Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 7: Players and Pawns

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.

"Players and Pawns"
Spectacular Spider-Man #222, Web of Spider-Man #123
Writers: Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh
Artists: Steve Butler, Sal Buscema

Review by Eric Lee

In the aftermath of the  confusing "Smoke and Mirrors" episode, we see Kaine trying to access some unknown data from the Jackal's computers. Except, he accidentally activated yet another pod that releases yet another Peter Parker clone. Off-topic, but it's odd that this clone comes straight out of the pod fully-clothed. But I digress.
Kaine is interrupted by the Jackal and Jack taunting him. Jackal and Kaine fight it out a little only for them to be interrupted by even more-mysterious Scrier!  We still know nothing about him, except that the Jackal and him have a relationship.
Also, the Jackal dropped a hint of his plans. It has something to do with Ravencroft, the supervillain asylum that Judas Traveller invaded in "Power and Responsibility".

Meanwhile, Ben Reilly is being extra-creepy and checking out Flash Thompson coach kids basketball. The kids rightfully wonder who's that stranger in the corner checking them out. Coach Flash tells them to ignore him. That's not teaching them proper stranger danger, Flash.
At the NYPD, Lt. Raven is positive that he is narrowing his suspect list. Whoever it is, they've never been convicted for any crimes before. Hmmm... I'm sure that won't affect our heroes at all. Nope.

So while Peter Parker is bummed out that the Daily Bugle is offering no paid assignments, he is stopped by Kaine. Apparently, Kaine was able to snag a paper file from the Jackal's lair that definitively states Peter is the true one and Ben is the clone. Unaware that Kaine is his clone that posses all of his memories, Peter tries to pretend that he doesn't know Spider-Man's secret identity. Even more ridiculous, he re-appears to Kaine as Spider-Man pretending to be two different people. It's really silly in retrospect.
So the Jackal crashes Flash's basketball game, forcing Ben to confront him as the Scarlet Spider. Once again, the Jackal's motivations for any of this unclear. Maybe he is trying to draw Ben out of hiding? Maybe he is trying to torture Peter by killing his friends off? Who knows! The Jackal is one of the most broadly-written characters in this comic. Even his diminutive sidekick Jack has a more clearly-defined motive than him.

So Ben fights and defeats the Jackal. And Peter battles Kaine, although the warped clone escapes him. Surprisingly, the police actually cart the Jackal off. But first, Jack hands a disc that for sure-totally all true- proof that Ben is the real Peter. 

Out of spite, Jackal  triggers Jack's body to fall apart. So that's interesting that Jackal not only can trigger his clones to fall apart at any time. That begs the question, why doesn't Jackal just do that to Ben and Kaine?
Probably the most powerful sequence in the whole comic, Ben tosses the disc in the waters. Who cares what's on that disc? He's now his own person. He does not need validation whether he is the "real" Peter Parker or not. 
That's some tremendous character growth from Ben since the beginning of "The Exile Returns". He went from not even believing that he is a real person to feeling like he has real self-worth. Ben's character growth is easily one of the top highlights of the Clone Saga.

At the hospital, Aunt May miraculously wakes up from her coma. She's still clearly very weak, but she's still asks to see Peter.
Elsewhere, the enigmatic other Peter clone is wandering the streets like a vagrant, but when faced with a gang, he takes them down with spider-powers... Uh oh.
By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • Another Peter Parker clone is released
  • Spider-Man and Kaine battle for the first time
  • The Jackal is arrested
  • Jack- the Mini-Jackal clone- dies
  • Aunt May awakens from her coma

Shadow Mystery Men:

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

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane is pregnant
  • Aunt May's coma- UPDATED Aunt May is awake from the coma
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • 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
  • Who is the new Peter Parker clone?
  • Jackal's mystery plans

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine
  • Jack (Now dead)
  • New Peter Parker clone

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows:14
  • Number of times the Scrier spies on others: 3
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: 5 (Ben, Kaine, Jack, Guardian, New clone)  
  • 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
  • Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for Ben Reilly: 5
Verdict
This story arc is an improvement over the convoluted "Smoke and Mirrors" arc. This actually had a number of significant story developments. However, it is also redundant. Another clone. Another Jackal attack. More lies or mis-truths to confuse who is the clone. 

Given how aimless the previous story line was, the two should've been combined into one narrative. It would've cut down on the storytelling "fat" and made for a more succinct narrative.

Hey, see how Ben Reilly is shaping up to be the ultimate underdog character. A character who doesn't even have his own identity to call his own? Now that's someone who you want to cheer for. He's an even bigger underdog than even Peter Parker. It's easy to see why fans resonated so well with Ben.

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