Fan Retrospectives: Spider-Man: The Clone Saga: Part 52: Game's End

 

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.

"Game's End"  Spider-Man Unlimited #14

Writer: Glenn Herdling

Artist: Joe Bennett

Review by Eric Lee

We finally get to the grand finale of the "Great Game" story line. And by "grand finale", I mean that it's a mess of random scenes that barely connect with each other. However, we will try to navigate through the narrative smorgasbord together. Won't you join us?

We begin with a random scene of a Scarlet Spider tied to a bridge and then getting shot down by a mysterious shadowed person. Yes, I said "a Scarlet Spider". It's not Ben Reilly, we find out in the next scene that it's just some guy. This doesn't affect the plot at all, but lets just move forward.

Unsurprisingly, J. Jonah Jameson blames Spider-Man for killing "Scarlet Spider" because he's trying to "get rid of the competition". It's silly logic, but at least we see a comically cartoony drawing of Jameson.
 This panel is just begging to have a "caption this" contest.

So after Spider-Man harasses Jonah for a bit, he and Peter meet up in the Daily Bugle cafeteria where they see Betty Brant.

 In a bit of fun interplay, Ben asks Betty out in front of Peter. I love scenes where we see how different Ben is from Peter.  Unfortunately, this is the only good bit in the comic.

The scene is also super weird because Ben seems to stop caring about his Spider-Man responsibilities. When Peter asks what has Ben done to stop the Great Game from happening, Ben sorta shrugs and says it's not illegal.

 Really, Ben? "Not illegal"? An innocent man just died earlier that day because of the Great Game.  That doesn't even get into the quandaries of  billionaires pitting known super criminals against each other that causes massive property damage and public endangerment.  Good thing ignoring a problem never bit Spider-Man in the butt before.

Betty and Peter go to interview a scientist and her son who has cyborg arms. I don't even care to remember their names because they're forgotten after this scene.

So Polestar breaks in and attempts to kidnap the cyborg-armed lad. Apparently, kidnapping him will earn him a spot in the Great Game. Fortunately, Spawn I MEAN Nightwatch intervenes to save the boy!

  Nightwatch is Marvel's answer to Spawn. And when I say "answer to Spawn", I mean that he looks like Spawn, acts like him, and has similar powers. But instead of being a comic book phenomenon like how Spawn was, Nightwatch gets killed instantly.

Yes, El Toro Negro (aka the Black Bull for you gringos out there) comes in and teams-up Polestar to kill Nightwatch.

 Then, El Toro instantly betrays Polestar and shoots him in the head!
 I don't even know why they bother bringing Nightwatch into this issue, as he's barely a presence before he gets killed literally three pages later. But this issue will have a lot of random guest stars for no reason. 

Despite Nightwatch's death, Ben continues to act like a callous dick. Peter stomps into the Daily Grind to confront Ben about his apathy and Ben is still cracking jokes. This is weirdly the most unsympathetic Ben has ever been. And that even includes the time he convinced a man to near suicide.

Also, Ben has blond stubble, which is weird since his natural hair color is brown. So is Ben dyeing his beard stubble blond too?

At Peter's behest Ben finally investigates the Great Game as Spider-Man. He checks out the only Great Game sponsor he knows:  James Johnsmeyer. Incidentally, Johnsmeyer looked like he aged like 40 years since we last saw him in "The Return of Kaine". In that story line, he looked like he was in his mid-30's. Here, he's a senior citizen. What's up with artist Joe Bennett drawing people off-model? First Marla Madison, now Johnsmeyer.

But no time to think about Johnsmeyer's inexplicable aging, because we get another random guest star: Cardiac!! Spider-Man and him briefly tussle before Spider-Man reads a paper that points him towards his next lead: Chi-Huan Associates.

By the way, in case you are wondering what the fight scene between Cardiac and Spider-Man accomplished, the answer is nothing. It was nothing more than an excuse to have an action scene and for Cardiac to show off how big his codpiece is.

 C'mon, Cardiac. Nobody likes a braggart.

Spider-Man checks out Chi-Huan Associates where he accidentally stumbles upon their director of marketing: Joystick! I'm serious. That's really Joystick's job title.

 They fight again until she runs away for NO REASON. Writer Glenn Herdling is not even trying to come up with logical reasons anymore.

Spider-Man rushes home to go on a date with Betty Brant. She brags how her article about Nightwatch's death was her first by-line. Fair ye well, Nightwatch. Your sacrifice allowed Betty to fulfill her dream to become a reporter.

 By the way, I am not even gonna mention how Betty has been a reporter for at least four years at this point.

So Betty and Ben go to the Century Club to hang out with- of all people- J. Jonah Jameson and Marla Madison. I don't know if this is supposed to be an intentional satire of a chauvinistic male talking down to an overqualified female, but Jonah orders Betty fetch him another drink.

