Last issue, we found out that Ben Reilly is alive and is the new Jackal. And we found out that Ben plans to revive Uncle Ben! It was one of the best Spider-Man issues I’ve read in years. This time…not so much.
The first bad sign that this issue will go off the rails is in the summary on the contents page. There, we learn that when the Jackal reveals himself, “the man behind the mask didn’t bear the fate Peter expected.” That should be “face” and auto-correct won’t help with that one…but some editor somewhere should have noticed it.
In the Jackal’s lab, Dr. Octopus has nearly finished creating his “proto-clone” which he believes “won’t suffer the same cellular decay as the Jackal’s previous attempts.” One of the Professor Warren clones tells him “I wouldn’t mock our master’s techniques, Octavius…considering that, like myself, you, too, are one of those decaying clones.” So, it seems we have dispensed with the notion that the “reanimates” are something other than clones. That’s unfortunate because something mysterious and special just became ordinary and familiar.
Kaine is being held captive in the lab, clamped into a heavy-duty set of manacles that the Jackal just happened to have around. Ock is curious as to why Kaine is “far more sturdy than myself” when he is “an earlier form of clone.” Then, one of the Warren clones brings Anna Maria in to help with Ock’s work. Ock calls Anna Maria “my love” but she wants nothing to do with him. “Get me out of here,” she says, “I can’t be in a room with this man.
Meanwhile, the Jackal and Spidey drive in a van with the coffin of Uncle Ben in the back. Spidey wonders how the Jackal has pulled all this off. The Jackal tells him he has “a network across the country” of people who have lost loved ones and are willing to help in exchange for getting them back. Spidey calls this “emotional blackmail” but Jackal calls it “the power of love.” (Did he bring back Huey Lewis?) They head for “New U’s second site,” which is in the Transamerica Pyramid. “Yeah, I got a whole Egyptian theme going on here,” says the Jackal.
At the Transamerica building, George and Gwen Stacy lead all the clone-villains to the “area” for “the others” “until the new underworld facility is ready.” So, there will be an area for villains and an area for regular folks, which seems sort of weird. Spider-Gwen has trailed them and tries to contact Kaine but he, of course, does not respond. Spidey and the Jackal arrive and Ben introduces Peter to Haven, the secret location that looks like a Midwestern small town where the Lizard plays soccer with Martha and Billy, J. Jonah Jameson takes a walk with Marla and Mattie, and Nick Katzenberg strolls along eating an apple. Spidey also spots Sally Avril and Ned Leeds. (So, if Ned isn’t the Hobgoblin, then who is?) When Spidey encounters the Stacys, George reminds him “the last thing I asked you for was a promise to keep [Gwen] safe.” (This is true. See Amazing Spider-Man #90, November 1970.) Spidey apologizes for his failure but Gwen tells him, “I forgive you.”
Back at the lab, Anna Maria attempts to call for help with her “web-ware.” Otto tells her that the device won’t work because the building is shielded. He then theorizes that since “the clones inside the complex have broken down at a slower rate,” the shielding may be providing an “unintended benefit.” (This is the first time we’ve heard anything about the clones inside the complex breaking down at a slower rate. Feels like a poorly-inserted plot ploy to me.) Anna Maria gets caught up in the thrill of the chase. “I still find you repugnant,” she tells Ock, “but, my God, your mind is amazing.”
So, Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #23 takes place between Gwen’s “I forgive you” and this scene. It is a much better comic than this and is worth reading. Here, the Jackal brags about the villains mingling with the civilians, “lions and lambs lining up, all in a row.” (Who is the little girl with the teddy bear?) Spidey watches as JJJ asks the Jackal for the return of his father, even as he enjoys the return of his wife. And suddenly Spidey realizes that the Jackal will never bring Uncle Ben back. Why? Not because it destroys the whole raison d’etre of Spider-Man but because, he tells the Jackal, “he’d look at you the way only Ben Parker could. And he’d tell you…you’re wrong. Yes, you have the means, the power. But no responsibility.” Uh. Wha? If the Jackal is Ben Reilly and he’s been using this technique to resurrect people all over the country, are we supposed to believe he doesn’t think it is right? Has he become a thorough villain? He’s brought all these people back to…what? Fool Spidey? Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through. And if he does believe in the process, then why should the thought of Uncle Ben disapproving keep him from resurrecting him?
