Everyone knows the premise of the What If? series, right? It was Marvel's answer to DC's "Imaginary Story", the tale that doesn't really count. Each issue featured major characters in stories that could never be done in regular continuity, like "What if Sgt. Fury Fought World War II in Outer Space?" or "What if the Fantastic Four were the Original Marvel Bullpen?" or "What if Spider-Man's Clone Lived?" Uh... hmmm. Actually, the "What If?" stories I most enjoy are those that inadvertently anticipate an eventual change in regular continuity, though not done with the same storyline. This is my favorite of that kind, from 1981, by a writer with whom I'm completely unfamiliar. So, what would happen if Spider-Man's clone had lived?
In the grand tradition of the original "What If" stories, the Watcher introduces the set-up. He reminds us of that time, back in ASM #149 (October 1975) when the mad Jackal (Professor Miles Warren) had cloned Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker. Now, with a kidnapped Ned Leeds blindfolded and attached to a bomb, Warren and Gwen-clone watch Spidey battle his clone... each believing they are the original... in a fight to save Ned's life. In the original story, the two Spider-Men ultimately decide that their battle is pointless. Before they can act, however, the Jackal is shocked back to his senses by the Gwen-clone, and manages to save Ned Leeds before the bomb ignites. The ensuing explosion kills both Prof. Warren and the Spider-Clone. Much later, after he has proven to himself that he is the real McCoy, Spider-Man buries the clone in a smokestack incinerator.
Ah, but What If the two Spider-Men pause in their battle and instead of calling a truce, one uses the distraction of Prof. Warren approaching Ned to punch the other one into unconsciousness? The puncher than catches the falling Ned Leeds as Prof. Warren takes the brunt of the explosion. This time, there isn't a Spider-Man killed in the blast since the second Spidey is knocked out away from the bomb, by the aforementioned punch. So, instead of the awake Spidey toting away a corpse, he carries off an unconscious double. He leaves so quickly that he never hears the Gwen-clone ask him how he can be so sure he is the original.
The conscious Spidey arrives at Prof. Warren's lab just as his counterpart is coming to. He puts the other Spidey in one of Warren's "clone caskets" which will keep him in suspended animation. He removes the other Spidey's mask before he closes the lid, remarks on how his counterpart is "a couple of years older" and decides that Warren must have aged his clone beyond Spidey's actual years to give the clone a physical advantage. He doesn't know how much time has passed between his "capture" and his awakening in this lab. The last thing he can remember is "donating a tissue sample to Warren in Freshman Bio!"
So, our hero heads for home... to Aunt May's house in Forest Hills. He's in for a shock when he gets there. Instead of finding a worried Aunt May, still recovering from her recent heart attack, he finds an empty house with the windows boarded up. He breaks through one window and enters, only to discover that all the furniture is covered with sheets and looks unused for months. He goes to his room but none of his clothes are in the closet. He comes upon an "old jacket and pants covered with paint" and puts them on so that he can wander freely about the house as Peter Parker. Peter scours the whole house, yelling for Aunt May, but finds no one. Concerned, he sits in a chair and realizes that he must have "been asleep for a very long time".
The next day, Spider-Man swings over to the Watson house. He has spent time asking around the neighborhood ("The neighbors thought I was nuts...") but has finally learned that Aunt May lives with Anna Watson. He has also learned that three years have passed since his last memory. He assumes that he has been in suspended animation all this time and that Aunt May thinks he is dead. He rings the doorbell and worries that the shock of seeing him again will be too much for his old Aunt.
But, much to Peter's surprise, there is no shock whatsoever. Anna answers the door and tells Peter that she and May were just talking about him. May tells Peter to come in and eat some of the cookies they just made. Peter can't figure out why they aren't surprised to see him. He gets further muddled in the ensuing conversation as May tells him she is glad that he is seeing Mary Jane again and that he must forget about Gwen Stacy. Pete knows that Mary Jane is Anna Watson's niece but he doesn't know who this Gwen Stacy is, except that she was the clone. All he can figure right now is that he must have become inflicted with amnesia.
After leaving the ladies, Pete takes to the webs again. He has deduced from his conversation that he has an apartment in the city and that he must have dated both Gwen and MJ in the past. "I wish I could remember all the fun I must have had", he says. Since he has no idea where his apartment is, he decides to head for the Daily Bugle. He enters the City Room to the sounds of J. Jonah Jameson bellowing. (Some things never change.) When he refers to City Editor Joe Robertson as "Mr. Robertson", he soon realizes that he is being too formal. But he doesn't know what to call the other man. He tries "Joe". Joe reminds him to call him "Robbie".
