Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 3: Back From the Edge
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.
"Back From the Edge"
Amazing Spider-Man #395, 396 and Spectacular Spider-Man #218, 219
Writers: J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, and Tom DeFalco
Artists: Mark Bagley and Sal BuscemaWhile Ben Reilly is making a name for himself as the Scarlet Spider in Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man, Amazing and Spectacular focused on Peter being super mopey. Peter is still in the "I am the Spider" phase after his parents turned out to be a trick by the Chameleon and Harry Osborn, as well as Aunt May being a coma. While this specific story line brought some interesting angles, it ran way too long.
It started out in ASM #392 and lasted until Spectacular #221. If you include the three additional ancillary titles, Peter was in this angsty mode for over six month's worth of comics. The "I am the Spider" plot-like many other Clone Saga plots- was fine if it was a few issues, but get drawn-out forever.
Fun personal fact: ASM #392 is actually the first Spider-Man comic that I bought. Imagine my confusion as an eight-year-old who is used to seeing a wisecracking Spidey on the cartoons to open a comic and see a Batman-like Spider-Man.
In this issue, we get introduced to two relatively minor Spider-Man characters: Nocturne and Puma. Both have been recently transformed and are dealing out justice with extreme prejudice. Puma always had powers of a wildcat, but now he has mutated where he only has a bestial side. Also, he also has ears are curved to resemble Wolverine and the Beast's hair.
Nocturne is an even more obscure Spider-Man character, who's only appeared a handful of times. Essentially, she is like Raven from Teen Titans with her empathic powers and powers of flight. She is also an extremely JM DaMatteis character who has vague powers, speaks in prose-like dialogue, and has abilities that emphasizes psychological traits. In fact, now that I think about it, she's very similar to DaMatteis other pet character: Judas Traveller.
Anyway,the two try to help all over town by having Nocturne "sense"who is in the most pain and suffering. And right now, Peter Parker is carrying the most personal pain. She seeks out to help Spider-Man, but very stupidly brings along Puma.
Nocturne severely underestimated how much animosity Puma has against Spider-Man. Immediately, Puma tries to maul Spidey. Later, he loses control again and slashes Nocturne in the face when she tries to stop him.
Man, check out Mark Bagely's cliffhanger splash page. That has to be a quint-essential Spider-Man pose right there. So iconic.
So Spidey and Puma fight briefly before Puma feels overwhelmed by guilt in hurting Nocturne and runs away. Spider-Man tries to get Nocturne medical attention. Fortunately, she sorta uses her powers to half-heal her face and now it is back on the trail of Puma.
Amusingly, Spider-Man spies Daredevil passing through and notes how Daredevil is currently going through a lot of drama in his own comic. In Daredevil, the "Fall From Grace" story arc debuted DD's infamous black and red armored suit. It also features Matt Murdock faking his own death and then claiming that the mantle of Daredevil is taken by someone new.
The whole rebirth/ new identity parallel is not lost on Spidey. However, it unintentionally causes some hilarious story-writing mistakes later on. More on that in a moment.
Spidey and Nocturne tracked Puma down and she was able to transform Puma back to a human. The whole dynamic is out-right contradicting Peter's beliefs. He thought that his "human" identity was wiped out, just like Puma. But, it turns out Puma was able to regain his humanity. One would think that would shake Peter's beliefs a little, but it doesn't seem to effect him that much.
Now the second part of "Back From the Edge" is honestly a totally new story. I don't know why they didn't just name it something different. This one is a straight-up Daredevil/ Spider-Man team-up. The main conceit is that despite seeing Puma heal-up, Spider-Man actually doubles-down on killing off his human side. He tries to seek advice from the master of self-deception: Matt Murdock.
So what is funny about it is that in Spectacular #218, Spidey completely believes Daredevil's claims that it's a different guy in the suit. Here in ASM #396, he sees through Matt's lies. What's even funnier is how Daredevil keeps on acting like he doesn't know Peter and Peter doesn't even bother entertaining Daredevil's BS.
