Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 31: The Return of Kaine

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.

"The Return of Kaine"  Spectacular Spider-Man  #231, Sensational Spider-Man #2, Amazing Spider-Man #409, Spider-Man #66

Writers: Todd DeZago, Dan Jurgens, Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie

Artists:  Sal Buscema, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr.

Review by Eric Lee

 After he was mysteriously revived in Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1, Kaine returns.

He starts off dazed and confused as a gang of terribly-dressed "90's street punks" descend upon him.

Kaine makes quick work of them when he is met by another costumed mystery woman named Shannon Fitzpatrick aka Muse. She is sporting an injured left arm and sling. She also sports the most ridiculous Irish accent in a comic book since Chris Claremont's Banshee.

Muse is another player in the "Great Game" where billionaires bet on superhuman battles. She represents one of the billionaires of "Great Game" who wants to recruit Kaine.

Side-bar, Muse's over-use of the word "ye" is extremely distracting. I know that it's to substitute saying the word "you" with more of an Irish brogue, but all I can think about is that Futurama episode where Fry thinks he's a robot who says "ye".

Cutting back to Ben Reilly, we see how he is like flirting with women. It's definitely interesting. First, there is an amusing bit where the snobby Desiree Winthrop is struggling with her physics homework and Ben  just solves the equation easily Good Will Hunting-style.
Ben also- I guess- flirts with Jessica by saying he's getting a TV just to spite her.  know Ben's just teasing Jessica, but that sounds downright mean.
Back to the Great Game plot, we meet the billionaire who wants Kaine to represent him in the game: James Johnsmeyer. The guy is clearly a villain. When we meet him, he casually sells a woman into sex trafficking.
He also blows smoke into people's faces. So this guy is all bad news. By the way, he explicitly tells Muse to do whatever it takes to get Kaine to join his side, which... pretty much tells you everything about Muse's allegiances.

Actually, no. There's one more thing about Muse. She has the powers of persuasion. So when Kaine rebels against Johnsmeyer and Muse "betrays" her billionaire backer, it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that she's faking it the whole time.
Unless you're poor Kaine. That dude fell for her hard.

But forget all that for a moment, because the most mind-blowing ending occurs when two construction workers find a skeleton with a ripped up Spider-Man costume at the bottom of a smokestack.
Wait a minute! Is this skeleton the real clone? Is the skeleton the real Peter Parker? Does that mean that both Peter and Ben are clones and the true Spider-Man died years ago!?!

Well don't expect any conclusive answers, because not even the writers  knew! They had no plans of revealing who the skeleton was.

So Ben understandably freaks out when he sees the Spider-Man skeleton in the newspaper. He goes to the morgue to see it with his own eyes. Fine, that makes sense. Ben has to make sure it's real.

But what does not make sense is when Ben steals the entire skeleton for himself. If he needs to examine it, then he doesn't need the whole dang thing! Just take a finger or whatever!

To make things worse, he happens to walk out into the morgue  hallway (!) with skeleton in hands only to run into J Jonah Jameson, who is also investigating the skeleton. You could've just crawled around the morgue ceilings  instead of walking, Ben.
Meanwhile, Jessica, Desiree, Shirley, Buzz, and Devon decide to throw Ben a surprise housewarming party to welcome him into the city. Desiree wears a flashy, sexy dress despite (or because of) Ben accidentally ignoring her earlier.
Unfortunately, Ben's grave-robbing, in addition to running into Kaine and the Rhino battling in the streets, makes Ben miss the whole party. Only Jessica stays behind in his apartment to greet him. Which is cool, since Jessica and Ben end up kissing.
Random: what's up with Dan Jurgen's version of the Rhino? He looks exactly like his John Romita first appearance where he's stout and broad-nosed. This doesn't visually match with the rest of the characters' designs, nor does it match with how Mark Bagley draws the Rhino in Amazing.