Then Pete sees someone who makes his brown eyes widen with pleasure. (And his eyes are most definitely brown here. But hasn't it been established by now that Pete's eyes are blue? What's this? "What if Spider-Man had Brown Eyes?") It's his old girlfriend Betty Brant. He saunters up and asks how she is doing. She tells him she was a nervous wreck while her husband Ned Leeds was missing but she is fine now that he is back. Peter is shocked and hurt by this. Betty is actually married to Ned Leeds? He tells her to "give your husband my best", then tries to race away before his emotions show.
(Now, I'm trying to be nice, "continuity-wise", seeing as this is a "What If?" story. I haven't mentioned that a Peter who has had tissue samples taken from him by Professor Warren should certainly know whom Gwen Stacy is. I'm willing to let that go. But, allow me to say that this story takes place just after the events of ASM #149 (October 1975) and Betty doesn't marry Ned until ASM #156 (May 1976). Just thought I should mention it.)
Betty thinks "Peter really seems out of it today". She decides he needs someone to talk to so she offers to give him a lift home. This stops Peter in his tracks. A lift to the apartment? You bet! "I sure hope Betty knows where I live", he thinks as he enters the car, "cause I sure don't". On the drive, Pete learns that Gwen Stacy is dead and that Spider-Man must have had something to do with it. (He wonders if Gwen knew his secret identity.) He learns that he had an apartment before this one that he shared with Harry Osborn. ("Why would I move in with a creep like Harry Osborn?" he wonders.) He needs Betty to tell him he's home when she pulls the car over. But he doesn't dare ask her which building is his, so he ends up sitting on the steps of a building hoping someone can help him.
It is late at night when Gloria Grant comes by and asks him what he's doing out on the steps. In conversation with her, Pete realizes that he has the right building and this woman is one of his neighbors. But he still doesn't know which apartment is his. So, he tells Glory he must run an errand, then changes into his Spidey duds and cases the windows of the place until he finds the right one. There is a large wooden Indian in the room, which he doesn't recognize, but he also sees a microscope and "a bunch of web cartridges lying around".
He enters the apartment and goes to the closet. There are a few familiar clothes but most of the items are new to him. They are also a little bit big for him. He changes into some civvies and snoops around the apartment, looking for clues of the past. He finds a box of letters from Gwen and "a clipping about her death". He spends an hour reading the letters, learning about a love he didn't know anything about. Then he reads the tragic account of her death in the battle with the Green Goblin. All of this brings him to despair and tears. He buries his face in his hands. "Why can't I remember?", he says.
Swiftly, Peter changes back to his Spidey duds and web-slings across town. He knows something is terribly wrong. His memory is completely intact up to three years before. He remembers nothing of those three years "but there's no fog, no holes, it's as if the last three years just never happened. As if... as if someone else lived them for me!" He arrives at Professor Warren's home, searching for answers. In the basement, he finds "a hidden compartment beneath the stairs" and rips it open. In this area, he finds "photos of Gwen and me! Slides and petrie dishes! Notebooks full of information and calculations!" He sits down to read and learns that Warren was working on a method of cloning that allowed him to "re-create people not just as they were at birth but as they were at the moment of their cloning!" He learns that Warren figured out how "to bring his clones to instant maturity and even duplicate the original donor's mind!" He learns that those clones would have ! the perfect memories of the origin al up to the point where the original gave the sample that was cloned. Then he learns that Warren "even took samples from us in class". It is, in fact, the last thing he does remember. That's when it finally sinks in for the poor dope. Clutching his head once again, he cries out in agony, "I am the clone of Peter Parker!"
For a time, he sits quietly, trying to sort it all out. He removes his mask, tears streaming down his cheeks, and looks at himself in a mirror that has suddenly shown up out of nowhere. He knows his face, his memories, all come from another man. Still, he is Peter Parker. He has his thoughts, his body, his brown (?) eyes. Then, he falls to the floor in despair. "It's an illusion!" he cries. He isn't Peter Parker. He was only born a couple of days ago. But all of this introspection must be put aside for the moment. Peter hears voices. The police have arrived on the scene.
Re-donning his mask, the Spider-Clone clings high up on a wall as he watches two cops enter with flashlights. They are there (I suppose) because Warren has been discovered to be the Jackal. Spidey-C is inclined to let them carry on with their search until they come upon the notes he has left spread out on the floor. He knows that the authorities must never see this information so he leaps down, snags the notes, and clogs one cop's gun with webbing before the officer can fire the weapon. (And he is a little shocked at the cop's reaction. They are treating him as if he is a criminal. It even occurs to him that maybe "I really am a crook" but he doesn't want to consider that possibility.) Before the second cop can pull his gun, our friendly neighborhood Clonester leaves through the front door. Unfortunately, there are cops waiting out there, as well. They immediately start shooting at him, which forces him to do a back flip right into Warren's house again.
