Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 22: Cyber War

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.

"Cyber War" Web of Scarlet Spider #2, Amazing Scarlet Spider #2, Green Goblin #3, Scarlet Spider #2, Spectacular Scarlet Spider #2

Writers:  Tom DeFalco, Todd DeZago, Howard Mackie

Artists: Tom Morgan, Mark Bagley, Scott McDaniel, John Romita Jr., Sal Buscema

Review by Eric Lee

 We pick up where we last left our heroes. Seward Trainer's consciousness is stuck in cyber space- though he's actually cool with it- Ben Reilly is working as a bodyguard to Jason Tso, an evil mob boss who's partners with Alistair Smythe. And the new Doc Ock and her boss the Master Programmer are plotting something big with virtual reality tech.

Before we move forward, Ben's hair has gotten out of control. His hair has always been longer than Peter Parker's, but  Ben's hair is now transformed into luscious locks. Look at it. It looks like Thor's hair.
As Ben reports to work at Club Noir, he runs into Daily Bugle reporters Ken Ellis and Angela Yin. Angela mistakes Ben for Peter. However, instead of explaining his way out of it, Ben just silently stands there looking like a doof. Fortunately, Angela explains/ assumes that Ben is actually Peter undercover and walks away. That was easy.
Meanwhile, Jason Tso is talking with Smythe about how his tech now allows him to move forward and create Cyber-Slayers- supposedly more advanced versions of his Spider Slayer robots. 

According to Smythe, the Cyber-Slayers are supposed to be able to respond to his commands via thoughts. I guess that's an improvement? I don't really see how that makes them better than his normal Spider Slayer designs. Also, Cyber-Slayers is a stupid name. Are they slaying cyber things?

Anyways, Tso tries to trick Doc Ock into a meeting at the Children's Zoo, but actually plots to murder her. This plan is ridiculous for so many reasons. One, why at a Zoo? Two, he thinks that a bunch of thugs with guns can take down a super villain? And three, Doc Ock just sends her armored squad to take down Tso's gang.
So the Looter, Override, and Aura from "Virtual Morality" returns to take down Tso's gang and the Cyber-Slayers. Scarlet Spider intervenes and Doc Ock's gang gets arrested, while Tso's Cyber-Slayers escape. 

Next in Amazing Scarlet Spider, we get a completely unrelated plot. Seriously. The next issue focuses on the Great Game, where a group of bored billionaires get together and bet on superhuman battles. It's a cool idea, but why in the middle of another story line? What's weirder is that we even have a tie-in issue with Green Goblin. Would it have killed them to conclude the "Cyber War" story line first before moving onto "The Great Game"?

We meet Joystick, who is a Great Game player. The Game referee assigns her to battle Scarlet Spider next. Through an unnecessarily complicated plot, Joystick battles Scarlet in front of Ken Ellis, with the new Green Goblin intervening.
By the way, the new Green Goblin is Phil Urich, the nephew of Daily Bugle regular Ben. His identity was revealed in his own title, but I'm not gonna get into that here, because it's not  relevant. So, Joystick battles Scarlet for a bit, before randomly deciding to bug out.

In typical Spider-Man fashion, the battle makes Ben late to a date with neighbor Carrie Bradely. There's a hilarious moment where the two have a serious talk about their relationship. The talk gets interrupted by Carrie randomly subduing  a thief and continuing to talk like nothing happened.
The Green Goblin and Scarlet Spider re-meet again to take down Joystick for good. This leads into a four-way battle between the heroes, Joystick and another Great Game player El Toro Negro. What's up with almost everybody having a color in their name?
The fight ends with Scarlet taking down El Toro and the Goblin letting Joystick get away. Understandably, Scarlet Spider is pissed at the Goblin for being so immature.

Back to the "Cyber War" plot,  undercover FBI agent  Joe Wade's cover is blown at Doc Ock's lair. She forces him into a virtual reality machine that creates a  hologram version of Scarlet Spider. Doc Ock's plan is to frame Scarlet Spider for crimes, so public sentiment will turn against him.

It's a decent plan, but I don't really understand the mechanics of the virtual reality machine. Why do they need Joe Wade at all in the machine? If they need a human controlling it, why not get a willing henchmen to operate the machine? The next story raises even more questions about how the whole virtual reality  thing works.  But we'll get there when we get there.

