Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 27: Nightmare in Scarlet

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.

"Nightmare in Scarlet"  Web of Scarlet Spider #3-4, New Warriors #67

Writer: Evan Skolnick

Artist:  Paris Karounos, Patrick Zircher

Review by Eric Lee

"Nightmare in Scarlet" is such a stupid story line for so many reasons. The biggest problem is that it demands that the Scarlet Spider event continue on for two more issues despite the fact that Ben Reilly has already turned into Spider-Man. So essentially the creators are forced to create a Scarlet Spider comic where the titular character is not even using the identity anymore.

According to then-assistant editor Glenn Greenberg, that's all the fault of the marketing department, who demanded extra Scarlet Spider issues to strengthen the brand. Ironically, the stories are so poor, I think it not only hurt the Scarlet Spider brand, but also blunted Ben as Spider-Man's comeback (which was published the same month).

We open with FBI agent Stephanie Briggs searching in the wreckage of Doctor Octopus' blown-up virtual reality headquarters. Specifically, they're looking for the undercover FBI agent Joe Wade who was last seen strapped to a virtual reality machine to create a hologram of Scarlet Spider.
But it turns out that Wade survived and now has turned into an evil Scarlet Spider.  Wade goes around New York wrecking general havoc and committing crimes. My favorite crime is him destroying traffic lights to cause vehicle collisions. It's not evil, it's just being a jerk.

Wade transforms back to his normal human self and contacts Briggs, who is also his partner. Wade says that somehow he was hooked up to the VR machine and caught in an explosion of nano-tech that infused the evil Scarlet Spider personality with him.

This explanation is not only insane, but is not even consistent with  the VR tech's capabilities from the previous issues. Why would there be an evil Scarlet Spider personality? That should've been controlled by Doc Ock and her men. Even if we accepted that answer, this evil Scarlet Spider's personality is nothing like the "other" evil Scarlet Spider personality from "Cyber War".
Nano-tech was never even a thing in the  previous issues. Where did that come from? Also, how would nano-tech give him a Scarlet Spider  personality and powers? Additionally, Stunner was strapped in a nearby VR machine when the headquarters exploded. Did the same thing happen to her?  Actually, now that I think about it, when did Doc Ock's headquarters even get destroyed?

This whole explanation is a bunch of nonsense. There is no consistent internal logic with this story telling.

 Eventually, Firestar meets the evil Scarlet on the George Washington Bridge. After kissing her and making a lot of creepy remarks about her body, Firestar vaporizes evil Scarlet.  However, he didn't die but transformed into an evil crazier-looking robot version of himself, complete with force beams.
Incidentally, evil Scarlet Spider refers to Firestar as a teenager. Wait. How old is Firestar supposed to be? The New Warriors comic had a sub plot where Ben Reilly and Firestar had a mutual attraction. But Ben must be at least in his early 20's. So if Firestar is 17-ish years old, that makes the flirtation a lot creepier.

Anyways, the New Warriors save Firestar and evil Scarlet escapes. Ben sees the chaos on the bridge and joins them as Spider-Man. Also the FBI operations supervisor Nelson Stone meets with his agents to bring Joe Wade in alive. Briggs is suspicious because she suspects Stone just wants to study Wade's nano-tech infused body.
Getting back to Ben and the New Warriors, Ben does a terrible job in pretending that him as Spider-Man is a different person than him as Scarlet Spider.  He keeps on dropping these hints that he's the real Scarlet Spider, like knowing about the Warriors' headquarters and all that.
This whole situation raises questions. Why wouldn't Ben just tell the Warriors the truth that he switched identities? Later in the story, he casually tells the evil Scarlet Spider that he used to be the original Scarlet. Why does he hide that from people who he used to be on a team with?

Also, I guess Ben never even said "Goodbye" to his Warriors teammates. Was he ever planning on saying farewell? Or was he gonna leave them hanging and wondering "What ever happened to Scarlet Spider?" That's a pretty dick move on Ben's part if he does that.

Back to the evil Scarlet Spider, he goes on live television threatening to kill people on a local talk show, including Speedball's mother.

Speedball tries to handle the evil Scarlet on his own. The fight scene is okay, but it includes a real gem of bizarre 90's-tough guy dialogue.  At one point Speedball screams, "Well, here's something for you to chew on, eat hot kinetic bubble death!"
Man, I wished the Avengers co-opted those kinds of battle cries. Can you imagine Captain America screaming, "Eat hot shield throwing death!"?

So the FBI races towards the battle and Briggs recaps everything that has occurred with her partner turning into the evil Scarlet Spider. Except...she reveals some extra important information that was never mentioned previously.

According to Briggs, Wade was stricken with a degenerative nerve disease that only the nano-tech can prevent. When did that happen? This is the first time I've heard of a plot point introduced in a recap.  Also the craziest part is, that this disease never comes up again. What's the purpose of even bringing it up in the first place?
It reminds me of the scene from the film The Disaster Artist where the movie director tells his actor to say her character has breast cancer and then she asks if that plot point ever gets revisited again in his film.  (It doesn't)

The New Warriors and Spidey battle the evil Scarlet Spider. There is a part of the fight where the evil Scarlet surprises Spidey by turning his head 180 degrees like an owl. 
Due to the art's loose anatomy and sketchy look, I didn't even realize that his head is turned around. In fact, the art, is pretty ugly throughout the entire Web of Scarlet Spider run of issues.  

Artist Paris Karounos delivers some of the worst excesses of 90's style art. The anatomy is crazy and the muscles are so bulbous that they resemble a series of tumors. The foreshortening on the characters is poor as well. Just look at Firestar's arms!
Anyway, at the end of the battle, Briggs has a heart-to-heart with Wade, allowing him to revert back to his human form. He gets taken away,  to get treatment, but it's not like they ever said he had a cure for his condition. 

So I don't see why he wouldn't just easily revert back into the evil Scarlet Spider and have the whole nightmare start all over again. However, we never see Joe Wade or Stephanie Briggs again, so I guess everything turned out all right?

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  First appearance of Joe Wade as the evil Scarlet Spider
  • Evil Scarlet Spider causes mayhem and then gets captures by Spider-Man and New Warriors
  • Ben Reilly meets the New Warriors for the first time since he became Spider-Man
  • Firestar figures out that Scarlet Spider is also the new Spider-Man
  • Technically the last issue of Web of Spider-Man-   a long standing Spider-Man title at the time

Shadow Mystery Men:

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

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 
  • Mysterio buys a cable network to use the DIT-chip for entertainment purposes
  • Who is Jessica? 
  • Ben signs a lease to a new apartment

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: 7 (Gabrielle Greer, Betty Brant, Janine, Rachel the waitress, Carrie Bradley, Desiree Winthrop, Firestar) 
  •  The day is saved by talking about love and/or responsibility: 3
The final issues of the Scarlet Spider month are all terrible. Nothing makes sense, the art is really ugly, the characters are kinda dumb and/or a jerk, and the ending doesn't resolve anything.

This is not the creators at the top of their game. They were forced to do something that they didn't even want to do and they did it with an extremely tight deadline. This is what happens when other people dictate the creators. We get a poor product.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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