Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 16: Maximum Clonage

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.

"Maximum Clonage" Spider-Man: The Jackal Files, New Warriors #61, Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage Alpha, Web of Spider-Man #127, Amazing Spider-Man #404, Spider-Man #61, Spectacular Spider-Man #22, Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage Omega

Writers: JM DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, Howard Mackie, Tom DeFalco, Evan Skolnick, Tom Lyle

Artists: Ron Lim, Patrick Zircher, Steve Butler, Mark Bagely, Tom Lyle, Sal Buscema, Robert Brown, Roy Burdine

Review by Eric Lee

The "Maximum Clonage" story line is really the point where the Clone Saga jumped the shark. Previous stories have ranged from stupid to pretty okay. If there is a terrible arc, then it tended to be inoffensive or mixed between better stories.

But "Maximum Clonage" was a huge crossover story line. It is the Clone Saga's first (only?) major event. It even has tie-in comics and superfluous guest stars!  So the fact that it flopped hard and in such a public way, makes it the real start of a downward spiral for the Clone Saga.

The story technically kicks off in The Jackal Files. However, this one-shot is just a collection of Spider-Man character bios. The only real development here is that Jackal officially re-christens Freakface into Spidercide. What does that name mean? He was gonna commit genocide against all spider-characters. To be totally fair, even the Jackal wasn't enamored with the name either.
Next, in the New Warriors tie-in issue, Spidercide breaks into a lab and steals a pathogen that the Jackal needs. The New Warriors briefly battle him, but he ends up getting away.

Speaking of New Warriors, the title was a part of the Spider-Man editorial umbrella of comics at the time. I don't really know why. Incidentally, Scarlet Spider joins the team in the next issue. But since it's a complete aside and does not really contribute to the whole Clone Saga story line, so I won't be covering most it.

So since Spidercide gets away, the Jackal is able to complete his new Carrion virus. He tests it on a small town, killing everybody. Well, there is actually one survivor. He never has a name, but he has some sort of special powers to allow him to survive.
And if you think that's important to the plot, then you're wrong! The survivor kinda is present during the story, but ultimately is forgotten by the conclusion.

Meanwhile, Peter is still reeling from the revelation that he is the real clone. In fact, every one is still shocked, including Ben and Mary Jane. But while, Ben and MJ focus on trying to be productive in the face of adversity, Peter sulks. 

The New Warriors think they have a lead on Spidercide but  run into Scarlet Spider instead. This turns into one of those classic heroes-versus-heroes misunderstandings. 
Eventually, the New Warriors and Scarlet team-up to find Spidercide with the survivor. Unfortunately, Spidercide was able to easily abscond with the survivor in hand. And after that, the New Warriors never figure into the story.

Peter as Spidey finds the Jackal on the top of the Empire State building. Spidey beats on  him, until Jackal makes a deal to help Peter. Since Peter is in a pretty emotionally vulnerable place, he accepts Jackal's help.
Which is bad timing, because the Punisher spies on Spidey and Jackal from afar.  Normally a Punisher cameo is pretty gratuitous in the 90's, but I kinda liked it here. I mean it's still gratuitous, but I thought it was clever to see the Punisher targeting the Jackal.

The Punisher's  first appearance had him hired by the Jackal to kill Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #129. It kinda makes sense to bring him back for the biggest Jackal story. 

So the Punisher ends up gunning for Spidey and the Jackal. According to the footnotes in the comic, the Punisher is going through a crazy period where he disregards innocents less and targets Nick Fury of all people. I assume that's why he is willing to shoot at civilians here.
When Spidey was about to get shot, the Jackal takes a bullet for him. Surprisingly, Spider-Man saves Jackal and puts him in a healing chamber.

What's weird is that Jackal implies that the Punisher was staged, so he can get shot and gain Peter's trust. That would've been a cool idea for the Jackal to trick the Punisher once again. Unfortunately, the plot point gets dropped immediately.

So Ben was tracking Spidercide to the Jackal's lair, only to find Peter already there. Once again, Peter starts beating up Ben and acting like a total douche towards him. 

Kaine also arrives at the Jackal's lair to kill him. But the Jackal tempts him by telling Kaine, he'll heal all his degenerated scars. It's surprising that Kaine believes the Jackal so readily. One may even say it's out-of-character. What's even sillier is how quickly the Jackal turned on Kaine for no  reason.  And despite Kaine wanting to kill the Jackal for this latest betrayal, he decides to just leave.
Also Spidercide betrays Jackal to the Scrier for vague reasons.  I guess this is supposed to be shocking, but the Spidercide has no established personality, so there is nothing to be surprised by.Speaking of things happening, the Jackal claims he can't kill Ben yet for an unsaid reason, but then orders him to be tossed into a room full of Spider-Man clones to kill him. So...which is it, Jackal?
I think this is the point where characters are doing things "just because". There are little to no rational behind their actions. Clearly the plot dictates the story telling and not the characters.

So yes, Scarlet Spider is attacked by an army of Spider-Men probably because it was a cool visual. Meanwhile, Kaine sulks away to talk with Mary Jane. She gives him a motivational speech and Kaine thanks her and breaks her window on the way out. He couldn't have just used the door?
Jackal tells Peter to fetch the Gwen clone because him and her are the only clones that don't automatically degenerate. It's weird that the creators are inconsistent on whether the Jackal can successfully clone people or not. There seem to be plenty examples of successful clones in the past, why would Jackal need to study the Gwen clone now?

