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

05 April 2013

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, v. 5

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #405-6, Spectacular Spider-Man #228-9, Web of Spider-Man #128-9, Spider-Man #62-3, Spider-Man Unlimited #10, New Warriors #62-4, Spider-Man Team-Up #1, and backups from Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Venom, and Web of Spider-Man Super Specials (1995)

Released: January 2011 (Marvel)

Format: 472 pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785150091

What is this?: The Clone Saga is wrapped up — ha! — Ben and Peter figure out what to do with their lives.

The culprits: Writers Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, Howard Mackie, and Evan Skolnick and artists Patrick Zircher, Sal Buscema, Steven Butler, Gil Kane, and others

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 5 isn’t great, but I can praise some elements of the book without reservation. More importantly, little in Book 5 inspires the deep loathing the abysmal Book 4 did.

The high point of Book 5 is the five-part story that ran alongside “Planet of the Symbiotes” (reprinted in Book 3) in the Super Specials. Written by Terry Kavanagh, the tale introduces a new hero, Strongarm, who is created by a scientist’s reworking of Dr. Curtis Connors’s research. Strongarm’s story, which — of course — culminates in a battle with the Lizard, Connors’s alter ego, is forgettable, but Strongarm himself has a certain uncomplicated, Boy Scout charm about him. More interesting, though, is the attempt of Spider-clone Ben Reilly to assemble a life: a job, a love interest, a supporting cast. Heck, he even shows a hint of jealousy, and even though jealousy is a negative emotion, any emotion not connected to Peter Parker or clones is welcome. Chronologically, this story should probably have been included before Amazing Spider-Man #400 — it’s hard to believe Ben could get hired for a job without anyone remarking upon his resemblance to a front-page murder suspect — but it’s good to see the Spider-office spend some time on the man who will be Spider-Man for the next year.

Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic, Book 5 cover I also like the New Warriors issues in Book 5. The three issues have nothing to do with Spider-Man, and most have little to do with the Scarlet Spider (Ben’s alter ego), but they are a nice, clone-free palate cleanser. Writer Evan Skolnick shows a different side to Ben, who relates to a team — something Spider-Man had not done up to this point — and even takes charge when necessary. The issues also have some intriguing subplots, which — again — have nothing to do with Spiders or clones … unfortunately, this makes it sound as if I’m tired of reading about Spider-Man or the Clone Saga.

Perhaps I am; the other three storylines in Book 5 don’t generate any interest in the clones. In quality, they range from dull (“Exiled” and most of “Greatest Responsibility”) to awful (“Time Bomb”).

The four-part “Exiled” crossover is mystifying, as the four issues have three unrelated stories in them. They are tied together by a subplot: Ben’s decision to leave New York, which he reverses almost immediately. The main stories are random. Web of Spider-Man #128 is a D’Spayre story — a D’Spayre story, for Odin’s sake! D’Spayre feeds on people’s, well, despair, and he’s always beaten when one of his victims overcomes that emotion. Web #128 is no exception. Amazing Spider-Man #405 and Spider-Man #62 shows Ben fighting a new adversary to protect his friend, Dr. Seward Trainer, and Trainer’s data; the B-plot shows some of Ben and Seward’s back story, which might be interesting except for the Clone Saga taint lingering over Seward. And Spider-Man Unlimited #10, the last part of “Exiled,” is a forgettable Vulture story that also has Ben helping Uncle Ben’s friend put his kid into college. Sure, why not?

The first two parts of the three-issue “Greatest Responsibility” are similarly forgettable. The new Dr. Octopus, who is also Trainer’s daughter, is revealed as the mystery villain from the middle of “Exiled,” to the collective yawn of the audience. Her conflict with her father and the Spider-Men features ‘90s conceptions of virtual reality, Trainer in an X-Men-style uniform, and one of the odder father-daughter relationships in comics. These issues aren’t awful, but the plot developments feel forced, and the plot and art are dated.

The final issue of “Greatest Responsibility,” Spectacular Spider-Man #229, is cut above the rest of the crossover, as creator Tom DeFalco, Sal Buscema, and Bill Sienkiewicz step up on what is ostensibly Peter’s last issue as Spider-Man before he is replaced forever. The plot is reminiscent of Amazing Spider-Man #33; since Amazing #33 is one of Spider-Man’s greatest moments, and echoing it to give Peter a sendoff is an excellent idea. Both issues have a battle vs. Dr. Octopus in an underwater base, Spider-Man trapped under broken machinery, and a loved one waiting for Spider-Man to return with medicine. Spider-Man’s escape is appropriately different from Amazing #33, and Spider-Man needing Ben’s assistance can be interpreted many ways. The execution on Spectacular #229 doesn’t do justice to the earlier issue, but the idea is so far ahead of the rest of the book I don’t mind.

Curiously, reprint editor Mike O’Sullivan inserted Spider-Man Team-Up #1 between the second and third chapters of “Greatest Responsibility.” In SMTU #1, Scarlet Spider and the X-Men ally to battle Shinobi Shaw’s Hellfire Club, and like Shinobi Shaw, the issue slips from the memory as soon as it’s out of sight. I don't see the logic of inserting the issue into the middle of a storyline, but I’m of two minds about including the issue at all; I like getting more stories, but SMTU #1 is of such negligible importance to Scarlet Spider and the Clone Saga that it feels like filler.

“Time Bomb” is a two-part story that, like Book 4, seems published solely to tear down Peter Parker. Premonitions in previous books showed Mary Jane, Peter’s wife, being killed by a mysterious assailant; writers DeFalco and Todd DeZago resolve the plot by making Peter, under the Jackal’s post-hypnotic, post-mortem control, the assassin. Scarlet Spider and the New Warriors attempt to stop him, but Mary Jane helps Peter break the Jackal’s control with the power of love — a clichéd ending that makes everyone other than Mary Jane look stupid.

The art suffers this time from a complete lack of the excellent Mark Bagley, although the inclusion of Patrick Zircher’s clean, clear, and exciting art on New Warriors helps make up the deficiency. Buscema and Sienkiewicz continue to contribute their not-so-excellent work on Spectacular Spider-Man, although through Stockholm Syndrome, I’m growing accustomed to them. (Buscema’s finishes of Tod Smith’s work on the Spider-Man Super Special are quite pleasing, reminiscent of Buscema’s earlier work.) Steven Butler’s work is sharp but entirely too over-the-top for me; the first image in Web of Spider-Man #128 is the Black Cat in a pin-up pose, her considerable chest thrust out, in the middle of swinging between buildings, which automatically discredits the artist in my eyes. The remaining pencilers range from good to serviceable in a ‘90s way, with no one so good you wonder what happened to them.

Book 5 is a significant improvement on Book 4, but that’s a backhanded compliment. If Marvel had drawn a line under the Clone Saga after this book and moved on, there would be something good to take away from Book 5 and some optimism for the future. But the Clone Saga will be back, as will Peter Parker, so everything will get churned up again. I can’t rate the mediocre Book 5 lower because of my dread of the future … but I want to.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol
(2 of 5)

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