 AND BETTY FOLLOWS HIS ORDERS. Betty! You don't need accept that kind of behavior!  That's so demeaning!

Oh and Marla and Betty look EXACTLY THE SAME. They even have the same haircut and dress. It's like Bennett didn't even care that his female characters all looked identical.

So after the party, Ben and Betty walk home and see the Prowler and Rocket Racer fighting on the rooftops. Fortunately, Ben's sense of responsibility kicks in and he ditches Betty to change into Spider-Man.

Nah. Just kidding. He just ignores it and makes out with Betty.

 Due to Ben's inaction, El Toro Negro blows up both Rocket Racer and Prowler with a bazooka. Miraculously, Rocket Racer only suffered a broken arm, while Prowler went into a coma. No word yet if the explosion interrupted Ben and Betty's makeout session.

So Spider-Man remembers that the Great Game might be dangerous when villains are blowing buildings up and tracks down another billionaire Great Game sponsor. He is able to hack the sponsor's computer and pull up a list of other sponsors.

Elsewhere, El Toro targets Jameson. Good thing Spider-Man and Chance the assassin (not the Rapper) interfere.

 Eventually Joystick and Cardiac also join in the fight. The battle then moves to the Johnsmeyer corporate building.

While El Toro beats on Joystick, he randomly reveals his secret plan. He was secretly hired by Johnsmeyer to kills the other Great Game sponsors, so he can steal their businesses! What a twist!

But the other sponsors were listening in and now his reputation is ruined!  Another twist, it wasn't actually Johnsmeyer who hired El Toro, but Justin Hammer from the Iron Man comics! Johnsmeyer was just a fall guy for the other CEO's to arrest him, but Hammer is the one who actually profited from it.
  And... Spider-Man never even realizes that Hammer is the real mastermind behind all of this. Which means that the main villain actually won. He profited off of the CEOs' death, he successfully framed Johnsmeyer, he killed El Toro to silence him, and the hero was never even aware of  Hammer's involvement.  So Hammer actually won.

There is also this weird epilogue scene where Betty is out-scooped by Bugle reporter Ken Ellis. She then feels so discouraged that she is thinking of quitting. Which once again, is odd since she's been a reporter for years.

 So the story ends with Ben and Betty still together. However, we never see them actually together again. Ben dies in the next month and Betty never mentions him again.

By the Numbers

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

Notable Developments:

  •  The Great Game ends with the arrest of Johnsmeyer
  • El Toro Negro reveals himself as an agent of Justin Hammer
  • Death of Nightwatch
  • Death of Polestar
  • Death of El Toro Negro
  • Rocket Racer breaks an arm
  • Prowler is in a coma
  • Ben and Betty go on a date

Shadow Mystery Men:

  • Gavin Thorpe
  • Gaunt
  • Mystery Boss
  • Mystery Stalker
  • The Rose
  • Mystery person who bankrolled Scorpion

Subplots Count:

  • Peter and Mary Jane are pregnant with a girl
  • 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
  • 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- UPDATE The Great Game ends with a winner: Spider-Man
  • Trainer works for Gaunt and a mystery man
  • A mystery man is targeting Peter and Ben
  • Potentially another mystery person is stalking Peter and Mary Jane
  •  Peter is laid off and now back to being a freelance photographer
  • Garon is a police detective hunting the gangs
  • Arthur Stacy is interested in Spider-Man
  •  Don Fortunato unites the New York crime scene and revealed to work with Hydra
  • Jimmy-6 is crashing at Ben Reilly's apartment
  •  Hammerhead has an exoskeleton
  • A shadowy person upgraded Scorpion and has other plans
  •  Donald Menken is plotting something at Oscorp
  • Aunt Anna moves in with Peter and Mary Jane 

Clones Running Around:

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

Repetition is My Job, My Job is Repetition:

  •  Ben making ironic statements about not dying: 3
  • Great Game players: 11 (El Toro Negro, Joystick, Polestar, Kaine, Muse, Rhino, Poison, Rocket Racer, Prowler, Chance, Spider-Man)
  • Love interests for Ben Reilly: 9 (Gabrielle Greer, Betty Brant, Janine, Rachel the waitress, Carrie Bradley, Desiree Winthrop, Firestar, Jessica, Black Cat)

    Verdict

This issue wraps up the Great Game in a very stupid way. There are so many characters or subplots that are added but do not actually contribute anything substantial to the story. Most of the time, they get forgotten very quickly. In fact, it feels like the writer had no plan of how it was going to end and just continued writing more and more until there was some semblance of a conclusion.

The art is also... really 90's. The good news is Joe Bennett gets better fairly quickly once he becomes the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man. But here? With his ridiculous anatomy and generic character designs? It looks bad. Everything about this issue is bad. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. This is written by the same man who gave us Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1, which is one of the few comics ever that gave me a headache reading it (Maximum Clonage Omega also has that "honor"). For previous Fan Retrospectives on the Clone Saga, click here.

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