I haven’t been all that happy with the direction of the Amazing Spider-Man these days. I acknowledge the need to avoid ruts and I appreciate that Peter is finally using his scientific wizardry for his own profit. (We’ve all wondered it: “If Peter is such a genius, why is he spending his life as a free-lance photographer for stingy J. Jonah Jameson?”) I’m willing to give any direction a try. I loved Superior Spider-Man. I love Miles Morales. But somehow this doesn’t do it for me. Teaming up with Mockingbird, fighting Zodiac in Europe, jetting around the world. Nope. Sorry. Not my Spider-Man. Now, though, comes the story that Dan Slott has apparently been preparing for years. The Clone Conspiracy, and this is just what I’m looking for. I loved the original Clone Saga (yes, I’m the guy) and I love Gwen Stacy (anything “clone” has to include Gwen Stacy) and have always preferred her to Mary Jane (yes, I’m the old guy). So, sign me up! But what are we getting ourselves into here?
We begin at Jay Jameson’s funeral. Jay was J. Jonah Jameson’s father and Aunt May’s husband and he took ill sometime in the last few issues of the Amazing Spider-Man. (All of this stuff comes from the last few issues of the Amazing Spider-Man.) A company called New U seems to have a miracle cure for dying people and Peter allowed the company to save one of his employees, Jerry Salteres, but the process set off his Spider-Sense so he refused to allow its use on Jay. Leading to this sad result.
At the funeral, Peter thinks back on all the people he has known who have died, among them Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy, Ned Leeds (in Hobgoblin garb), Silver Sable, Ezekiel, Nathan Lubensky, and, of course, Gwen Stacy. (I’m not clear on some of the people in this panel. And is that Harry Osborn? Isn’t he alive these days? A little help here, people.) This is what we call foreshadowing.
As the graveside service ends, Jonah accuses Peter of causing his father’s death. John Jameson pulls his father away and Mary Jane takes care of Aunt May allowing Anna Maria to chat with Peter. He tells her what’s what and she suggests they go visit Jerry Salteres.
So, Peter and Anna Maria travel to Edmond, Oklahoma where Jerry’s wife Emma tells them that she and Jerry took a camping trip but forgot to bring the meds that the New U people told them that Jerry had to take daily. On the trip, Jerry seemed to transform. Watching recovered video from Emma’s device (wiped by the New U people), Peter recognizes the “transformation” as cellular degradation (as in, “clone cellular degradation”). Emma tells them that the New U people took Jerry and all his stuff away and “wiped the whole house clean.” As Peter and Anna Maria leave, a strange silhouette, hiding behind a tree, watches them go.
Peter decides he must investigate New U so he travels to San Francisco and breaks in as Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Anna Maria joins the crew at Horizon University. They have a sample of Jerry’s meds and are trying to determine its contents. Spidey reveals that he inserted a “microscopic, sub-dermal tracer” into Jerry when he visited him in the hospital. Now that tracer leads him to a lab and to a man-size transparent tube full of fluid. It also has a man made, seemingly, of bones, nerve endings, and eyeballs. This is Jerry, though how the tracer is still on him if his skin is gone is beyond me. As Spidey realizes that the man in the tube is still alive, the lights come on and Professor Miles Warren walks into the room.
For those not versed in all things “clone,” Miles Warren was Peter’s college professor and he went mad after Gwen Stacy’s death, becoming the Jackal and cloning Gwen, Peter, himself, and who knows who else multiple times.
Seeing Warren, Spidey goes berserk and attacks. Warren calls for Security, which turns out to be the Rhino and the new female Electro, both of whom were dead not so long ago. Seeing Rhino, Spidey concludes that “This is all one of [the Jackal’s] stupid frickin’ cloning experiments again!” The Rhino tells Spidey that the Jackal has returned his dead wife to him but Spidey insists she is “just a bad copy.” Assuming he is dealing with clones here, Spidey turns to Electro and says, “Max? Is that you? Don’t tell me. When Jackal grew you, he dropped a chromosome or something?” When Electro assures him that she is not Max and is new to the game, Spidey realizes he can use tactics that Max is wise to. He pulls a water pipe out of the wall and sprays Electro. The electric feedback knocks her and the Rhino unconscious.
Trailing Warren, Spidey rips open a door marked “Do Not Enter.” Inside he finds Gwen Stacy dressed in the same outfit in which she was killed. Spidey notes that Gwen does not set off his Spider-Sense the way the other “clones” do. But before he can dope this out, he is attacked. By his old foe Doctor Octopus.
A great start with plenty of action and intrigue. We begin with guilt, Spidey’s stock-in-trade, as Peter blames himself for Jay’s death. We move quickly to Oklahoma where a mysterious figure waits outside of the Salteres home and then on to New U headquarters for the reveal of Jerry as “the Visible Man” (you know, like those old model kits or the series in early issues of the British comic 2000 AD), the sudden appearance of Professor Warren, then the Rhino, “She-Lectro” (according to Spidey), Gwen, and finally Doc Ock. The pacing is great, there is a progression to the investigation (from going to visit Jerry to breaking into New U to examining the meds at Horizon University) that makes sense, and some nice bits, particularly Spidey’s banter with the new Electro. Jim Cheung’s artwork shines, particularly in his Spidey rendition and the battle scene (particularly the electricity flying everywhere in the opposing panels on pages 17 and 18). His Aunt May and MJ are a bit sketchy but his Professor Warren and Gwen Stacy take me back to the 70s. And his Doc Ock, circa Amazing Spider-Man #3 is a treat.
There’s no time to stop and think while reading the story but let’s think about things now because there are a lot of questions that arise. Most of them don’t have anything to do with the plot details but with the writer’s intent. To wit:
What is Dan Slott up to here? What is the point of this “Amazing Spider-Man Event?” Is it just another clone story that will lead nowhere? Or is the point to bring back some of the characters that have been needlessly killed off over the years? And if so, why should we care about a bunch of clones? Is it the same as having the original characters back? More on this in the review of the issue’s second story.
Four webs. A strong start with no wasted pages, which gives me hope that Slott is in full control of this series’ entire five issues. We shall see.