Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 34: Blood Brothers

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.

"Blood Brothers"  Sensational Spider-Man #4,5, Amazing Spider-Man #411, 412, Spider-Man #68, Spectacular Spider-Man  #234

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

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

Review by Eric Lee

 "Blood Brothers" was originally written to be the beginning of the end for Ben Reilly as Spider-Man. It certainly felt that way for the first couple of chapters of the arc. However, ideas changed 3/4 of the way through. In place of a coherent story, the creators opted for a ton of shocking reveals.  Sounds frustrating, right? Welcome to the Clone Saga.

Kicking things off, Ben now feels really awkward around Jessica after discovering that she's the daughter of the Burglar that killed Uncle Ben. They have a conversation about Spider-Man and her blind hatred for him does not ease Ben.

But a hostage situation breaks out, so Ben runs away to be Spider-Man, while Jessica rushes to snap pictures of the crime. Ben is able to defeat them quickly and leaves the scene. He hides in an alley way where he begins to unmask and change back into Ben. Except Jessica takes a picture of Ben sans mask, discovering his secret identity. Shocking reveal number one!

C'mon, Ben! You have a spider-sense to warn you for a reason! This is something that Peter figured out  early in his career.

Interestingly, Ben doesn't even pretend to not be Spider-Man when confronting Jessica. Unfortunately, the news is too much and Jessica walks away.

Later, Peter and Ben decided to bury the Spider-Skeleton, but Peter's not done. He still wants answers from other sources and he doesn't trust Ben's friend Seward Trainer. Ben takes it really personally and the two depart in a huff.

Despite defending Seward earlier, Ben is also a little suspicious of Seward ghosting him and Pete. So he investigates by going to Seward's New York lab. However, he finds it deserted and packed up in crates. 

Ben returns to his apartment where he finds out that his landlord hasn't received her rent. According to the bank, Ben's fake social security number and account our flagged and frozen. He's not even able to cash his paychecks from the Daily Grind.

On the other side of town, Peter wants to stay longer in New York to learn the truth of the Spider-Skeleton. However, Mary Jane quells him and says how it really doesn't matter. The Peter in front of her is the one she fell in love with. Who cares where he's from?

Peter agrees and they take a relaxing shopping trip around the city. Unfortunately, poor timing strikes as they're attacked by some gross looking cyborgs targeting Peter. They're all new characters, but thank God for writer Tom DeFalco's old-school, expository writing style. Those dudes took turn calling each others' name out.

 Another DeFalco-esque writing trope, is his sly ways of making fun of the competition.  Such as, Spider-Man casually stopping the "Waynes" getting murdered and "Bruce" proclaims Spider-Man is a hero. The kid is even wearing a Batman shirt! It's silly, but fun.

Ben was on his way back to his apartment. Except this time he finds that all of his stuff is stolen, as well as an ominous message on the floor saying, "We know who you are!"

Fearing someone knows his secret identity, he swings to the Daily Grind to find it on fire. What's worse, apparently the police are after him for suspicious behaviors. With his life being taken apart piece by piece, Ben can't help but feel that Jessica may be behind it.

 Getting back to Peter, the mercenary group Cell-12 beats Peter up to a bloody pulp and leave him.

Back to Spider-Man, he tracks Seward's boxed goods to a warehouse. But the Cell-12 is waiting for him. Spidey takes them down pretty easily before he meets their boss: Hobgoblin! Shocking reveal number two!

Yup, this is Jason Macendale Hobgoblin with a 90's cyborg implants. After the Roger Stern run of Amazing Spider-Man, the Hobgoblin as a character kinda floundered around. He joined the Sinister Six and even became possessed by a demon. Most recently, he was in a group of loser villains trying to kill Kaine. But now, he's back with an extreme robot make-over.

Some people have made fun of his look, but I actually don't mind it when John Romita Jr. draws him. There's something about Romita Jr's design that makes him look wild. Also, I prefer when the Green Goblin and Hobgoblin look more visually divorced from each other. Regardless, it only lasts until next issue of Spider-Man, do don't get too attached to it.

So Hobgoblin beats the stuffing out of Spider-Man only to reveal that his partner is Seward Trainer! Dun dun dun!! Shocking reveal number three!

However, Trainer is not the mastermind behind the Hobgoblin, it's actually a mysterious figure called Gaunt.  This new mystery man is in  constant agonizing pain with-what's looks like a miniature iron lung on his chest. 

 Seward is being blackmailed into working for Gaunt, helping him transform back into a normal human body. Shocking reveal number three!

