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

29 March 2013

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 4

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #402-4, Spectacular Spider-Man #225-7, Spider-Man #59-61, Web of Spider-Man #125-7, New Warriors #61, Spider-Man: The Jackal Files, and Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage Alpha and Omega (1995)

Released: November 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 480 pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785149552

What is this?: The Clone Saga rushes toward its nadir.

The culprits: So much blame to hand out, so little time.

The Clone Saga, in which Spider-Man’s “clone” returns to his life, has a horrible reputation. Most comic book readers take this as an article of faith. I have read the first three volumes of the Clone Saga, and each were passable, if not always enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised by this competence, but each competent volume only delayed the pain the Clone Saga’s reputation promised.

Now my waiting is over: Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 4 is the awful sludge at the bottom of the cloning vat.

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 4 coverThe Clone Saga could go wrong in so many ways, and Book 4 finds a surprising number of them. The most important mistake is undermining Peter Parker, and Book 4 does that as often as possible. Peter is revealed to be the clone, not Ben Reilly, as was assumed. Peter does little to clear his name while Ben sits in prison for him. He hits his wife.81 He runs out on his responsibilities and joins up with the Jackal, a mass murderer and the man responsible for the chaos of the Clone Saga. And he doesn’t join the Jackal while in a fugue or amnesiac state: he buys the Jackal’s idiotic lies and watches, without intervening, as the Jackal does evil things.

I think the most disappointing part is that when the Jackal claims the role of Peter’s father, Peter doesn’t tell the Jackal he had a father, and his name was Ben Parker. But that’s because Peter sees “clone” as meaning “outsider” and “other” and “worthless”; he doesn’t see the past he shares with Ben Reilly as his, he sees no future for himself, and he sees his present as valueless, despite the love of his pregnant wife. And so he becomes a supervillain’s henchman.

Our hero, everyone! It makes you want to shake him and scream, “GREAT POWER / GREAT RESPONSIBILITY, YOU @#*($ING TWIT.”

Since the Jackal was the villain of the original story featuring Peter’s clone, he is appropriately the Clone Saga’s main villain. Unfortunately, this means the Spider-writers have made “clones” a theme of the mega-crossover, and nothing devalues the uniqueness of a character like a clone. Four major versions of Peter Parker wander through Book 4: Peter, Ben, the original clone, Kaine, and a third clone. The third clone was introduced in Book 3 as an amnesiac Peter; the writers tried to fake out the readers and convince them this clone might be the original, but he turned out to be the Jackal’s super-secret mind-controlled agent who had complete control over every atom of his body. Ben called him “Freak Face,” but in Book 4 Jackal renames him “Spidercide,” a name so awful even the Jackal later disavows it. The Jackal also releases a hundred half-baked clones to stop Ben, which he and Kaine defeat easily, and the Jackal keeps mini-servitors, dressed in Jackal costumes, that he claims are clones of Peter.

By the end of Book 4, you wonder who isn’t a clone of Peter Parker. Perhaps it’s Spider-Man who is the superhero who could be you, literally — because one of you is the clone of the other.

The Jackal gets his biggest moments in Book 4. The problem with the Jackal — other than his incessant cloning — is a failing consistent with many villains with mysterious, overreaching goals: he keeps his goals secret whenever he can, and when he can’t, he lies. But most of his peers have some core value they cling to; Mr. Sinister has his obsession with Summers DNA, for instance. But the Jackal doesn’t have an honest bone in his body.82 He says he wants to replace everyone in the world with genetically perfected clones, but he’s going to get distracted the first time he gets thwarted by Ben or Peter or distracted by a shiny object. Then his long-term plot will be something else, and the previous plot will be revealed as a lie, along with anything else he said.

The only positive is the Jackal makes other villains in the Clone Saga look better by comparison. The usually cryptic Judas Traveller seems forthright, and his assistant, Scrier, is merely annoyingly enigmatic.83 Helix, a mindless, rampaging superpowered man created by the Jackal’s Carrion Virus, is pointless but harmless. The identity of the newest Green Goblin is a happy diversion, rather than a frustrating non sequitur, when reader realizes the pages given to him could have been given to the Jackal instead. The Punisher, in a gratuitous cameo, becomes the greatest hero ever: he shoots the Jackal in the chest.84

The art helps the story a little. To say it is inconsistent is an understatement, though. Mark Bagley’s kinetic, graceful work is a beautiful oasis, but Sal Buscema, inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, pencils as many ugly, scratchy pages as Bagley does pretty ones. Ron Lim’s work on Spider-Man Unlimited is a nice change from the rest of the artists in the book, whose work is, on average, good but a bit too Todd McFarlane / Image influenced for me.

Not everything is awful, but typing that makes me grit my teeth. The idea of putting Spider-Man on trial, with Kaine as his defense attorney and the inmates of Ravenscroft Institution as the jury, has some possibilities, but it’s ended quickly in favor of the asinine criminal trial of Peter Parker.85 In a backup story, Ben Urich interviews Peter’s friends and family for a human-interest story on the man accused of a shocking murder; that’s a better idea for a full-length story than anything actually used for a full issue in Book 4. Readers finally get some closure when Kaine is revealed as Peter’s first clone. The best part, though? The relief of finishing the book.

Book 4 is everything fans objected to (except for the aimlessness and length) in the Clone Saga. There’s more to complain about than what I have listed; I didn't even get into how cavalierly the Spider-Men treat the presence of a Gwen Stacy clone or how little Det. Raven does to see justice is done or … or any number of things. The Complete Clone Saga, Book 4, is a black spot on Spider-Man’s half-century history.

Rating: Half Spider-Man symbol (0.5 of 5)

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