Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 20: You Say You Want an Evolution

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.

"You Say You Want An Evolution" Spider-Man: The Parker Years #1, Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1

Writers: Evan Skolnic, Glenn Herdling

Artists: Joe St. Pierre, Tod Smith

Review by Eric Lee

Now that Ben is officially Spider-Man, one would think he'd jump into the role. But that's not the case. Thanks to a marketing stunt, all the Spider-Man titles were re-started with the Scarlet Spider name for a few months. So Amazing Spider-Man turned into Amazing Scarlet Spider and so on. 

According to then- assistant editor Glenn Greenberg, this was purely an idea from the marketing department to strengthen the Scarlet Spider brand. Of course, it makes no sense from a storytelling perspective, since Ben should assume the Spider-Man identity at this point.  The creators were exhausted and rushed from this gimmick and it shows in the quality of the stories.

First, let's jump into Spider-Man: The Parker Years one-shot. Normally, I'd skip over this, since it's essentially a comic book version of  a clip show from Peter's perspective. However, there are two things I found amusing about it. First, the recap is from Peter's highly negative/ distorted viewpoint.  He continually insinuated that since he's "not the real Spider-Man" he  screwed up almost all the time.

Secondly, this one-shot features perhaps my favorite Mary Jane scene ever.  Mary Jane straight-up calls Peter out on his self-pitying and lists all the times he saved the world or universe. I don't really know who writer Evan Skolnick is, but he wrote my favorite Mary Jane, who has tough love and does not put up with Peter's BS. It's hilarious and I wish MJ was written like this more often.
Now for the main event:  Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1. This story finally answers the continuity plot holes of the Clone Saga. According to Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8, Miles Warren did not create clones, but merely infected already-living people with a virus to re-write their DNA. So the Gwen Stacy clone thought she was a woman called Joyce Delaney and the Spider-Man clone was allegedly Warren's old assistant Anthony Serba.

It also features the last appearance of Detective Jacob Raven, who finds Kaine's body in a containment chamber. Hilariously, his first instinct is to open up the pod and shoot the body. But before Raven could unload his entire gun clip, he's interrupted by Animen, creatures who are half-human, half-animal.

The Animen are there on behalf of the High Evolutionary to steal the Jackal's files. They're pretty generic personalities, so nobody is memorable. That is except for my personal favorite: Crushtacean!!

Yes! Crushtacean is a humanoid crab with a cyborg claw... used for crushing!! I want a revival of that character because of his pun-filled name alone.

Back to the issue, Scarlet Spider fights the Animen until High Evolutionary teleports them away. Scarlet hitches a ride on the teleportation matrix, sending him to Wundagore.

Now Scarlet has a whole town of angry Animen chasing him. He escapes only to be captured by a church/ cult that worships the Jackal!

Eventually, Scarlet Spider battle the Animen again until High Evolutionary interrupts them again. This time, High Evolutionary teleports Scarlet and  explains the whole clone business to him.

What follows is the longest, most convoluted, clunky explanation ever. It's also delivered in the most boring way possible. The High Evolutionary literally sits there sipping wine, while delivering large chunks of exposition.

I don't fully understand it myself, so I will be concise. According to the High Evolutionary, the Jackal was successful in creating clones, much to the High Evolutionary's chagrin. Because of that, the High Evolutionary lied and planted fake journals to convince people otherwise.

There is a ton of other extraneous back story stuff that is not relevant. In fact, I'd argue that it raises more questions. Like, apparently Warren was a former lab assistant to High Evolutionary. How did a college professor get into contact with someone like the High Evolutionary? 

Or apparently the two had a dispute over a man-jackal creature they created, who went on to kill Warren's family. Where is the creature now? That's a pretty huge plot hole not follow-up on.

Or how was Warren able to create a cult following of Animen? It seems pretty out-there for a college professor to do that over the course of only a few years.

Furthermore, the reasoning for High Evolutionary to tell Ben is nonsensical. According to the High Evolutionary, the false information  psychologically harmed Ben, so he set the record straight.

How did thinking the clones were genetic constructs harm Ben? Ben didn't even know about the existence of Anthony Serba until this very adventure. How did this new information help Ben now? Also, why would the High Evolutionary even care about Ben's struggles?

This is the worst kind of explanation delivered in the worst way possible. It creates more plot holes than it fills and it's delivered in such boring fashion.

In the end, High Evolutionary teleports Ben back to Lt. Raven. Raven is screaming how Kaine's pod is now empty. It seems like Kaine is alive again.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  The first and only appearance of this version of the Animen and their standout star Crushtacean
  •  First appearance and only appearance of the Cult of Jackal
  • Last appearance of Jacob Raven
  • High Evolutionary reveals that the Jackal is able to clone people and that the rumors of Joyce Delany are false
  • Kaine is resurrected

Shadow Mystery Men:

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

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane's baby is fine
  • 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"
  • Judas Traveller is helping Peter for unknown reasons
  • Other super-villains are teamed-up to kill Kaine
  • Who is the new Green Goblin? 
  • What happened to Janine?
  •  Peter retires and passes the Spider-Man identity to Ben
  • The Scrier has his own agenda and needs the Jackal's intel
  •  Dr. Octopus is needs Seward Trainer's information for a virtual reality bomb

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • The first Gwen clone
  •  The four mini-Jacks
  • Kaine

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of people who steal Jackal's data for their own means: 2 (Scrier, High Evolutionary)
  • Number of times Peter freaks out over the thought of Mary Jane and family: 7
  • Number of people Ben Reilly had untold adventures with: 4 (Kaine, Seward Trainer, Wild Whip, and D'Spayre)
  • Number of times an old Peter Parker locale triggers a flashback for Peter or a clone: 10
  • Visions of Mary Jane dying: 14
  • 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 "experiments" Judas Traveller gives to Peter: 4
  • Number of disaffected Peter Parker clones: incalculable ERROR ERROR! 
  • 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 gangs that Kaine beats up: 3
  • 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:

What a weird strange issue. It was supposed to "fix" continuity errors, but the explanations are unnecessarily convoluted. I think it actually made the errors worse. The main selling point on the cover boasts of Kaine's tomb, but his body barely factors into the main plot at all. The pacing was such a drag. Everything was way too long: the fight scenes, the exposition scenes, the setting-up scenes, etc. It was a bit of a chore to read through this comic.

This an awful story, save for our new character sensation find: Crushtacean.

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

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