Back inside, the unwebbed officer starts shooting at the ol' web-cloner. (He yells, "I'll kill you! I will!" which seems a bit of an overreaction, don't you think?) Cloney webs up his weapon, then smashes through a window on the other side of the house. There are no cops waiting there and he escapes into the city.
As the sunset casts a glow on Manhattan, our lovable clone takes a seat on a rooftop and tries to assess the situation. He now knows that the real web-slinger is trapped in a clone casket in Warren's laboratory. He knows he's the phony. The question is, "what does he do about it?" He seems so lost in thought that the Kingpin (remote-controlling a flying device that looks like a gun and camera mounted on the Green Goblin's glider) thinks he may actually have a chance to wipe out his nemesis with one shot. But our hero's uncanny clone-sense warns him in time to leap away. Facing the machine, the young clone banters with the voice emanating from the glider. This is mostly an attempt to discover who his opponent is. "Don't tell me you don't recognize the voice of your old nemesis?" the Kingpin bellows. And the truth is that the Clonester doesn't recognize the voice since he has never encountered the Kingpin before. Spider-Clone prolongs the banter until the mob boss re! veals his nom du guerre. Now that Spidey-C knows what to call him, the battle can begin.
Back in his hideout the Kingpin pushes a button and the "flying vacuum cleaner" starts to shake. The wall-cloner doesn't know what this means but it can't be good. He decides to take the initiative. He tears the wings off the thing, makes a sling out of webbing and flings all the pieces up in the air. The machine explodes harmlessly above him.
The next day, our cloned Peter Parker makes his way to Empire State University. He has scoped out his textbooks for the semester and thinks he can fake his way through the classes. When Flash Thompson spots him, Peter-Clone cringes. He is in no mood for being bullied by his old enemy. But, much to his surprise, Flash calls him "buddy" and asks him if he's ready to get together before they go to Ned and Betty's party over the weekend. When Peter-C says he is thinking of studying, Flash says, "But Pete we've been planning this party for weeks! It's not like you to miss it to study!" Then Flash runs off because he doesn't want to miss his next class. All of this floors the clone who realizes that "Peter the college student is a lot more sociable than old Puny Parker ever was."
At the end of the day, the Peter-Clone is bushed. He has learned that he cannot keep up with the real Pete's senior course load with just a High School education. He decides he must "quit school and try to study on my own". In the meantime, he needs to get a new Spidey costume. "Warren probably picked it up at that costume shop I used a few months ago", he thinks. (And the "few months ago" refers to the time that he lost his costume to the Spider-Slayer in ASM #25, June 1965 and had to replace it at a costume shop in ASM #26, July 1965.) The clone laughs when he realizes that it was actually years ago and again wonders what to do. "It looks like Parker finally got his life together with school and friends." he thinks. "Now I've got to blow the whole deal and drop out!"
All this introspection is interrupted by the buzz of his spider-clone-sense. He twists out of the way of a laser beam, from the Kingpin's cane, which severs his webbing. Below him, the Kingpin shakes his cane at him. But this familiar figure is new to our web-cloner. It just looks like "Mr. Clean... putting on a little weight" to him. He swings down to the big man in the white sports jacket and kicks him right in the chops. Then he turns to face two of the Kingpin's gunmen. It never occurs to him that the big man could be strong enough to recover from his kick and punch him hard enough in the head to stagger him. But that's just what happens. The wall-cloner strikes back but the Kingpin dodges the blow. "Have you forgotten how fast I am?" the Kingpin asks him and the truth is that the clone never knew. In the midst of the battle, his sc-sense tells the clone that the two gunmen are aiming their guns at him. He leaps high into the air to avoid the two gunshots and we! bs up one of the hoods. But he al so realizes that he doesn't know what the Kingpin's powers are. With this gap in his knowledge, the clone decides it is unsafe to battle both the big man and his goons. So, declaring that "I gotta meet my hairdresser", the Clonester swings away. The outraged Kingpin calls him a coward and issues a challenge. "I'll be at Coney Island tonight, Spider-Man", he screams, "Will you face me? Do you dare?"
The clone returns to Peter's apartment, shaken by the events of the day. "The cops are after me, I can't pass a single course, and I'm forced to run away from enemies I've never seen before!" He doesn't know what his ultimate fate will be but he does know that there is something he cannot put off any longer.
A half hour later, the clone is back at Professor Warren's laboratory, standing over the real Peter Parker who is still trapped in the clone casket. He knows he could pull the plug on the machine and assume the role of Peter Parker forever. He tries to rationalize it by telling himself that the real Pete would do it to him without hesitation. "He'd say, 'Aw shucks, it's just a clone! No right to live. No reason to feel anything." He tries to convince himself to pull the plug, then "dump the body in an industrial chimney or something" (heh). But he knows he can't do that. He knows why he has come back to the laboratory. He smashes the glass on the casket, yelling, "Open your eyes, Peter, it's independence day!"
