able to read Spider-Man's mind, he also dispatches one of his Host Chakra to summon Ben. Once, Ben arrives to rescue Spider-Man, things really go off the rails. Traveller teleports the two Spider-Men away and releases all the inmates, um, I mean patients from their confinements.

Getting back to the Spider-Twins, despite Reilly helping save Peter, Spider-Man immediately starts attacking him again. Like I said, Peter is a real jerk in this story.

Spidey continues to be a jerk to Ben even though he just saved his life.
Looking at Mary Jane, because Peter has pushed her away since Aunt May's hospitalization, she is taking the time to go back to her home city of Pittsburgh to reconnect with her family. This plot line may not be necessary, but it is nice to see Mary Jane doing something that is not related to Spider-Man. I wished current comic writers remembered that she has a sister and nephews or-my personal favorite-cousin Kristy.  

Actually, update: cousin Kristy made an appearance recently in the comics. Spider-Man saved her from a human trafficking ring run by the Daredevil villain Coyote.


But, when Mary Jane is on a plane, she quickly pushes past the passengers claiming that she is sick. Hmmmm...

Mary Jane is feeling ill on a plane.
Back at Ravencroft, Ben and Peter make a truce so they can fight their way out. They were progressing until they run into... WILD WHIP!
The first and only appearance of Wild Whip.
Despite Ben claiming familiarity with this villain, they never explain how he knows him. In fact, I hope nobody cared for Wild Whip's backstory, because this is literally his only appearance. Ever. It is curious why writers felt the need to make up a totally new throwaway character, since he never appears again.

But, it does not matter, because Carnage enters the scene. However, he can't stand the barrage of attack of two Spider-Men. It is amusing to note that while the fight scene lasted only three pages, the captions imply that it went on seemingly for hours. I guess, they couldn't stretch it out too long for the sake of time.

Carnage is no match for the two Spider-Men.
With Carnage defeated Reilly sees Traveller and the Hosts enter into a car only to realize it was an illusion. The car blows up and Traveller sort of gives up and leaves.  There is no pressing reason why Traveller leaves, he just disappears. And Spider-Man departs confused on who Traveller is and if Reilly is still alive.

Turns out Reilly survived, but decides to walk away from it all. No goodbye to Peter? Perhaps he felt slighted by him and decided to avoid further conflict.  But just like Traveller, Reilly sort of decides now is a good time to end.

Ben Reilly walks away without a scratch after surviving a car explosion.
Side-note: In my opinion, Mark Bagley is the strongest of the artists here. His line work is always tight and detailed. I am also partial to this era of Sal Buscema's art. But honestly, most of the artists have a pretty nice style for the 90's.
Mark Bagely's old art is still great.

By the Numbers

Lets tally up to see what the Clone Saga has done so far:

Notable Developments:

  • Peter meets Ben for the first time since his return
  • First mention of the clone's name "Ben Reilly"
  • First appearance of Judas Traveller and his Host
  • First time Peter and Ben fight against each other and then with each other
  • First and only appearance of Wild Whip. Poor, poor Wild Whip...

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller

Subplots Count:

  • Mary Jane's illness
  • Mary Jane's family visit
  •  Aunt May's coma

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly

Verdict

The opening arc was okay. It had a lot of dumb moments, but also a lot of good stuff too. Definitely not in the awful territory that the Clone Saga verges into later on.
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