Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #217

Background

If you didn't start back at our review of Web of Spider-Man #117 then you really should head back there to get up to speed, then join us once more as we carry on through Chapter One of The Clone Saga!

Story 'Higher Ground!'

Pages 1-2: Both Spider-Men face Judas Traveller. Miraculously, Ben's mask is no longer ripped. Presumably he stopped on his way to face Traveller to get his sewing-kit out. Or maybe the artist just goofed. Traveller lets out a harsh laugh, and his eyes begin to glow...

Pages 3-4: Outside the institute, Whelan, Kafka and Jameson ponder the ramifications of Traveller releasing the inmates to run amuck. While inside, Boone and Medea have placed the unconscious Spider-Men in the storage basement (shame we never saw any of this) and return to Traveller. Scrier warns Judas that the energy barrier surrounding Ravencroft cannot be maintained much longer, but Traveller assures him that he will adhere to their schedule. He also makes it clear that he has no intention of killing the inmates, but rather he will release them and await the results.

Pages 5-6: Once the Spider-Men regain consciousness, Spidey is convinced his Clone is working for Traveller, and what do you know - they start fighting!

Pages 7-8: Loads of the inmates suddenly rush in and the two Spider-Men begin working together to defeat them. Mr Nacht is in the shadows noting down every word and gesture.

Pages 9-10: Chakra returns to Traveller having completed an assignment involving postmarking a letter for a week ago. Judas tells Scrier to attend to the energy barrier while the others prepare for their imminent departure. Moment later, outside the institute, the barrier spreads out rendering everyone outside unconscious.

Page 11: Brief interlude. We see MJ on her plane to Pittsburgh next to an annoying fan of Secret Hospital, the show MJ used to star in. She begins to regret her decision to leave May behind and she is still so worried about Peter.

Pages 12-13: Once the Spider-Men have got past the inmates, they are attacked by Wild Whip, a villain who Ben actually helped put away sometime during the last five years. Ben knocks him out easily enough, but they next face...

Pages 14-16: Carnage! He tells them that he has murdered the other inmates, and again the Spider-Men work together to fight and come out victorious. They both leap at his head from both sides, and the impact knocks him out cold.

Pages 17-18: Once they've got Carnage back in his cell, Spidey and his Clone smash through a window to the street outside to try to prevent Traveller and his Host from escaping. The Clone leaps into a limo that Boone and Medea have just got into, only to find that they've suddenly vanished. The limo then explodes with - it seems - the Clone still in it.

Page 19: Spider-Man follows Traveller into Dr Kafka's office to avenge Ben's death. Traveller tells him that he has "gained a much greater insight as to why so many criminal minds are obsessed" with him. Judas then does the glowing eyes things again, and Spidey falls unconscious.

Pages 20-21: Once everyone outside Ravencroft has come to, Dr Kafka races into her office to find Spider-Man only just regaining consciousness. Jameson comes back from a quick check of the premises and tells them that all the inmates are alive and virtually unharmed. Spidey then thinks why Carnage would have lied about killing them all or who on earth returned them to their cells. Edward Whelan then finds the letter that Chakra had planted, postdated from the previous week. It is a letter from Judas Traveller offering his apologies that he would not be able to come to Ravencroft after all. They then assume that the 'Traveller' who caused all the mayhem must have been an imposter. He and his Host were of course the real deal. We see them drive off as Judas tells his Host that Spider-Man and his genetic duplicate are both worthy of future study.

Page 22: Outside Ravencroft, the police have not found a trace of anyone inside the wreckage of the limousine. Spidey doesn't know what to think: "Did my Clone escape the blast... or was he just another one of Traveller's mind games?!" The Clone is of course very much alive. We see him some distance away, having survived by being warned of the blast by his spider-sense. Now he ponders over his future - should be now stay... or return to exile?

General Comments

It's a solid story that re-introduces the Clone very well back into the Spidey books. Ben Reilly is a lot more likeable than we perhaps feared, and he makes a nice change to the angry "I am the Spider" Spidey that we've seen for the last few months. Ben's courage and determination to do the right thing (in freeing Peter, for example, when he has so much more to gain by letting him die) as well as his generally well-written monologues, set him up as someone we actually want to see come out on top. The Double back-up story adds to our sympathy of Ben when we see that he has suffered so much since his creation. In the original Clone storyline, the Clone was an irritation - just a throwaway character to advance the plot. So it's good to revisit the story, giving the duplicate more depth. It also links well with the main Power and Responsibility arc:
In Part One of both stories, Ben is beaten on and misunderstood - by Peter in the main story and the Jackal in the back-up;
In Part Two, Ben looks out on Manhattan from the skyscraper rooftops - in the back-up story it is with confusion, but in the main story he is at peace with who he is;
Part Three of both stories see Ben put on the costume for the first time;
And in the concluding parts of both stories, Ben fights Peter and supposedly dies in an explosion.

It does, however, seem to a victim of the 'Four Issue Quota'. Because there were four regular Spidey titles when this came out, and they wanted to keep the continuity tight throughout this saga, many of the stories tended to overstay their welcome. In this case, they took four issues to tell a story they could easily have told in three. Virtually nothing happens in Part 2, and Part 3 has a lot of wasted time (what with dream sequences and imaginary battles etc). Strange then that some scenes of the story seem so rushed. The defeat of Carnage for example - Spidey and the Clone do in 3 pages what it took 14 issues to do during the Maximum Carnage storyline.

This storyline is pretty typical for pretty much the whole Clone saga - moments of brilliance, a lot of cool new characters, but a little bit too much going on, resulting in the main points of the story getting a bit muddled. The reintroduction of the Clone is enough for one storyline without having 6 new characters to introduce (Scrier, Traveller, Boone, Medea, Nacht and Chakra). It may have been better to save these guys for a later storyline, and have an old villain in this one just to concentrate more on Peter and the Clone.

Overall Rating

Although it's a little over-long, it's a good start to the whole Clone saga that somewhere along the way lost its direction and turned very messy. Three and a half webs. Don't forget also to check out our review of the back-up story The Double - a very good re-telling of the Clone's origin.

Footnote

The Clone takes over the Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man titles for the next four months, during which he battles Venom and becomes firmly established as the Scarlet Spider.

We meet the Jackal again in Part Two of the Smoke and Mirrors storyline in Amazing Spider-Man #399, in which the enigmatic Scrier also makes his next appearance. Judas Traveller and his Host, however, aren't seen again until the following month in Amazing Spider-Man #400.