While  the Gwen clone agrees to be taken by Peter, Kaine helps Scarlet Spider defeat the army of Spider-Clones. He seemed to have made peace with Ben. Except, it's unclear if he actually accepts Ben as a human or if he believes that Ben is the real Peter. Ugh. It's hurting my head to think about it.

It turns out that the clones are only half-baked and melt if they expend enough energy. Also, Spidercide steals the Jackal's data for Scrier, while murdering Kaine to cover his escape.
Kaine seems to be dead, but it's also presented in open-ended way where he can make his return (which he does later).

Across town, MJ hails Peter to talk with him. But it's doubly-awkward since he also has the Gwen clone. But when MJ and Gwen reunite, they look like they're on the verge of kissing each other. I am sure there are some fanboys who are writing fan-fiction based on that panel alone.

Finally, the Jackal's plan is revealed. He means to discharge the Carrion virus via a bomb planted at the top of the Daily Bugle. Once all the journalist die, he wants to replace them clones so he can control the media. Wait. He is just targeting journalist and news casters? And he thinks he's gonna get them all at the Bugle? I mean, I assume that's his phase one and the next phase is him killing everybody, but it's unclear. Also, I thought his clones aren't even stable enough to survive on their own? How is any of this a good idea?
Naturally, his plans are interrupted by Scarlet Spider, Scrier, and Spidercide. There is a battle and at one point, both Spidercide and Jackal are plummeting to their deaths and Ben webs them up to save them. Weirdly, Spidercide proclaims that Jackal must die, so he cuts his own line, dooming himself. Um... Okay...
Spidey arrives with the Gwen clone (!) in the middle of the battle. They defeat the Jackal and disarm the bomb. Which sets up Gwen holding a gun, threatening to shoot the Jackal. The following sequence is a series of stupidity.
The Jackal pushes Gwen off the side of the building to save himself. When Spidey tries to save her, Jackal punches him and jumps off the side himself. But instead of rescuing her, he accidentally breaks the pole she was on and they both fall. Scarlet Spider saves the Gwen clone and Jackal falls to his death.
What the what? The Jackal died from his own idiocy. Spidey claims that "it looked like the Jackal wanted to die" but I don't see any reason why. If that lets you sleep at night, Peter.

Anyhoo, Ben disposes of the bomb in the East River and the day is saved. The Gwen clone escapes again, Peter and MJ make up, and Ben and him discuss who should carry the mantle of Spider-Man. Whew. I'm exhausted from all of that.
By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • Freakface is deemed Spidercide
  • The Jackal enacts his plan to kill the media and replace them with clones
  • Peter, Kaine, and Spidercide joins forces with the Jackal and all end up betraying him at various points
  • The New Warriors meet Scarlet Spider for the first time 
  • The Gwen clone returns
  • Spidercide dies
  • Jackal dies
  • Peter and Mary Jane reconcile
  • Ben and Peter discuss who should be Spider-Man

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • The new Green Goblin 
  • Stunner

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane's baby is fine
  • Kaine "sees" Mary Jane's murder
  • Daily Bugle report Ken Ellis' obsession with Scarlet Spider
  • Thorpe wanting to kill Spider-Man for unknown reasons
  • Peter is the clone and Ben is the "real Peter"
  • Freakface is in cahoots with the Jackal- UPDATE Freakface/ Spidercide betrays the Jackal and dies
  • Jackal wants the Carrion Virus to create a race of super-clones- UPDATE Jackal's plan is thwarted by Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider
  • Judas Traveller is helping Peter for unknown reasons
  • Other super-villains are teamed-up to kill Kaine
  • MJ asks Black Cat for help
  • Who is the new Green Goblin? 
  • Who will be the new Spider-Man? 
  • The Scrier has his own agenda and needs the Jackal's intel

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • Kaine- Deceased (for now)
  • Freakface- Deceased
  • The first Gwen clone
  • Roomful of Gwen clones- Deceased
  •  The four mini-Jacks
  • The army of Spider-Men- Presumed deceased

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Kaine has a vision of Mary Jane dying: 12
  • Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows: 23
  • Number of times the Scrier spies on others: 10
  • Number of Gwen clones: 5
  • Number of Mini-Jackal clones: 5
  • Number of times a girl falls reminiscent of Gwen Stacy's death: 3 
  • Number of tests Judas Traveller gives to Peter: 4
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: incalculable ERROR ERROR!
  • Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for a Peter clone: 7

 Almost everything about this story arc is awful. Plot threads are created and dropped quickly, characters do things for no good reasons, and the main plot was ultimately disappointing. The Jackal hyped-up his secret plan for 18 issues, but it comes down to a bomb. Also, the plan was so poorly thought-out. It 's humorous in how bad it is.

Many of characters are written really stupid or naive, especially the Jackal. The story arc pretty much ruined the Jackal to the point where no writer wanted to touch him for over 25 years after that.

What's worse, the inclusion of more clones is now tiresome. At this point, readers want the story to be winding down on clone reveals and start getting closure. They don't want more clones! The guest stars were pretty pointless too. The New Warriors and Punisher could have been excised from the story with not impact on the main narrative. 

The only saving grace is the attempt to give MJ to do something. But even then, it's a small contribution. This whole comic barely has any time for introspective character moments. It is mindless action on top of more mindless action and twists and betrayals for its own sake.

According to then-editor Glenn Greenberg, this was designed to be the definitive end of the whole Clone Saga. But even on the most basic level, this story line failed. 

Incidentally, check out the link to the Life of Reilly blog. It gives a lot of insight how troubled the "Maximum Clonage" was behind-the-scenes. Everything was a  creative disaster starting with the name of the event to the constant re-writes of finale issue.

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

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