Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 11: The Mark of Kaine

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.

"The Mark of Kaine" Web of Spider-Man #124, Amazing Spider-Man #401, Spider-Man #58, Spectacular Spider-Man #224, Spider-Man Unlimited #9
Writers: JM DeMatteis, Terry Kravanagh, Howard Mackie, Tom DeFalco, Tom Lyle

Artists: Steve Butler, Mark Bagely, Tom Lyle, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Ron Garney, Tod Smith

Review by Eric Lee

"The Mark of Kaine" is probably the breaking point of the Clone Saga. So far, the story has been relatively easy to follow and engaging for the most part. However, "Kaine" is where the storytelling becomes very excessive for a lack of a better term.

So while Peter is being  shown off to the press in chains, Ben and Mary Jane go to Seward Trainer to run more tests on her baby. It's nice to see Mary Jane accepting Ben into her family circle. This may be one of the few acts of kindness that Ben's received so far. That shows how much of a dick Peter is to Ben.
Also, Kaine is still watching Ben in the shadows, biding his time for his master plan to start. Unfortunately, his master plan is pretty stupid.

Off-topic, either artist Steve Butler loves drawing muscles or Peter has been hitting the prison's weights extra hard. Look at those biceps and traps! He could out-wrestle Thor with those arms!
So back to Kaine. Right. So he is trying to save Mary Jane from being killed by an unknown assailant. So his plan is to kidnap her into the sewers and let her stay down there forever. Like, it's literally a cave with one cot in the middle. Presumably, she has to raise a baby down there. That's it. The planning literally does not go beyond that.
Other subplots: Detective Jacob Raven is now teamed-up with Doc Ock's old girlfriend Stunner to find the real killer. She suspects that Raven's killer is Kaine, since both Doc Ock's body and Raven's partner's body had the mark of Kaine on it.
It's kinda an odd plot. If "The Lost Years" was any indication of Raven's personality, he seems like a straight-laced, by-the-rules cop. It's a little unusual that he's willingly working with a known super-criminal.

Anyways, back to Kaine's idiotic plan, he and Mary Jane run into the third Peter clone. 
Kaine thoroughly trounces the clone. So his solution is to enter the Parker house and put on his Spider-Man costume. Yeah! That's the stuff he needs to beat Kaine now! Except Kaine quickly dispatches the third Peter again and takes MJ back into the sewers to live out the rest of her life.

In prison, the real Peter was warned by Judas Traveller's associate Chakra that MJ is in danger. Traveller reveals that he'll help Peter escape prison and even cast an illusion to make it appear that Peter never left his cell.
So by the time Peter returns home, he is greeted at the door by the Scarlet Spider and Third Peter. 
Ben tells Peter that MJ has been kidnapped by Kaine. Peter goes after her, but not if Third Peter has anything to say about that! Weirdly, Peter is forced to wear a piecemeal of his civilian clothes and his black costume. I understand that Third Peter took his standard Spidey outfit, but doesn't the original have spares?
Fortunately, MJ had a secret special Spider-Tracer to alert Peter where she's at. We've never seen this kind of Spider-Tracer before, nor will we again. It smacks of a convenient plot device.

So the trio of Peters find MJ and Kaine's spot. Scarlet Spider dukes it out with Kaine and MJ encounters real Peter. However, the sight of Peter and MJ embracing is too much for Third Peter, who then breaks down and starts transforming into a monster.
Third Peter turns out to be a secret weapon to defeat Kaine. He has the most out-there powers: the ability to break-down and reform his DNA. He even has a new name: Freakface. Amusingly that's a name that writer Todd DeFalco called him, but it never stuck. He gets a new name in later issues.
So Kaine, Peter, and Scarlet Spider eventually defeat Freakface by blowing him up. Ben helps Peter and he instantly accuses Ben of framing him for murder. Like I said, Peter is such a dick to Ben. 
Actually, reading all these issues where Peter continually treats Ben poorly just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think the creators were trying to subtly foreshadow that  the "real" Peter maybe the clone and that Ben is the original. In retrospect, the purpose seems to tear down "this" Peter to build Ben up.

That's so unnecessary. Ben is is a legit fun, intriguing character in his own right. We don't need to see "our" Peter act so rude and straight-up cruel to make Ben look good. We like him already! I suspect that is at least one reason why fans revolted when Ben took over being Spider-Man.

