Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 6: Smoke and Mirrors

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.

"Smoke and Mirrors"
Web of Spider-Man #122, Amazing Spider-Man #399,  Spider-Man #56
Writers: Terry Kavanagh, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Mackie
, Todd DeZago
Artists: Steve Butler, Mark Bagely, Tom Lyle

Review by Eric Lee

This story arc finally re-introduces the mastermind of the original Clone Saga: The Jackal. It turns out that the Jackal - who was responsible for the creation of Ben Reilly - is also the one who saved him when he "died" in the original story line.

Back in Amazing Spider-Man #149, the Jackal was killed in an explosion and the clone was crushed to death by debris. Later, Peter disposed of the clone's body by tossing it down a smokestack. It turns out that the Jackal somehow survived and retrieved the clone's seemingly dead body.


So coming back to the present day (i.e. 1995), both Ben and Peter are still haunted by these visions of the Jackal taunting them. Amusingly, Ben flashes a vision of the Jackal wearing a rocket pack. The rocket pack was never referenced again in this storyline.

Apparently, the Jackal has been installing these mental implants in their heads to lead both of them to his secret hideout in the mountains. Scarlet Spider gets there first where he encounters Jack, a Mini-Me clone of the Jackal.
Jack then leads Scarlet to Guardian, a Hulk-like beast with gross veins all over his body. If you haven't guess it yet, the veins resemble the same ones that are on Kaine's costume and the scar that he gives to his victims.
At the Daily Bugle, Peter tells the Editor-in-Chief Robbie Robertson about Mary Jane's pregnancy. Of course the real surprise here is that the Bugle offers a pretty decent health benefits package for freelancer pregnant leave. Who'd thought that J. Jonah Jameson actually shelled out for that high level of employee benefits?


Speaking of Jonah, he just got done meeting with Detective (Lieutenant?) Jacob Raven. Jonah looks visibly shaken. Peter convulses on the floor after another Jackal vision and Raven helps him up. Peter's spider-sense goes off with Raven. Weirdly, Peter also doesn't seem to recognize that Raven helped him from another dizzy spell in "Web of Death".
Back to Scarlet Spider, he gets knocked out by Guardian. However, the Guardian just leaves Scarlet in the snow where Kaine finds him. But before Kaine can do anything, he's confronted by the Scrier!
Add the Scrier as yet another mystery man of the Clone Saga! He'll have a bigger role later on. Anyways, Kaine leaves Scarlet alone for Spider-Man to find him.  This is the first time that Peter met Ben since "Power and Responsibility". The last Peter knows, he thought Ben blew up in a car explosion.This kinda speaks to how cold Peter is to Ben's existence. He  saw his clone "die" as far as he knows and he sorta shrugs and goes "Eh". 

Jack returns to taunt the Spider duo and leads them into the Jackal's lair. The Guardian briefly battles the two and then collapses and dies. It is revealed that he was an imperfect clone. Jack bemoans Guardian's death, because- surprise!- he is a clone with those gross veins too! And double-surprise, Jack is a clone of Peter Parker, not Miles Warren as initially assumed!

So Jackal emerges from a chamber looking like a cross between the Green Goblin and the Joker. He reveals that he has been incubating a new body for the past five years, even though he still retains his original consciousness. It's never explained how he is able to transfer his consciousness into a new body here, but interestingly, that plot thread does eventually get explained in the 2016 crossover "The Clone Conspiracy".
Regarding the Jackal's new look. It's... certainly very 90's. Leather trench coat with unnecessary zippers, buckles, and chains hanging off of it. It seems like the Jackal shopped at the same place as Marilyn Manson. Also, the Jackal's personality is definitely very different from the last time we saw Professor Miles Warren. Back in the original Clone Saga, he had a more restrained insanity to him. Now, he's straight-up making jokes constantly. I guess being stuck in an incubation chamber for five years changes your personality?
Getting back to the story, the Jackal makes a lot of cryptic riddles, insinuations, and flat-out lies to the Spider duo. He tells them that they're both clones. Or Peter's a clone and Ben's real. Or Ben's the clone and Peter is the real one. Or they're actually both clones. 
The whole thing is pretty stupid and pointless. I understand that the Jackal's trying to mess with their heads, but the plan feels trite when he keeps saying something and then back-pedalling and then saying something else. Like, why do Peter and Ben believe a thing that he says?
Speaking of pointless, a Gwen Stacy clone was incubated for a hot second to tempt Peter and Ben into a normal life. Except, she almost as quickly disintegrates into clone dust. It's a pretty horrific scene. Something about seeing a hot girl body with melted legs can really give people body horror nightmares.
At some point, the Jackal sorta gets tired of being smacked around by Ben and Peter and escapes. So what is the point of this scheme? What are his motivations? Did he want to tempt Peter into accepting his Gwen clone? Did he want to tempt Ben to the dark side? Did the Jackal need something from them? None of that is clarified. 

The mystery is not a good one if the readers don't have some semblance of what is going on or where it may lead to. So far, there is no overarching motives for the Jackal. 


And why does Kaine hang around watching all of this and not do anything? Surely, he would've elicited some emotional reactions seeing fellow clones getting killed off or seeing his creator return. None of this makes any sense.


Weirdly, the most interesting character development is Jack. He genuinely has an intriguing hook where he knows he is doomed a gruesome death. It's more relatable than anything that the Jackal did. 


By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • The Jackal returns
  • First and last appearance of Guardian
  • First appearance of Jack- the mini-me clone of dressed as the Jackal  
  • First appearance of the Scrier
  • Ben and Peter are questioning who is the true clone 
  • Hints that Kaine is a clone of Peter Parker

Shadow Mystery Men:

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

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane is pregnant
  • Aunt May's coma
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • Kaine, Ben, AND Peter share similar test tube dreams- RESOLVED
  • 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 and Scarlet Spider are unsure who is the real clone

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine
  • Jack
  • The Guardian (now dead)
  • Gwen Stacy clone number two (?)- I think there is the original Gwen Stacy clone from ASM #144 still alive and elsewhere

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows:13
  • Number of times the Scrier spies on Kaine's spying: 2
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: 4 (Ben, Kaine, Jack, and Guardian)  
  • Number of times Peter lies saying that he is fine when he's really not: 4
  • Number of times Peter lies specifically to Mary Jane about stuff: 4
Verdict
"Smoke and Mirrors" is a pretty aimless story arc. It offers some explanations, like how did Ben Reilly survive, but it quickly goes nowhere after that. The Jackal has no discernible motivations, so the mystery box aspect of the narrative feels too opaque for readers to track. And Peter ends up being a jerk to Ben again. It's so weird to see Peter being so callous and selfish when he interacts with Ben. Sorry, Clone Saga-nostalgists, this is story arc is one of the more definitively bad plots of the Clone Saga.

For previous Clone Saga Fan Retrospectives, click here

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