Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 46: Redemption

 

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.

"Redemption"  Spider-Man: Redemption #1-4

Writer: JM DeMatteis

Artist: Mike Zeck

Review by Eric Lee

 After we got a couple of clunker of stories, we get back on-track with a legitimate good one: the final battle between Ben Reilly and Kaine in the Clone Saga.

This comic has the benefit of being a mini-series, so writer JM DeMatteis has some room to let his story breath. Also, DeMatteis clearly has a such an affinity for writing Kaine. You really get the best idea of who Kaine is as a person and his head space here. And it's incredibly sad.

We meet Kaine doing the creepiest thing ever: watching over a stranger's dead body.

He is confronted by the police for being a weirdo and then Kaine straight up burns his own face with his Mark of Kaine powers. If you haven't figured it out yet: Kaine is obsessed with death. But now he is quickly escalating to self-harm.

 Cut to Ben Reilly mourning the death of Harry Osborn. Even though Harry already died before Ben returned to New York, he is just mourning now. He also pontificates over the fact of how he even though he's Spider-Man in New York, he can never really be friends with his old friends again because of his Ben Reilly identity. Despite being settled in New York, he continues to feel like a transient.
That's a pretty interesting problem for Ben to have, but it is completely logical. Unfortunately, the main books never touch on it, because they focus on the super heroics. Anyways, Kaine briefly attacks Ben in his apartment and then runs off just to mess with him.

The real revelation is that Ben has furniture again. Since "Blood Brothers", Ben's place has been stripped clean. I guess he furnished it since then. 

After an honestly random scene where Ben meets Flash Thompson at a bar, Ben finds his old girlfriend Janine. 

Janine was last seen at the end of "The Lost Years" riding off into the sunset with Ben Reilly. Of course, it wasn't a happy ending, because Ben would have to later reappear in New York without her. Also, "The Lost Years" ending even foreshadows something horrible happened to Janine. But we'll get there later. The point is that Ben and her get back together for now. 

But surprise twist- Kaine was the one who lured Janine back to New York. Apparently, he catfished her with love letters from Ben. It's all a part of Kaine's master plan to bring Ben happiness, so Kaine can snatch it from him. But, honestly I just like the idea of Kaine pretending to be Ben writing lovey letters to Janine. I imagine Kaine's on his bed, kicking his feet as he writes poetry as Ben.

Anyways, Kaine kidnaps Janine, fakes her death and lures Ben to an old Jackal lab. He quickly defeats Ben and injects a formula that causes him to experience the pain that Kaine endures with his slow clone degeneration. It's hard to quite explain how horrifying it is, but DeMatteis does a pretty good job describing it.

What is weird is that Kaine has Spider-Man at his mercy, but he totally gives it up and cures Ben. He even places Ben and Janine back in their apartment.

However, it's all a ruse because Kaine also tipped off the police to arrest Janine for a murder she committed years ago. Surprise twist!

 The plan to torture Spider-Man by having his girlfriend arrested is a good one. But if Kaine was actually serious about torturing Ben, why did he cure him of that clone degeneration formula? That seems like such a step backwards for an evil plan.

I really like the idea of Spider-Man having an actual regular girlfriend who also is on the run from the law. It's a little different than his other girlfriends, who are usually more goody-two shoes (unless you're the Black Cat). It also forces Spider-Man to make some more morally ambiguous choices.

 Like here, when Janine gets transported, Ben disguises himself and breaks her out of the police van. That is pretty shocking to see Ben do something that blatantly breaks the law and for purely selfish reasons. Even more shocking, Ben tells Janine that he is willing to drop his life in New York and run away with her.

This is the kind of thing that Peter Parker probably would never do, but a transient like Ben would. What a great way to show the difference between the two Spider-characters.

Eventually, Janine explains what happened to her after the conclusions of "The Lost Years". Apparently, Ben and her lived together in Santa Cruz. But one night, Kaine threatened to kill her if she didn't fake her own death. So she faked her own death and left Ben. It's pretty messed up stuff.

 Which seems to be a good time to have Kaine bust through the floor (!) of the cafe Ben and Janine were in. Kaine actually tricks Ben into fighting him long enough for a bomb to go off in the cafe, killing everybody inside.

Just kidding. Actually in a last-minute act of heroism, Kaine saved everybody-including Janine and Ben. Is this an out-of-character moment? No, this is just highlighting Kaine's apprehension about being a murderer.

The real issue is that Kaine just wants to die. He is tired of living in continual pain and welcomes death. Kaine's real motivation for tormenting Ben is to push him to kill him. That is super dark.

But when Ben refused to kill Kaine, he tries to force the police to shoot him. But Ben saves Kaine from the police gunfire too.

Due to Ben's act of compassion, Kaine turns himself into the cops. Motivated by Kaine's actions, Janine also turned herself into the police. No more running. No more forcing Ben to choose between their relationship and his obligation to be Spider-Man.

The ending is a bittersweet in more ways than one. This is a twist of the classic Spider-Man formula where he wins as Spider-Man, but loses in his personal life. Kaine is finally captured, but Janine is also in prison.

Even more amusingly, Ben watches Janine go to prison as Spider-Man, while promising that he will love and watch over her for as long as he lives... which is like one month before he dies in "Revelations". Ouch.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  • Janine returns and is imprisoned for her past murder
  • Kaine returns and surrenders to the police

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Judas Traveller
  • Mr. Thorpe
  • The Scrier 
  • Gaunt
  • Mystery Boss
  • Mystery Stalker
  • Mystery Roxxon Man
  • Mystery bank robber
  • The Rose
  • Mystery person who bankrolled Scorpion

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- UPDATE Janine is reunited with Ben, but then later imprisoned for her past crimes
  • 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 regains his spider-powers
  • 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
  • Garon is a police detective hunting the gangs
  • Arthur Stacy is interested in Spider-Man
  • Don Fortunato tries to take over the New York crime scene
  • Jimmy- Six is crashing at Ben Reilly's apartment
  •  Hammerhead has an exoskeleton
  • A shadowy man is stealing from Roxxon
  •  A shadowy person with the multiple villains' powers commit robberies
  • A new Rose is starting a gang war with Hammerhead
  • A shadowy person upgraded Scorpion and has other plans

Clones Running Around:

  • Ben Reilly
  • The first Gwen clone
  • The four mini-Jacks
  • Kaine
Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition: And
  •  Number of times Kaine spies on others in the shadows: 26
  • Number of times Kaine screams in the rain: 3

    Verdict

 This mini-series feels so different from regular Spider-Man comics. For one thing, it barely features Ben Reilly in a Spider-Man costume. But beyond that, it is a tale about a tortured man who wants to die. Suicide is a very deep, serious topic. But it is treated with nuance and maturity here, unlike the cliche and flamboyant way it was handled in Sensational Spider-Man #7

This is also more or less the last full appearance of Kaine for over a decade. He pops up in the post-Clone Saga comics for a quick scene or two, but the character is pretty much in hibernation for the next 13 years. Even if this is the last appearance of Kaine, it's an excellent swan song to go out with.

The plot is not nearly as tight as "The Lost Years", but it definitely is a huge step up in what the main Spider-Man books were offering at the time.

For previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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