The plot with Vulture and Owl teaming-up to "wipe out everybody they knew in their past lives with a virus" is honestly dumb for a few reasons. First, is the Vulture seriously planning on killing everybody he ever knew with an incurable virus? I kinda get that Vulture has a new lease on life, since he has that rejuvenation technology that allows him to be younger, but what's Owl's logic?
The whole arc, Owl is barely interested in the Vulture. What is the point of Owl's inclusion other than to have a Daredevil villain?
I get that DaMatteis is trying to show parallels with Peter and Daredevil's journeys and the villains, but this premise feels thin.
Side-bar: I loved Vulture's look and new conceit here. He uses the rejuvenation tech to prey on and steal life force from others. It's a cool idea and one of the most disappointing developments that future writers did not want to continue.
Another side-bar: I hate to keep putting it off, but Mary Jane's subplot where she visits her family is great. It allows her character to breath a little bit without Peter around. It also shows how much of an interior life she has that is not related to Spider-Man stuff. It's great character work and a bummer that we don't see her family more often in the books.
Side-bar number three: I don't care what people say, Daredevil's armored costume looks cool.The black and red colors look awesome and definitely reflect a more somber character. And his armored plates aren't that overbearing. They cover only a few parts of his body. It's not over the top armor, like say, the armored Captain America suit. Now that's an ugly and impractical outfit.
So after Daredevil gives Spider-Man some bad advice, they find the Owl. But Spidey gets cut and now he is stricken with the incurable virus. By the way, as much as I like Sal Buscema's 90's art, the cover for Spectacular #219 looks so silly.
Both characters are so stone-faced and Daredevil is just hanging out in the background, while Peter is doing something unrelated. It reminds me of an anti-bullying ad.
So the whole villain plot was a bit of a ruse. Spidey and Daredevil stop the Vulture. Meanwhile, the Owl kills a real-life vulture and gives Spidey an antidote. Except that it's fake... whoops.
What is an infinitely more interesting story line is Mary Jane reconciling with her father Philip Watson. Instead of being a powerful, intimidating man that Mary Jane remembers, he is broken and regretful.
One key thing to notice is that despite showing remorse, he still has a temper problem. While it's great that MJ and him resolved some things, it is only a temporary solution. The real issue is his anger and he never addresses that. Unfortunately, since this is just one subplot in a superhero comic, this kind of thing never gets followed up again.
By the way, Buscema's art in Spectacular #219 is a little rougher. I think the reason is because Buscema normally does his own inks. But in #219, it is done by Scott Hanna. Typically, Hanna's inks are pretty smooth. What I think is the case here is that Buscema's sketchy art style does not really mesh as well with an inker who is used to being smooth.
By the way, I don't know why this story was titled "Back From the Edge". Spider-Man certainly did not come back from the edge. If anything, he dug his heels in even deeper on being "the Spider".
By the Numbers
Lets tally up to see what the Clone Saga has done so far:
- Mary Jane reconciles with her family and father
- Spider-Man gets infected with a mysterious virus and is dying
- And...that's about it... Wow, surprisingly not a lot of developments for a four-part story line.
Shadow Mystery Men:
- Judas Traveller
- Detective Jacob Raven
- Mr. Thorpe
- Mary Jane's illness
- Mary Jane's family visit- RESOLVED!
- Aunt May's coma
- Peter is "The Spider"
- Grim Hunter swears revenge on Spider-Man
- Kaine stalks Ben Reilly
- Daily Bugle report Ken Ellis' obsession with Scarlet Spider
- Detective Jacob Raven is hunting a mystery killer
- Mr. Thorpe wanting to kill Spider-Man for unknown reasons
- Spider-Man is dying from a virus
Clones Running Around:
- Ben Reilly
The story itself was hit and miss. Of the two Spider-Man plots, the Puma one was thematically stronger. Even though I always love seeing Daredevil and Spidey team-up, the Vulture's villain plot was pretty silly. The real meat of the comic Mary Jane's family drama. I think this is really where DaMatteis shined as a writer: doing intense personal human drama. That's the case here and that is the case when we get to ASM #400. You can see DaMatteis trying to apply the same drama template to Spider-Man's superhero plots, but it just doesn't work as well, because they're too outlandish to resonate.
The Spidey meter is in the decent-ish range.
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