Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 33: Web of Carnage

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.

"Web of Carnage"  Sensational Spider-Man #3, Amazing Spider-Man #410, Spider-Man #67, Spectacular Spider-Man  #233

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

Artists:  Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagely, John Romita Jr, Sal Buscema

Review by Eric Lee

"Web of Carnage" is another story arc that seems good in theory, but the execution leaves something to desire.

One problem is the pacing of the story. Straight up, the first chapter in Sensational Spider-Man barely features Carnage. I would even go as far to say that Carnage is strictly tertiary as far as plot importance. The issue's main plot is focuses on the Spider-Skeleton. The secondary plot focuses on Ben Reilly's new girlfriend Jessica. Then for a few pages, Carnage is discussed, though never really seen on-panel.


 What's up with Sensational writer and artist Dan Jurgens? This is the second time in the row where he's supposed to be a part of a crossover story line, but his issues barely dedicate time to the main narrative. Jurgens doesn't seem like he's playing along with the rest of the Spider-Man writers.

So we more or less pick up where Ben was last time: seeing Jessica's dark room covered head to toe with Spider-Man pictures. She plays it off as if she's practising to be a news photog, but Ben is understandably creeped out by Jessica's unsaid obsession. 

When she picks up the Daily Bugle article that reports Spider-Man stealing the skeleton, Jessica quickly flies into a rant about how Spider-Man is evil. She also reveals that Spider-Man may have been involved in her father's death.


While Ben's willing to drop the topic for now, he finds a photo of young Jessica with her father- who's  in the shadows. I will say, the mystery of the father, plus the image of a shadowed figure behind a child really creeps me out. It's actually really haunting to look at.

Getting onto Spider-Man business, Ben runs into some pedestrian who claimed that he saw Carnage. Spidey goes to Ravencroft to ask the head of security John Jameson about Carnage's whereabouts. Jameson eases Spidey's concerns by showing Cletus Kasady in his cell washing his hands compulsively.

After stupidly triggering Ravencroft's security system and being saved by Peter, Spidey and Pete go to meet Hank Pym. Pym- who I think is using his Giant-Man identity at this point- runs some tests to conclusively say that the skeleton used to be a clone of Spider-Man.

But wait a minute, we've established that clones disintegrate once they die. So how is there still a skeleton? That seems like an intriguing mystery, but the reality is that it's probably a plot hole. 

Meanwhile, Peter used the Avengers' photo equipment to clarify the Jessica's childhood picture, only to discover her father is.... the burglar who murdered Uncle Ben!!


This is honestly a really good twist. Taking the Burglar who hasn't been seen since Amazing Spider-Man #200 and re-purposing him as a mystery figure is genuinely shocking. 

After the Avengers lab visit, Ben decides to commit some fraud by posing with the Spider-Skeleton as Peter snaps photos of him. Ben claims the money Peter will earn from that photo will be his "baby shower gift to MJ and Peter".

 I make fun of Ben, but to be totally fair, Peter pulled this kind of stuff since the start of his photography career.

Eventually, Spider-Man runs into a buff, not quite as crazy-looking Carnage. Spidey suspects the symbiote somehow escaped and is bonded with a Ravencroft security guard named Dickerson.


Spidey trails him, but  it turns out Dickerson is shady for a different reason. He sells the  Ravencroft patients' personal items to a super villain fetish club.  This super villain club is another really cool, fun idea. Look, Mark Bagely even snuck in a picture of Two-Face in the club!

So it turns out the fake-Carnage is really bonded to John Jameson. It's real plan is to bond with Spider-Man! So look out, here comes the Spider-Carnage!


What an awesome design! A perfect integration of Carnage's look with the new Spider-Man costume.

 I think of all the artists' renditions of Spider-Carnage, my favorite is John Romita Jr's. I like the crooked webs and the blood veins running through the costume. Also, the black and red color scheme is graphically bolder and more dangerous looking.


 Side-bar, I think that Spider-Man writer Howard Mackie and Romita Jr. really hit their stride as a creative team. Mackie's scripting tends to really overly dramatic, which fits perfectly with Romita Jr's cinematic approach to story telling. 

Like, Peter comes to Ben's apartment to ask him to see Seward Trainer about testing the Spider-Skeleton, you could see how moody Ben's struggle with the Carnage symbiote is. It's awesome and tense, because it keeps on cutting back and forth between Peter being casual and Ben on the verge of losing control.


 In the end, Ben blows off Peter. So Peter decides to go to the hospital by himself to ask Trainer to test the Spider-Skeleton. However, the hospital claims that Trainer checked out. Not satisfied with that answer, Peter discovers that Trainer's bills were paid by some mysterious company called Multivex Corporation.

It turns out that Spider-Carnage was following Peter and begins to wreck the hospital rooftops. Peter tries to talk Ben down and almost gets killed for it.

Up until this point, the Carnage symbiote's ultimate goal is just to bond with Spider-Man and cause general mayhem. But Ben breaks into Ravencroft to confront Kasady about the symbiote. However, when the symbiote sees Kasady, it immediately tries to bond with him.


 Ultimately, with help of John Jameson, Spider-Man separates from the Carnage symbiote. But the symbiote slips through the drainage system to reunite with Kasady. So... is the symbiote's plan is to escape from Ravencroft to return to Ravencroft? Okay...


By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  Carnage symbiote escapes, bonds with Ben, and then reunites with Cletus Kasady.
  • First appearance of Spider-Carnage (He was popular enough to be the final villain in Spider-Man: The Animated Series!) 
  • Jessica is revealed to be the daughter of the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben
  • Spider-Skeleton is revealed to be a clone
  • Seward Trainer is checked out of the hospital and is possibly working for Multivex Corp

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Jessica- REVEALED to be the Burglar's daughter Jessica Carradine
  • Multivex Corporation

Subplots Count:

  •  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 returns to his physical body- UPDATE Seward Trainer is checked out of the hospital and covered by the Multivex Corporation
  • Carolyn Trainer has mysterious plans for the comatose Seward Trainer
  • Who is Jessica?- UPDATE Jessica is the daughter of the Burglar
  • Peter loses his spider-powers
  • What is the truth behind the Spider-Skeleton?- UPDATE Spider-Skeleton is a clone
  •  Ben and Jessica are now dating

Clones Running Around:

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

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • Number of Spider-Clone red herrings: 2 (Spider-Cide, Spider-Skeleton) 
  • Love interests for Ben Reilly: 8 (Gabrielle Greer, Betty Brant, Janine, Rachel the waitress, Carrie Bradley, Desiree Winthrop, Firestar, Jessica)
  • The day is saved by talking about love and/or responsibility: 4

    Verdict

There is a lot to like about the Spider-Carnage story line. Overall, all the plot threads are genuinely interesting. What's the deal with Seward Trainer? What's going to happen with Jessica? What is the Spider-Skeleton exactly? Even if the plots eventually turn out disappointing, they at least drum up a high level of intrigue at the time. 
 
 But it still lacks this tight, cohesive narrative. Jurgens seems more interested in focusing on his  own story lines- like Jessica and the Spider-Skeleton. Additionally, the Carnage symbiote has no real endgame in mind, which ultimately makes its personal arc feel aimless. This arc could've benefited from some tighter editing and possibly one less chapter. If the Sensational issue was a one-off, it would've been better. Overall, story great idea, but in need of better editing.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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