So Ben proves that he's innocent by switching places willingly with Peter. So Peter can be free while Ben's in prison. This switch surprises Traveller who is running social experiments on Peter's behaviors for vague reasons.
Look, we're not getting any straight answers from this guy any time soon, so just bare with me whenever if I overuse the word "vague" to describe Traveller.

So with Freakface resolved and defeated, that's the end of the story, right? Wrong! There's a bonus story that is only tangentially-related to the main narrative.Turns out a bunch of villains  are scared that Kaine will kill them, so they team-up to kill him first.

It's a great plan, but there's a couple of weird problems. First, the plan is terrible. The point of supervillains teaming-up to have strengths in numbers. But instead Hobgoblin's idea is to split them up to track down Kaine individually. 

The other problem is that Hobgoblin recruited all the villains that  hate each other, so there's zero chance that they'll actually work together or be effective. Seriously, they start throwing punches by page three. And it all started because the Vulture complained that Mysterio is spewing too much smoke. They were a disaster from the start.
Since Ben is in Peter's place in prison, that allows Peter to swing as Spider-Man Scarlet Spider. Apparently, this happens literally right after Ben and Peter's switch, so Peter took Ben's Scarlet Spider outfit.

After he briefly encountered the Beetle, Peter drops his makeshift black costume. It's a weird bit, but apparently shady Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis sees it as potential lead to his story about Scarlet Spider.
Anyway, the main plot of with the villains is kinda a waste of time. It has a good premise:  villains want to kill someone other than Spider-Man. But it's totally wasted.  They act completely buffoonish and the battle ends  abruptly with no real reason. 

What's worse, there are no consequences. The Clone Saga- if nothing else- feels intriguing because the stories have repercussions. But nothing was accomplished with this comic. Kaine did not kill any villains, nor did they succeed in killing Kaine.

At least we got to see traditional Spider-Man villains holding guns. That's a pretty cool visual.
The most interesting plot in the comic barely has five pages. Ben (pretending to be Peter in prison) is visited by Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat. It's a great, awkward scene where Ben - who's never met Felicia - has to pretend he knows who she is. 
The scene also seems to  further sets-up Mary Jane asking Felicia for her help. Apparently Trainer told MJ something and now she needs help. 

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  First time Mary Jane, Ben, Kaine, and Peter meet Third Peter
  • Judas Traveller is helping Peter for mysterious reasons
  • Detective Raven and Stunner team-up to find Kaine
  • Third Peter turns out to be a clone named Freakface (later he is re-named)
  • Ben and Peter switch places in prison so Peter can be free
  • Freakface's remains are taken by the Scrier for mysterious reasons
  • Felicia Hardy returns; Mary Jane goes to her for help

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Mr. Nacht

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane is pregnant- UPDATED Mary Jane is concerned for her baby's health
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • Kaine stalks Ben Reilly AND Peter Parker
  • Daily Bugle report Ken Ellis' obsession with Scarlet Spider
  • Peter is arrested by Lt. Raven as the primary murder suspect- UPDATED Ben and Peter switch places in prison
  • Mr. Thorpe wanting to kill Spider-Man for unknown reasons
  • Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider are unsure who is the real clone
  • Who is the new Peter Parker clone?- UPDATED Third Peter is Freakface
  • Jackal wants the Carrion Virus to create a race of super-clones
  • Judas Traveller is helping Peter for unknown reasons
  • Other super-villains are teamed-up to kill Kaine
  • MJ asks Black Cat for help

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine
  • New Peter Parker clone- UPDATED to Freakface

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows: 20
  • Kaine has a vision of Mary Jane dying:  5
  • Number of times the Scrier spies on others: 8
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: 3
  • Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for a Peter clone: 7

This story line is seems to be the flash point where the Clone Saga started falling apart as a cohesive narrative. For those who didn't know, the Clone Saga was initially supposed to last six months in the Spider-Man books, but due to it's success, the editors asked the creators to drag the story line out longer.

It already started to drag, but this comic really felt the unnecessary decompression. Many subplots were added and few were resolved. Peter is still in jail, Kaine is still a mystery, the Jackal's plans are still brewing, Judas Traveller is still around. The only thing that was sorta answered was the Third Peter being a clone terminator. Even then, his story doesn't end, because he returns later on.

As you can start to see, the subplots  count is getting ridiculously high. The Clone Saga has not gone off the rails yet, but your can see it buckling under all the narrative weight.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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