Despite the vague, half-baked plot, props to Howard Mackie for writing an awesome reveal scene. We find Wade stuck in the VR machine with a disembodied voice communicating with him. We pull out to see that it's an overweight woman also hooked into another VR machine. The reveal slowly shows that the woman is actually Stunner.
That's right. Stunner is actually a hard-light virtual reality construct. The way the scene is staged is perfect. It's a shame because Stunner does nothing else for the entire story line. So unfortunately, she's wasted story telling potential.

So Scarlet Spider confronts and battles the fake Scarlet Spider-who's tearing up on the city. Unfortunately, the fake Scarlet Spider disappeared, leaving Ben alone to confront the police.
Smythe and Doc Ock finally fight each other and the battle is extremely underwhelming. It takes Doc Ock literally less than two pages to take out Smythe. She then steals his tech and combines it with her own. This creates a virtual reality bomb where cyber space blows up in the real world. 
The whole plot is weird because everything is ill-defined. If the stuff is in cyber space, are they all technically fake and/or illusions? Everybody treats it like it's wielding the reality stone. How does combining a VR visor with a VR generator create this in the first place? That's like saying combining an iPhone with a router will spontaneously create holograms.

We also discover Doc Ock's ultimate plan is to bring the Master Programmer into reality, whom Doc Ock is romantically involved with. So if that's her goal, what about all the other stuff? Does she also plan on using this new virtual reality army to do something? It's all forgotten in favor of this Master Programmer romance.
Out of nowhere, a virtual Trainer shows up and tells Ben that he has a microchip that will destroy Doc Ock's device. Talk about a convenient plot device! Scarlet Spider casually flicks the chip into Doc Ock's device and everything melts away-including Doc Ock and Smythe. 
Just kidding. They presumably escape off-panel. But the story barely makes a reference to it.

Oh yeah, and the Pro hitman finds Tso and kills him, thus ending that plot thread.

So with the Scarlet Spider identity in tatters, Ben now vows to continue being a hero as Spider-Man! It's weird Ben proclaims this so proudly since Peter retiring already gave him a compelling reason to be Spider-Man. 
So that sorta wraps up the weird period between Peter leaving and Ben becoming Spidey. Since the stories were forced upon the Spider-Man creative team at the last minute, little of consequence occurs. Except Trainer is still an odd cyber space avatar.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  First appearance of the Great Game
  • First appearance of Joystick
  • First appearance of Cyber-Slayers
  • First appearance of El Toro Negro
  • Doc Ock reveals that she needs a virtual reality bomb to bring back the Master Programmer
  • Death of Jason Tso
  • FBI agent Joe Wade turns into the Scarlet Spider virtual reality construct (?)
  • Stunner is revealed to be a virtual reality construct

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • New Green Goblin- revealed to be Phil Urich in Green Goblin #1
  • Stunner- revealed to be an overweight  woman named Angelina Brancale
  • Master Programmer

Subplots Count:

  •  Mary Jane's baby is fine
  • Daily Bugle reporter 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
  • 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 
  • The Great Game 
  • Seward Trainer is trapped in cyber space

Clones Running Around:

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

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Love interests for Ben Reilly: 6 (Gabrielle Greer, Betty Brant, Janine, Rachel the waitress, Carrie Bradley, Desiree Winthrop
  •  Awkward times Peter's friends mistaken Ben for Peter: 2
  •  Number of tech crimes committed: 6
    Verdict
 This story arc is really poorly written/conceived. The characters act illogical, or borderline stupid. Ben's reason for becoming Spider-Man is also really dumb. So, he'll change identities every time one is besmirched? So what will happen when a villain inevitably frames Spider-Man for a crime? That stuff happens every other week for him!

Doc Ock' ultimate plan is pretty underwhelming. It also doesn't make any sense. Why did she need to make a big show of a virtual reality army if she just wanted the Master Programmer? Smythe is laughably defeated and forgotten immediately. The new love interests that are introduced are forgotten after this arc. What's the point of even having them?

And then there is the weird interlude in the middle that starts a totally new plot line. It's weird how it interrupts the flow of one story to begin a new one. This all feels very poorly planned and executed.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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