Meanwhile, Peter and MJ nurse Ben back to health. Once he recovered, Ben visits Jessica and asks for forgiveness and to remember the feelings they had as a couple. Jessica forgives him, but then Ben screws it up by asking her to burn the negatives of his photo.

 Dang it, Ben! You're just screwing up everywhere with Jessica! Now she's pissed and thinks that his "apology" is just a ruse.

Incidentally, I think that Sal Buscema's Jessica is the most attractive-looking of all the core Spider-Man artists. I actually like Dan Jurgens' depiction of Jessica, where she has an eerie bug-eyed look, but Buscema draws Jessica really cute here.

Going back to the villains plot, we discover that Multivex- the corporation that's backing Gaunt- is secretly a subsidiary of Oscorp. Both Peter and Ben try to investigate the labs, but the whole thing goes to hell pretty quickly when the Hobgoblin and Cell-12 attack.

Peter locates Seward, but in the end everybody escapes. All right, we've discovered most of the key players in the story and that they're tied to Oscorp somehow, now for some answers!

And... we don't really get them. The rest of the arc is really setting up for future story lines and fight scenes. Or they're scenes that are pointless.

Actually that's not totally true. There's one really nice character moment between Desiree and Jessica. The two heard rumors of Ben being behind the Daily Grind burning. Jessica defends him even though she's still hates him. It's nice to see this internal conflict in Jessica.

Going back to super heroics, the reformed villain Molten Man is the acting CEO of Oscorp. Like Peter and Ben, he's  also suspicious of  Multivex. But instead of asking people who work for him, he charges in and breaks into his own factories.

Amusingly, Spider-Man thinks that Molten Man is breaking into his own company and attacks him. The battle drops them and Peter into the secret labs of Gaunt, which is conveniently only three floors below them.

They attack Gaunt and his henchmen, until MJ randomly appears and immediately gets captured. Why does a pregnant woman decide  it's a good idea to charge into a super-power fight? 

Anyways, the good guys defeat Gaunt and thwart his attempts to rebuild his body. The machine explodes-which appears to kill Gaunt and Seward Trainer. The end.

Well, not really. We still get no definitive answers on who's behind all of Ben's problems. I mean, we know that Hobgoblin did most of the heavy work with Gaunt bankrolling him, but we don't know who Gaunt's working for. That's right.  We discover there is yet another mysterious mastermind behind Gaunt.  Shocking reveal number four!

So for the record, the mysterious Cell-12 is led by the Hobgoblin, who is partners with the mysterious, possibly traitorous Seward Trainer, who works with the mysterious Gaunt, who works this new mystery man.

Yes. That is a lot of mystery men.


By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • Jessica discovers Ben's Spider-Man, they presumably breakup
  •  Ben's assets are frozen and his apartment is robbed
  • The Daily Grind burns to the ground
  • First appearance of Cell-12
  • First appearance of cyborg Hobgoblin
  • First appearance of Gaunt
  • Seward Trainer is revealed to work with Hobgoblin and Gaunt
  • First appearance of this new mystery boss

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Multivex Corporation- REVEALED to be a subsidiary of Oscorp
  • Gaunt
  • Mystery Boss

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 
  • Trainer is checked out of the hospital and covered by the Multivex Corporation- UPDATE Trainer works for Gaunt and a mystery man
  • J. Jonah Jameson offers a reward to capture Spider-Man and the Spider-Skeleton
  • Peter loses his spider-powers
  • Spider-Skeleton is a clone
  •  Ben and Jessica are now dating- UPDATE Jessica discovers Ben's secret identity
  • A mystery man is targeting Peter and Ben

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)
  • Cyborg assassins: 6
  • Shocking reveals in just "Blood Brothers": 4
  • Mystery men: 11

    Verdict

This story arc started out as exciting. Who is this mystery person who is ruining Ben Reilly's life. However, it quickly turns to plodding. There are so many times where the scene or character feels pointless. Like, what's the point of the scene where Peter almost catches Seward Trainer, but doesn't? It doesn't add to the overall plot. 
 
Characters seem to be haphazardly added and dropped over the course of the story. The Hobgoblin and Cell-12 were heavily featured in the first part of the story, but then they disappear by the last couple of issues. The inclusion of the Molten Man feels kinda random too. I know he's the Oscorp CEO, but there is no build-up to his appearance. And I am so exhausted by the number of mystery men in the Clone Saga at this point.

I do like the smaller character moments. My favorite is Jessica's conflicted feelings about Ben and her reaction to Ben's "apology".  However, there are other good character stuff that I didn't mention, like Peter's feelings of helplessness after being beaten by Cell-12 or J. Jonah Jameson's glee when he reveals a cash reward to catch Spider-Man.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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