Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 36: Fables of the Reconstruction

 

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.

"Fables of the Reconstruction" Spider-Man Unlimited #12

Writers: Evan Skolnick

Artists: Paris Karounos, Steven Butler, Steve Geiger

Review by Eric Lee

 Finally, we come to the resolution of the Spider Skeleton story line. And the answers are... well, there. Why don't we just dive into the issue, shall we?

J. Jonah Jameson has put out a reward of $100,000 just for information on the Spider Skeleton. He advertises the reward on a strangely-designed billboard where it's a picture of Jonah holding a picture of the Spider-Skeleton. Anyways, criminals use the promise of the reward money as a reason to attack Spider-Man.

Interestingly, Spider-Man is confronted by a similar squad of super villains who previously hunted Kaine. There is no in-story reason why the Beetle, Boomerang, the Shocker, Scorpia, and Jack o' Lantern would team-up again. If anything, since their hunt for Kaine was a miserable flop, you'd think they'd be more opposed to working together again, but whatever.

Side-note about Jack o' Lantern, this character 's history was a huge cluster. There have been so many different people adopting the Jack o' Lantern identity over the years. But it is not because the creators wanted  a legacy character, but simply out of ignorance of whether the character was dead or not. The Jack in this story's identity is apparently a dude named Steven Levins. But honestly, who cares? Most incarnations of Jack o' Lantern barely have distinctive personalities to even distinguish the each other apart.

Back to the actual issue. Spider-Man runs into all these criminals gunning for him. So what's the responsible thing for him to do? He runs away. That's it. Forget the fact that these guys are all dangerous and could potentially harm civilians. He just ignores them and swings back to his apartment.

Meanwhile, Peter gets a call from Jonah to meet him and Detective Mason for questioning about the skeleton. Jonah also reveals that he's hired Dr. Holkar, who has a machine that can reconstruct and deconstruct a person's face based on skull samples.

The whole demonstration quickly spirals out of control when Jonah volunteers Peter to be the test subject for the machine. Did they really have to strap Peter to a table? Anyways, sure enough, the machine scans Peter's face and a computer simulation can deconstruct it in to a skull.

 By the way, the art is especially rough on these "human scenes". Artist Paris Karounos definitely struggles with basic human anatomy and maintaining consistent character models. For example, look at Detective Mason's grossly skinny head.
 And then a few pages later, Mason's hair is so crooked on her head, it looks like she hastily applied a toupee to her bald head. The art is rushed to say the least.
So, Peter leaves Jonah, worried how the Spider skeleton may reveal that he is Spider-Man. But then he's capture by the Pro. He then straps a small bomb to Peter in an effort to tell him where the skeleton is.
Fortunately or coincidentally, Ben Reilly swings by and sees the Pro taking Peter in his car. Spidey follows the Pro, but unbeknownst to him, the Beetle is following Spidey. Like, do you even feel your spider-sense tingling?
 Peter takes the Pro to the graveyard where he and Ben previously buried the skeleton. But before the Pro can abscond with the skeleton, Spider-Man intervenes. Unfortunately, all the other super villains also followed Spidey and want the skull.

The seven-way fight scene is actually pretty epic. This is done in no small part due to the other artist Steve Butler. It's a series of double-page splash pages, but dang Butler goes wild with the poses and angles. I also really like his layouts, which are surprisingly easy to follow for such a chaotic scene.


Long story short, every villain is defeated by Spider-Man. Incidentally, this is the Beetle's last appearance in the role. Soon after this defeat, he goes on to recreate himself into Mach-I in the amazing series Thunderbolts.

Anyways, Ben hands the skeleton over to the police and Jonah. Peter subtly reminds him that if the skeleton is revealed to be Peter Parker's face, this will screw up all  of their lives. But it's too late, Jonah holds a last minute press conference where Dr. Holkar will use his machine to reconstruct the face.

By the way, neither Ben nor Peter told Mary Jane about any of this, which is a pretty dick thing to do. She has to discover the press conference on TV like everybody else. Weirdly, it appears that MJ is in a bar, which is an odd place for a pregnant woman to hang out on an afternoon.

So Dr. Holkar's machine reconstructs the skeleton's face to be... Peter Parker!?! But the obviously dead skeleton can't have the same face of a clearly-alive Peter! What the hey?

Peter mocked the poor doctor and Detective Mason assumes that the machine got the scans that Peter did earlier mixed up with skeleton scans. Once again, the mystery of the skeleton is put to rest and Spider-Man and Peter's secret identities are saved.

Oh what's that? We still don't know who the skeleton was or how affects Ben and Peter? There's no discussion of whether it's the skeleton of the original Spider-Man clone or something else entirely? Oh, well the answers are...

Never brought up ever again in an actual storyline. An explanation is finally given after the fact in the one-shot The Osborn Journal, which is pretty much one long exercise in plugging hanging plot holes from the Clone Saga.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  The Beetle, the Shocker, Scorpia, Boomerang, the Pro, and Jack o' Lantern team up to collect the skeleton reward
  • The first and only appearance of Dr. Holkar and his  skeleton reconstruction machine
  • Spider-Man gives  the skeleton to the police, but J. Jonah Jameson's plan to reveal the identity of the skeleton fails and is subsequently discredited
  • The last appearance of the Beetle before he revamps his costumed identity in Thunderbolts

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Gaunt
  • Mystery Boss
  • Mystery Stalker

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 works for Gaunt and a mystery man
  • Peter may be starting to regain his spider-powers
  • Spider-Skeleton is a clone
  • J. Jonah Jameson offers a reward to capture Spider-Man and the Spider-Skeleton- UPDATE J. Jonah Jameson's reward is rescinded when Spider-Man gives the skeleton to the cops and Jameson is discredited
  • Jessica discovers Ben's secret identity
  • A mystery man is targeting Peter and Ben
  • Potentially another mystery person is stalking Peter and Mary Jane
  • Peter is now a staff photographer at the Daily Bugle

Clones Running Around:

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

    Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  • No real repetition in this comic. Nice work, creators!

    Verdict

This comic gives me mixed feelings. Parts of it were stupid, mindless action. Other parts are actually really clever. Despite it being slightly contrived, the resolution of the skeleton was kinda fun in a goofy, Silver Age kind of way.

However, it doesn't excuse the fact that the comic completely side-steps the harder clone-related implications of the Spider-Skeleton. It's as if the writer didn't even try explaining it and hoped that people would just forget to ask the deeper questions.
 
Unfortunately, the comic's also hampered by wildly inconsistent arts teams on it. Some of it was extremely weak and sketchy, whereas the portions illustrated by Butler looks dynamic and polished.

Overall, a real mixed bag of a story in terms of scripting and art.
For the previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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