The real Peter Parker slowly comes to his senses. He realizes he is talking to his clone. He asks about Professor Warren ("Dead"), and Gwen and Ned ("They were both fine when I last saw them.") "So, where do we go from here", asks Peter. "How 'bout Coney Island?" replies the clone.
The Clonester fills the Webster in on the Kingpin situation. They decide to work together but know that they "can't have two Spider-Men seen webbing through New York". They flip a coin to see who goes as Peter Parker and moments later, the real wall-crawler swings through the night, carrying the Peter Parker clone now dressed in Professor Warren's clothing. They arrive at Coney Island. Spidey drops Pete off out of harm's way ("If I know Kingpin, he'll have a trap set ahead.") and heads for the roller coaster. In some secret hideout, the Kingpin and his two men (in this reality, it looks like only two guys work for the Kingpin) watch the action on a monitor. The Kingpin recognizes the kid with the camera as "Peter Parker, the one who sells the photos of Spider-Man to the papers". (Yes, Pete-clone has his camera. Maybe Warren cloned one for him in the laboratory?) Kingy sends his thugs to nab Pete as a hostage. They tie his hands behind his back and bring him back to ! the hideout. Contemptuously, they toss Pete in so he lands on his jaw. With Spidey's partner in their clutches, the bad guys decide to make their move against the web-slinger.
The wall-crawler, meanwhile, has made himself as conspicuous as possible, perched on the top of the Ferris wheel, hoping to draw the Kingpin out. Suddenly, the wheel starts to turn and the Kingpin appears in one of the lower compartments. He fires his laser-cane at Spidey but the wall-crawler leaps away. He swings down to the side of the wheel, careful to avoid the spinning gears, and leaps back up to the Kingpin. But, before Spidey can reach his opponent, the Kingpin's Ferris wheel car detaches from the ride and hovers in the air. (Spidey refers to it as "some sort of flying bathtub".) Three gun barrels pop out of the front of the car and start firing at the web-slinger. Clearly, the Kingpin is prepared for this confrontation.
The Kingpin thinks Spider-Man is "running out again", because the webhead has hidden himself on the Ferris wheel. The enraged mobster calls Spidey a coward and calls on him to come out of hiding. But Spidey lets the wheel do all the work. He rides it until it takes him right under the Kingpin. Then, using those nifty spider-powers, he leaps up and clings to the bottom of the flying bathtub and tilts it so that the Kingpin starts to fall out. Not to mention that the car "can't stay airborne if the jet lifts aren't facing down". The wall-crawler presses his advantage. He grabs the Kingpin, as the Ferris wheel car falls to earth. Then, he swings down to the Midway with his captive. (And, somewhere between one panel and the next, while still in the air, Spidey has managed to web the Kingpin up. A neat trick.) But the Kingpin has one final ace up his sleeve.
Not far away from the two combatants, the two thugs have their guns trained right at the head of Peter Parker-clone. PP-c's hands are tied behind his back. The Kingpin tells Spidey to release him or his men will kill Parker. Spidey agrees to this and the Kingpin walks. As he passes his men, the Kingpin orders them to kill Peter anyway. But, much to everyone's surprise, PP leaps in the air and kicks his legs out, clobbering both thugs at the same time. Then, announcing that "these ropes weren't tied so tight", he breaks his bonds.
The Kingpin runs for it. He's certain that Spider-Man will have to protect Peter rather than follow him, but he soon finds himself in the glow of the spider-signal. As he runs for his life from the web-slinger, he cries out, "Why aren't you saving the boy from my men?" Spidey replies, "Peter? Oh, heck, Kingpin! I thought you knew. He's been to Spider-Man Summer Camp." And with a kick of his own, the wall-crawler flattens the Kingpin.
Later, back at Peter Parker's apartment, the clone tells the original it is time for him to go. He plans to change his name and start anew somewhere else. But Peter has another idea. "It'd sure be a pleasure to be able to sleep late and go to class sometimes or fight for justice and keep a date on the same night", he says. "Why not a real double identity? You be Spidey on Mondays and Wednesdays. I'll take Tuesdays and Thursdays! We'll flip for the weekends!" The clone readily agrees to the plan. "Good deal, bro!" says Peter as they shake on it. "I get the bed, you get the couch. I get Mary Jane and you get Doc Ock." "Now", replies the clone, "is that any way to treat your kid brother?"
Since this was just a "What If" tale, there never was a follow-up to the "double identity Spidey". Instead, thirteen years later, we were treated to Ben Reilly, Kaine, the reborn Jackal, Spidercide, Maximum Clonage, the revelation that Peter Parker was not the real Spider-Man, the revelation that Peter Parker was the real Spider-Man, and the dissolution of Ben Reilly into a pile of muck. I think I like the "What If" story better. Is it too late to swap?