Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

19 August 2011

Spider-Man: The Clone Saga Epic, Book 2

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #395-9, Spectacular Spider-Man #218-21, Spider-Man #54-6, Web of Spider-Man #120-2, Spider-Man: Funeral for an Octopus #1-3, Spider-Man Unlimited #8 (1994-5)

Released: May 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 480 pages / color / $34.99 / ISBN: 9780785143512

What is this?: The Clone Saga’s second installment, in which the story of a Spider-Boy and his clone begins to ramp up.

The culprits: Writers J.M. DeMatteis, Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie, Tom Brevoort, Todd DeZago, and others and artists Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Tom Lyle, Steven Butler, Stewart Johnson, and others

When I reviewed Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 1, I found it occasionally dull but not as dire as the Clone Saga’s reputation would have me believe. Evidently, this is the kind of evaluation that gets me to pick up subsequent volumes of a series.

So … Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 2. We all know the Clone Saga gets bad, eventually … but when? It’s not in Book 2, which is a surprisingly fun read.

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, v. 2 coverYes, I said “fun.” It’s not a classic, and if you were looking for a Spider-Man story, there are a couple dozen others I would recommend first. But I can’t deny I found the book interesting and sometimes exciting, despite the plot being spoiled long ago.

In Book 2, you can almost see the writers ticking off the boxes as they complete the tasks editors set for them. Wrap up unresolved plots, with Mary Jane and her family and Peter finally defeating his stubborn case of asshattery. Establish Kaine as a bad mamajamma, even if they have to kill some established villains to do so. Show that Peter and Ben Reilly, his clone, can exist in the same storytelling universe with unique roles. Prepare readers that this time, yes, May might actually die. Most importantly, start to lay groundwork for new plots, such as the proliferation and identity of clones and Mary Jane’s medical condition. And yeah, if you can get across a new, non-clone villain like Stunner, good on you.

And the writers — J.M. DeMatteis for Amazing, Tom DeFalco (with some help from Todd DeZago) on Spectacular, Howard Mackie for Spider-Man, and Terry Kavanagh, DeMatteis, and DeZago on Web — do just that. The stories aren’t perfect, but they hit the important points of the overall plot without boring readers too much. And even if some plots drag on too long — Peter trying to beat the Vulture’s poison, DeMatteis trying to end Peter’s idiotic “The Spider” personality by drowning the page in captions — it’s important to remember how collaborative the issues in this book are. Book 2 has 19 issues, and all but four — Spider-Man Unlimited and Funeral for an Octopus #1-3 — are linked in four crossovers (“Web of Death,” “Web of Life,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” and “Back from the Edge”). Think about it: this represents about a quarter of a year’s issues for some titles, and none of their writers get to complete a story without sending it through another writer first. It’s a miracle anyone was able to complete a decent story at all. Spider-title editor Danny Fingeroth deserves a lot of credit for keeping things under control.

The stories get better as the farther the book gets from “The Spider” and DeMatteis’s deconstruction of Peter’s mind at the time (it’s a plot that seems tailor-made for DeMatteis, except that it’s not very good). Peter gets poisoned, which touches off all sorts of wacky hijinks: teaming up with the “new” Daredevil, going to Heaven, having Dr. Octopus aid him. I’m not sure the latter was a good development — Otto’s reasoning is a little clichéd — but at least it’s a different take on the character, one that couldn’t be done now.

My favorite story was Funeral for an Octopus, a miniseries that hearkens back to the Fingeroth-written Deadly Foes of Spider-Man and Lethal Foes of Spider-Man minis from the early ‘90s. Those comics concentrated on Spidey vs. a large number of foes, each of whom had his own motivations for taking part; Funeral, written by Tom Brevoort, has a similar plot. Yes, it’s used to get across how tough the mysterious (and horribly costumed) Kaine is, but on the other hand, one of the Sinister Six does outwit the thug, so that’s something. Plus, at this stage, I don’t mind Kaine getting a push as long as the body count doesn’t get too ridiculous; in Book 2, the death toll is confined to a throwaway villain who really never got started and a major villain (no extra points for guessing who).

The final crossover, though, shows some of the cracks that would eventually cause the whole “epic saga” to crumble. In “Smoke and Mirrors,” Spider-Man and the Scarlet Spider fight the Jackal, who has been resurrected via cloning. The Jackal is served by two of Peter’s altered clones, who strangely look nothing like Peter. For the second and third issues of the three-part crossover, all the Jackal does is hint and lie and tell the two Spiders that each is a clone — or maybe the other is a clone? neither? — while Scrier and Kaine watch. (Somehow, I don’t think Spider-baiting is a spectator sport that will ever catch on, regardless of the crowd it drew this time.) The Jackal does show them what happens to clones in the end (they degenerate into dust quickly), and he puts on a Goth leather trench coat with enough chains to satisfy Ghost Rider, but three issues is a little too much for this. Given that the Clone Saga’s mind-numbing number of clones and the claim that Peter was the clone were major reasons fans soured on this storyline, the Jackal’s wild claims and the hint that there is another clone in the offing (and the presence of Scrier) have to be considered major missteps.

Since Book 2 collects five different Spider-titles, you can take your pick on what flavor of artist you like. Mark Bagley, who drew Amazing at the time, is probably the best-known today; his lithe, athletic Spider-Man is outstanding, although his women tend to be overendowed (staying just short of cheesecake) and his facial expressions uniform. Sal Buscema, the regular artist for Spectacular, is my favorite, but this isn’t his best work; it’s near the end of his career, and his art lacks the tightness it once had (especially when inked by Bill Sienkiewicz). His Kaine looks especially stupid as well, although that’s partially because Kaine’s costume is stupid to begin with. Tom Lyle, the regular Spider-Man artist, is excellent: he’s the best in Book 2 at conveying emotion (and faces in general), although his action shots aren’t as lively as Bagley’s. Stephen Butler (Web) and Stewart Johnson (Funeral) do similarly good work without much of the ‘90s excesses.

I enjoyed Book 2 quite a bit. I mean that statement without qualifications or temporization. That being said, I think this book is probably the high point for the “epic saga.”

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Half Spider-Man symbol (3.5 of 5)

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