So Kaine and Muse escape the Rhino. But the Rhino finds them again in their hideout. Apparently, Rhino is also getting paid by the Great Game to take down  Kaine. It's unclear what the exact rules are to the Great Game, because it's not a one-on-one match. At one point, the Rhino is joined by Joystick and another Great Game contestant/ loser Polestar to battle Kaine.
Spider-Man later gets involved and helps Kaine take all of the villains down. Kaine drops half a building on Rhino and Spidey destroys Joystick's power gauntlets. And technically, Polestar knocks himself out.
Dang, of all the underwhelming villains, Polestar has got to be the most embarrassing. After he brags to Spidey how awesome his magnetic fields are, Spider-Man immediately throws him into a wall like the punk he is.

Kaine and Muse get away again, but this time Spidey slapped a Spider-Tracer on them to track their movements. He finds them in some alleyway, before Kaine makes it to his true goal: the corporate headquarters of Johnsmeyer's company.

But when Kaine, Spidey, and Muse enter the building- Surprise! Johnsmeyer is not there. Only giant video screens of Johnsmeyer's face and the other billionaires mocking Kaine.


Also, Muse was actually on Johnsmeyer 's side the whole time trying to convince Kaine to join the Game. Who know that the woman who has the power of persuasion would actually try to persuade Kaine to join?

Poor Kaine actually liked her and kissed Muse. But now that he's aware of the betrayal, he's going to kill Muse.
The other billionaires actually bet on whether Kaine will go through with it and if he'll scar her too. Dang, those billionaires are heartless SOBs.
Ben convinces Kaine that despite having a vision of Muse's death, doesn't mean that he needs to be a slave to destiny. That triggers Kaine and he withholds his killing blow.

Muse then jumps out of the building to distract Spider-Man, so Kaine can abscond.

Meanwhile at the Daily Bugle, Jonah is practically giddy that he caught Spider-Man red-handed trying to steal a corpse. So he calls in his number one Spidey expert to help: Peter Parker!
Yes! Peter and Mary Jane are back in New York after being in Portland for... like two months? I know the creators wrote this scene as a shocking reveal that brought back long-absent characters, but honestly, it was more like Pete and MJ took an extended vacation.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • First appearance James Johnsmeyer
  • First appearance of Muse
  • First appearance of the Spider-Skeleton
  • First appearance of Polestar
  • Ben steals the Spider-Skeleton to examine it
  • Ben and Jessica kiss
  • Kaine and Muse kiss and then break up
  • Kaine is alive and on the loose somewhere again

Shadow Mystery Men:

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

Subplots Count:

  • Peter and Mary Jane moved to Portland, while awaiting for the baby's birth- UPDATE Peter and Mary Jane are still pregnant, but moved back to New York
  • 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
  •  Carolyn Trainer has mysterious plans for the comatose Seward Trainer
  • Who is Jessica? 
  • Peter loses his spider-powers
  • What is the truth behind the Spider-Skeleton?
  • Ben and Jessica kiss

Clones Running Around:

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

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Great Game players: 7 (El Toro Negro, Joystick, Polestar, Kaine, Muse, Rhino, Poison)
  • Number of times Muse says "ye": 35
  • Number of Spider-Clone red herrings: 2 (Spider-Cide, Spider-Skeleton)

    Verdict

This story gives me mixed feelings. I am genuinely interested in the Great Game plot, but perhaps it's the wrong time to focus on it when Kaine just returned? Kaine is a compelling enough character to have a whole arc focus on him and examine if his motivations  have changed now that Ben is Spider-Man. That's a potentially interesting dynamic shift that is never exploited. Once again, character development is pushed to the side in favor of more fight scenes.

And the Great Game gives plenty of action. But I don't think I care much, because Kaine barely gets to showcases his personality here. There are bits and pieces I really liked, such as Kaine's desire  to never be manipulated again. But overall, Kaine's plot is wasted here within the context of the Great Game. He has a good motivation to hate Johnsmeyer. But after his initial escape, Kaine sorta flounders around aimless with no goal in mind until the end.

The new characters in this arc are useless or uncompelling. Muse's dialogue and accent is so over-the-top, it completely distracts from any pathos her character might have. Ironically, during the Great Game, Ben is a player for most of the story. He barely does anything to propel the narrative forward. He mostly reacts to other characters' actions.

The Spider-Skeleton is the most intriguing narrative of the whole story line. But as time goes on, the plot line goes nowhere and paints writers into a corner that they have to think out of.

I love Kaine, but this arc is a disappointing return for the Clone Saga's best character.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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