Last issue, we established that this mini-series is not actually “the Clone Saga as it was originally intended to be told” but in fact the Clone Saga “the way it should have been told” at least according to Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie. It doesn’t cut away the fat of the original. Rather, it starts over, changing even the earliest plot threads in order to turn the whole thing in an entirely new direction. Those of you expecting a real look at where the original Saga was going can get off this train right now. Those willing to accept these stipulations just to see Ben Reilly again, stay on board. Even given the “new rules,” though, how is this mini-series faring?
Time has passed since Spider-Man Clone Saga #1 and Ben Reilly is now the Scarlet Spider. Apparently he has been busy fighting various menaces but in our narrow focus, he is once again battling Kaine, who gets away by ripping open a fire hydrant and blasting Ben with the water. Ben goes to work at the Daily Grind where he chats with his boss Shirley Washington, her son Devon, and Grind regular Buzz. Shirley asks him how his Aunt is doing. “Not well,” Ben tells her. The “Aunt” in question is May who is still comatose in the hospital. Peter and MJ are visiting and MJ collapses in a faint. The doctor decides to check MJ out since May’s condition began “with the exact same symptom.” Meanwhile, Kaine has a vision of MJ unconscious in a hospital bed. He contacts his mysterious boss who tells him that he has infected “both the wife and the Aunt.”
After Ben arrives at the hospital, the doctor notifies the group that MJ has the “same genetic anomaly” as Aunt May even though they aren’t related by blood. Later, Peter and Ben don their Spidey and Scarlet costumes. Soon after, Kaine arrives calling them by their last names. He leads them on a chase to his master’s hidden lab... in the Sanitation plant where Peter dumped Ben into the smokestack. There, they face the installation’s various defenses, with Kaine helping them reach their destination: a lab filled with clone pods. The mysterious master appears and it is, of course, the Jackal. He releases a gas designed to work on Spidey’s particular DNA. When Spidey sees Kaine collapse as well, he gets an idea of who Kaine actually is. Spidey, Scarlet, and Kaine awaken, finding themselves strapped down. The Jackal takes some of Peter’s blood “to serve as the foundation for [his] new clones.” He tells Ben he needs some of his blood as well since he is the only clone “who proved to be a perfect and stable duplicate” while most of the others have cellular degeneration. After injecting Peter’s blood into a pod, another Parker emerges. He apparently dresses quickly in a blue and white jumpsuit as the Jackal proclaims, “I’m going to clone my own personal army of spider-powered Parkers and crown myself King of the World.”
Need I point out that, in the genuine Clone Saga, Ben doesn’t dye his hair blond and get the Daily Grind job until Sensational Spider-Man #0, January 1996 while May has already died in Amazing Spider-Man #400, April 1995? Actually, no. There’s really no reason to mention these inconsistencies anymore. This story has clearly deviated too far from what was published to worry about such things. Worry or not, it creates this odd funhouse mirror feel to the proceedings, like getting fast-forward glimpses into a “What If?” universe. It’s fine, I suppose, for those who haven’t read the original stories except that I can’t imagine anyone unfamiliar with the source material being interested in this mini-series to begin with. For those of us who do remember, this story is, so far, a cheat. Not yet worth the time. Any ins and out of the Clone Saga are far better gleaned from Andrew Goletz and Glenn Greenberg’s excellent The Life of Reilly.
All that understood, there are yet more moments that undermine this issue. Should Peter and Ben recognize the new reconstituted Jackal? In the story in Amazing Spider-Man #399, March 1995, they follow Jack, a small clone in the costume of the original Jackal, into the Jackal’s lab. So they have a pretty good idea that the Jackal is involved. What’s more, when the new and improved Jackal emerges, he introduces himself. But here, with no solid clues as to their opponent’s identity, one of them (off-panel) proclaims, “The Jackal?!” even though this new figure doesn’t look anything at all like the original Jackal. That’s the problem with the whole story. Everyone in it acts like they’ve read this episode before but really fast so they missed out on all the details. Like who Kaine is: a mystery for Peter and Ben which is presented as if it’s also a mystery to us… which it isn’t to anyone at all familiar with the original. Similarly, it’s nice to see Shirley, Devon, and Buzz again but to what purpose? Anyone unfamiliar with the old stories won’t recognize these characters. Those who are familiar remember that the Grind folks didn’t show up until most of the clone business was over. Shirley never asked about Ben’s Aunt because May was dead before Ben met Shirley. It feels a bit like being unstuck in time; a feeling accentuated by DeFalco’s propensity to namedrop current celebrities, in this case John Stewart and Tim Gunn. So when does this story take place anyway? Back then? Right now? The vertigo increases.
To make matters worse, all of the intrigue has been sucked right out of the story. Some of this can’t be helped. We already know who Kaine is. We know the Jackal is behind everything. But what’s our big cliff-hanger for this issue? He’s going to make an Army Of Clones! Really? That’s it? Nothing more imaginative than that? If this is really the Clone Saga as it should have been told, thank God we got the other one. Unless something really unexpected takes place in the next four issues, this mini-series is looking like a big “So what?”
Artwise, Todd Nauck and Victor Olazaba’s work does its best to keep us interested. The cheekbones didn’t bother me this time but the noses seem to, distractingly, change size and shape from panel to panel. It all works much better when everyone concerned is masked. I loved Miguel Sepulveda and Andy Troy’s cover… but it depicts a scene that isn’t in the issue. Too bad.
A step backward from the first issue. Down to one web. I truly hope Tom and Howard turn it around and present us with some mind-blowing stuff in the final four issues. As a big Clone Saga fan, I’m rooting for this mini-series. Come on, guys! Bring it!