Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 5: Web of Death

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 Death"

Amazing Spider-Man  #397, 398 and Spectacular Spider-Man #220, 221

Writers:  J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, and Tom DeFalco

Artists: Mark Bagley and Sal Buscema 

The "Web of Death" arc was super famous at the time for being the story line that definitively killed Doctor Octopus and announced Mary Jane's pregnancy. Both developments have been undone since then. Dr. Octopus was revived and has gone on to have quite a storied super villain career since his revival. As for Peter and Mary Jane's child...? Um, we'll talk about that eventually.

Anyway, Spider-Man is dying from the virus the Vulture infected him with in "Back from the Edge". What's is weirder, he is having flashes of being in a test tube. 

He passes out on a building roof only to be found by Dr. Octopus.
A bit about J.M. DeMatteis' portrayal of Doc Ock. His version is much more reflective and world-weary than how Dr. Octopus has been portrayed in the past decade or so. He has such a visible admiration of Spider-Man and thinks surprisingly highly of him. Even more shocking, Dr. Octopus thinks very lowly of himself and understands that despite his high intellect, he is nothing more than an amoral thug.
It's extremely odd to see such a empathetic depiction of Dr. Octopus. When I think of his personality, I think of him being a braggart who constantly needs to show off his skills to mask his insecurities. This is from Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man and  Superior Spider-Man.

 

I understand DeMatteis' goal of making Dr. Octopus more mindful of his actions, since he is about to be killed off, but it's almost too sympathetic. Like, he tries so hard to revive Peter that it's seem unusual, since he tries to kill him in more gruesome ways. Tom DeFalco's characterization is a little more in-line with the braggadocios Ock, especially when he is flaunting how Spider-Man owes him his life.

So another new DeMatteis-created character is Stunner, who is Doc Ock's girlfriend. Spoiler alert: Stunner is actually an overweight woman who projects a hard-light construct of a blond bombshell. But at the time of her introduction, that backstory was a mystery. You can see DeMatteis peppering little hints that Stunner is not what she appears to be.

I personally like this character, because she has a very strong wish-fulfilment aspect to her. If you're overweight and bullied and get powers, of course the first thing you'd do is destroy things and pick fights. It's probably not the right thing to do, but it's an impulse a lot of people can understand.

And so Stunner gets into a fight with Spider-Man. But it's not a fair fight, since he is already at death's door. Once Spidey's defeated, Doc Ock immediately unmasks him to see he is
Peter Parker! 
Surprisingly, Doc Ock decides to use this secret identity knowledge not to ruin Spider-Man's life, but to save it. In an odd series of sequences, Doc Ock induces a temporary cure to abate the symptoms, Spidey goes a little crazy, passes out, and then Doc Ock apparently puts Spidey's clothes on and leaves him on a random rooftop.
Like I said, it's a strange series of events.

After being saved and feeling well again, Peter realizes that he has so much to live for and rejoices. Gone is the "I am the Spider" talk. He loves life and being Peter Parker once again, so he returns home to Mary Jane. 


It's actually the first time they've interacted since the Clone Saga started, so their reunion is a dramatic one.  Even more dramatic is Mary Jane's revelation as to why she's been ill: she's pregnant.

Unfortunately, the good news is sorta ruined with Peter's habitual lying. He can feel that he's getting sick again, but refuses to tell Mary Jane about it. When they celebrate at a restaurant, Peter gets dizzy and drops a glass.The couple is helped by the mysterious Detective Jacob Raven. What's Raven doing in a fancy restaurant when he should be hunting for his partner's killer? And why is Peter's spider-sense going off around him?
There are no questions answered here, because Peter immediately dashes off to confront Dr. Octopus, who has been spying on him from across the street. After a brief scuffle, the two work together to find a permanent cure for Peter's illness.

When Peter ingests it, he convulses and appears to die and go to heaven. He sees dead people all around him, including Uncle Ben, his parents, and Harry Osborn.

Fortunately, Doc Ock gives him some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and Pete's back. Once Doc Ock figures out that Spidey's fine, he immediately wants to challenge him again, but a SWAT team intervenes and arrests Ock, who goes peacefully. 

While in the police transport, Doc Ock brags that he'll escape with Stunner, except... Kaine has incapacitated her. With his escape interrupted, Ock battles Kaine


The melee goes poorly for Doc Ock once Kaine snaps his neck and leaves his mark on Ock's face. It's a shocking and brutal end to one of Spider-Man's most famous villains.

Remember when I talked about the importance of having the right inker for Sal Buscema? It looks like I was right. Moving forward, Buscema's art is inked by the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz. Now... this is not a knock on Sienkiewicz's artistry, but Spectacular's art looks wildly out-of-place in a Spider-Man comic. It's gritty and dark and sketchy. That's not the usual look for a Spider-Man adventure, so the visual tone is inappropriate. Sienkiewicz did ink some amazing images of Kaine in the shadows, however. It's terrific art, but I don't know if it's Spidey appropriate?
By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • Mary Jane announces that she is pregnant
  • Spider-Man is cured of the mysterious virus 
  • Now cured, Peter's love for life is revitalized and he embraces his humanity again
  • Mary Jane and Peter are reunited
  • Peter has unusual dreams of being in a test tube
  • First appearance of Stunner 
  • Kaine kills Doctor Octopus

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Kaine
  • Judas Traveller
  • Detective Jacob Raven 
  • Mr. Thorpe

Subplots Count:

  • Mary Jane's illness UPDATED - Mary Jane is pregnant
  • Aunt May's coma
  • Peter is "The Spider" - RESOLVED!
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • Kaine and Ben share similar test tube dreams UPDATED-  Kaine, Ben, AND Peter share similar test tube dreams
  • Kaine stalks Ben Reilly UPDATED - Kaine stalks Ben Reilly AND Peter Parker
  • 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 - RESOLVED!

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine

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: 9
  • 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
Verdict


The character work in this issue is great. It's one of the few times that Dr. Octopus is sympathetic. However, perhaps DeMatteis did too good of a job making Doc Ock a sympathetic villain to the point where it almost is disconcerting with other interpretations of the character.


However, the cliffhangers for each issue makes for an exciting read. Peter's normal personality is back thanks to being cured and discovering that he'll be a father. Also, Stunner is a great new villain with a cool hook.  Probably the worst part of the story line is how it sorta meanders with central plot. Peter gets cured, then not, then is, but may be dead, and in the end he's fine. It's too much unnecessary back and forth. Still, it's a solid story overall.

For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.
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