But, apparently, it does, because the Jackal doesn’t even try to argue the point. Instead, he snaps his fingers and tells the villains, “All of you. Kill him.” Again. Uh. Wha? The villains attack, with the Rhino supposing that the Jackal wants Spidey dead so that he can resurrect him under his control. But the Jackal says, “I already have…someone who can take his place.” (So, there is some scheme under way about which we don’t know. Is the “someone who can take his place” Kaine? And, since Ben is himself a “reanimate” there has to be someone behind the throne, right?)
The Prowler steps in to fight on Spidey’s side. (After most of the events of Prowler (Vol. 2) #3, another comic more worth your while.) The Jackal leaves and arrives at the lab (if you’re wondering how the Transamerica building suddenly houses the lab, the move was mentioned in passing last issue but not shown) where Ock tells him that they may have a solution to the Carrion virus. “The cells break down, they harden. They crystalize. And you get a Carrion, yes?...But crystals can respond to harmonics. Out there is a frequency, a vibration, that speeds up the process….Knowing that, perhaps there’s an inverse frequency?” Ock would like to experiment on a clone but Anna Maria announces that she knows “how to stop the cellular decay all together.” The Jackal offers her the proto-clone as a “perfect body, a full-grown one.” This angers Anna Maria enough to say, “Up yours! I already am perfect” and Ock is so insulted that he attacks the Jackal. Again. Uh. Wha? As they fight, Ock realizes that the Jackal has spider-powers and must be yet another spider-clone. As Spider-Gwen jumps in to try to rescue Kaine, Ock decides to send the harmonic signal through the building, which will destroy all the clones, including himself, because the Jackal has insulted Anna Maria and played him for a fool by actually being a spider-clone. Uh. Wha? Wha? Wha?
Down in Haven, all of the clones start to turn into Carrions. In the lab, Anna Maria starts to turn into a Carrion too because, for some reason, the decay becomes contagious. (Wha?) Instead of trying to stop it, the Jackal taps into the broadcast that JJJ is doing on another floor and sends the harmonic signal out across the world. All of the resurrected people (who are all watching JJJ, apparently) start to turn into Carrions, which makes them contagious to everyone else. The Jackal announces, “You’ll all rise again! And we shall be one race! A New U! A New World!” Wha?????
This mini-series WAS doing everything exactly right. What in the world went wrong? Does any of this make sense? Was the Jackal’s plan to turn everyone into Carrions all along? If so, what’s the point? They all die and then he resurrects them all as his servants? But, if that’s so, it assumes that he knew Octopus would come up with something that would accelerate the process rather than something that would cure the virus. No, none of this makes sense…except possibly, from a writer’s point of view, as a way to make the clone people legit. I’m just speculating here but the idea that cloned people aren’t the real people becomes moot if everyone on Earth becomes a cloned person. Sort of. I guess. But, even assuming Slott is going that route, this issue makes little sense. The Jackal goes to all the trouble to get Uncle Ben’s remains (assuming he really has Uncle Ben’s remains) and never plans to do anything with them because Ben would disapprove? The Jackal snaps his fingers and tells his villains to kill Spider-Man because he made him pout over what Uncle Ben would think of him? Suddenly, there’s another who can take Spidey’s place in whatever the scheme is? (And, if the scheme is to turn everyone into Carrions, why does he need anyone?) Dr. Octopus decides to destroy all the clones, including himself, because the Jackal dissed Anna Maria and because he’s actually a spider-clone? The Jackal yells, “Octavius, no! Everyone in Haven, all the good work we’ve been doing! You can’t!” when Octavius pulls the switch that creates the harmonics, then decides to broadcast them out around the world? Ock has a switch that creates the harmonics right there at his fingertips, even though they weren’t even looking in that direction until Anna Maria’s “web-ware” brought it to mind? No, no, and again no.
There may still be ways to get out of this mess. The Jackal may not be Ben at all, except that the word is that Ben is getting his own series. Perhaps it all revolves around the little girl with the teddy bear. And, perhaps, Slott can make this make sense but it’s hard to imagine. There are too many holes in logic and characterization in this issue. All I can say is, Slott has his work cut out for him in issue #5. In the course of this issue, he obliterated all of the great work he put in setting up the first three issues. Let’s hope, in the course of the next issue, he can somehow make it all work. I’m not optimistic.
There have been major disappointments over the years but this one ranks among the top. I’m giving it one web on the strength of Jim Cheung’s pencils. The story is not worth any webs at all.