Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 4: Web of Life
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.
"Web of Life"
"Web of Life" kicks off with Scarlet Spider battling Tombstone. Now that Ben Reilly's defeated Venom, he has more confidence and conviction to take on other super villains. As Scarlet Spider defeats Tombstone, the mysterious Kaine watches him from afar.
Web of Spider-Man #120,121, Spider-Man #54, 55
Writers: Terry Kavanagh, Howard Mackie, Todd DeZago
Artists: Steve Butler, Mike Manley, Tom Lyle, Phil Gosie
It is very intriguing reading Kaine's beginnings, knowing what happens to him in hindsight. He evolves from this unrepentant murderer to an anti-hero in more modern comics. In fact, Kaine has even headlined his own solo title for a while. He is one of the few hold-overs of the Clone Saga that has really gone on to have a robust comic book career.
At the Kravinoff estate-which is described as a "sprawling manse", the Grim Hunter does the most Kraven thing possible: meditate naked. The Grim Hunter vows vengeance on Spider-Man for the death of his father Kraven.
All of this is fine and dandy, but what is so amusing is how many times the Grim Hunter swears revenge. It happens at least three different occasions in "Web of Life", and twice when he is naked. It is hard to tell if it an editorial oversight or unimaginative writing, but one problem with the Clone Saga is the constant repetition of certain ideas or scenes. The repetitive nature sucks a lot of the urgency out the stories at times and makes the plot meandering.
Another example of repeated scenes is Kaine constantly watching people from the shadows. It is intriguing the first time or so, but when he is constantly spying on others, one wonders what the heck is he waiting for?
Getting back to the Scarlet Spider, he stops a gang of generic terrorists from... doing something. What is more important is that Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis is shown being extremely rude and territorial when "getting the story". He butts heads with fellow Bugle reporter Betty Brant, who seems to have a vested interest in the Scarlet Spider.
In fact, this story suddenly pushes for some romantic tension between Betty and Ben. It's kinda weird that Betty will flirt so openly with a costumed vigilante, just because he vaguely reminds her of Spider-Man.
The whole incident is embarrassing, since Betty quickly rebuffs Ben's advances. More embarrassingly, the Grim Hunter tracked Ben's scent at Betty's apartment, clearly mistaking the Scarlet Spider's scent with Spider-Man's.
Meanwhile, Kaine has a violent vision of the future. He pre-cognitively flashed an image of Mary Jane being murdered by an unknown assailant. With that vision, Kaine's motivations become clarified: to hunt down any villain who is a potential threat to Mary Jane.
So Scarlet Spider goes to the Daily Bugle to reminisce about Peter's memories of the place. There, he is interrupted by J. Jonah Jameson. Jonah has a surprisingly reasonable conversation with Scarlet, where he calmly states how he doesn't trust him and will watch out if he slips up.
It's interesting how even with Jonah's veiled threats, Ben actually feels happy that he can have a normal interaction and human conversations. This is probably why this story line is titled "Web of Life", because Ben is celebrating gaining a life again after being a nomad for five years.
Back at the Kravinoff estate- which now is described as a "penthouse apartment", the Grim Hunter preps for the hunt and talks to his father's portrait again. The family man-servant Gregor pontificates on how Vladimir is the only son of Kraven.
That line is highly amusing in retrospect, since we find out later on that Kraven has lots of offspring. In fact, in the recent Hunted story line, we discover that Kraven created literally an army of sons. Of all the super-villains, Kraven may be the one who pro-creates the most.
So while Ben is sleeping and dreaming of being born in a lab, we meet a new cast member: Seward Trainer. Trainer is an old geneticist from Ben's past. He dies at the end of the Clone Saga, but his legacy in the comics lives on in an unexpected way. More on that when we get there.
This is unintentional, but this picture looks like Deathstroke without his mask. Dang it, even Trainer's shadowed eye resembles Deathstroke's eye patch.
Other subplots that get brief updates: Mary Jane visited the doctor's office to see why she's been sick lately. Detective Jacob Raven transferred to New York Police Department to hunt a killer who leaves his victims' faces with an unique jagged scar. We can recognize that's Kaine's handiwork. Grim Hunter meditates naked again. And finally, Scarlet Spider meets Kaine for the first time in a long while. Oh yeah and Kaine and Ben seem to share the same dreams of being in a lab. Hmmm...
Kaine dispatches Scarlet pretty quickly and moves on to battle Grim Hunter. This escalates into a three-way battle with Scarlet, Kaine, and Grim Hunter. However, Scarlet Spider gets separated from the rest. Kaine seizes the opportunity by snapping Grim Hunter's neck.
Side-bar about the art here. The more the Clone Saga progressed, the more the art becomes inconsistent. This is the case here. Regular Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man artists Steve Butler and Tom Lyle only do one issue each. The next few instalments are drawn by fill-in artists. Phil Gosie's art is particularly rough. His anatomy is pretty inconsistent and he overuses crosshatching. His non-superhero characters are really bad. Look at this panel. The taxi driver's mouth is so big, it looks like he's going to swallow the whole dashboard.
Mike Manley's art is serviceable. Unfortunately, after an issue with Lyle's tight, detailed-lines, Manley's visuals feel like a step-down. However, there is a hilarious pose of Kaine running away from the Grim Hunter's body. The pose makes Kaine look like a Bigfoot meme.
By the Numbers
Lets tally up to see what the Clone Saga has done so far:
- First interaction of Ben Reilly and J. Jonah Jameson
- First modern interaction of Kaine and Scarlet Spider
- Kaine has a vision of Mary Jane being murdered
- Ben and Kaine have shared dreams of being in a test tube.
- Kaine kills the Grim Hunter (however, it won't be his final appearance! He gets briefly revived 15 years later in the Grim Hunt story arc. Comics, everyone!)
Shadow Mystery Men:
- Judas Traveller
- Detective Jacob Raven
- Mr. Thorpe
- The Grim Hunter hunts Spider-Man- RESOLVED!
- Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
- Kaine and Ben share similar test tube dreams
- Mary Jane's illness
- Aunt May's coma
- Peter is "The Spider"
- 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
Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:
- Number of gangs that Kaine beats up: 3
- Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows: 6
- Number of times the Grim Hunter swears vengeance on Spider-Man: 4
- Number of times the Grim Hunter swears vengeance on Spider-Man while naked: 2
- Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for Ben Reilly: 4
VerdictThe main plot is fine. The story line has a good focus on Ben Reilly trying to reclaim some semblance of a life. However, some of the plots are very sudden or meander too long. This would have benefited with some tighter pacing and not repeated scenes of Kaine or Grim Hunter doing the same thing. Ben and Kaine are genuinely interesting characters with good arcs. It just gets muddled with all these other extraneous scenes or story beats.
Lets put the Spidey Meter at middling.
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