Last issue was a big letdown after the promising events of issue #3. Does this issue turn that around or do the letdowns keep coming?
As Ben and Peter try to decipher the assembly instructions of a baby swing, MJ goes into labor while at the Daily Grind with Aunt May. Getting the word, Peter and Ben don Spidey outfits and web-sling their way to the hospital. There, MJ meets nurse Allison Mongrain who says she’s been “assigned to take special care of you and your baby.”
While on their way to MJ, the two Spideys spy Kaine in a fight with the police. Ben tells Peter to get to the hospital but Peter decides to stay and help. “So, you’re finally here,” Kaine says, implying that he is staging the battle for their benefit. As MJ is wheeled into the delivery room, Kaine throws a car at the police, forcing Ben and Peter to work together to rescue them. Kaine escapes in the confusion. (The old “threaten-bystanders-inducing-the-heroes-to-save-them-and-allowing-the-bad-guy-to-escape” bit which I believe we saw twice last issue.) In the aftermath, Peter goes on to the hospital while Ben tries to pick up Kaine’s trail.
Peter gets to the hospital in time to be in on the birth. “It’s a girl,” says the doctor and MJ wants to name her May. Allison Mongrain takes May out of MJ’s hands, promising to “get this little girl cleaned up” and walks right out of the hospital with her. It is surprisingly easy to do so.
Later, with a doctor assuring the Parkers that Allison Mongrain “came highly recommended,” Ben (who apparently didn’t pick up Kaine’s trail after all) and Peter decide that Kaine had something to do with this. They split up to search for him. (Because they were so good at it last time.) Meanwhile, at the waterfront, Mongrain delivers the baby to Kaine who reports to his boss that he has May. His boss tells Kaine, “you’ll have to kill her if things go wrong.” After finishing the phone call, the boss opens the clone pod containing Norman Osborn and injects Norman with a green fluid. When Norman awakens, recognizing his resuscitator (“You…?!” he says), the boss holds out a Green Goblin mask and says, “No time for reunions. There’s work to be done.”
Not long after, Spider-Ben is attacked by razor bats and finds himself face to face with the Green Goblin, who claims to be “the true Green Goblin” and calls his opponent “Ben.” He goes on to tell Ben that he is the clone and Peter the original. Rattled by this (for some reason), Ben decides to retreat. The Goblin comes right up behind him, protrudes a long blade from the front of his Goblin glider, and skewers Ben from behind, the blade sinking in with a sickening “Shnnk.”
Well… no. Don’t buy it. Don’t buy it for a second. I don’t buy that Spidey, even Spidey-Ben, would decide to retreat from this Goblin confrontation. He certainly wouldn’t be rattled by the prospect of being the clone. He’s already dealt with and accepted that. I don’t buy that the Goblin could skewer him so easily without setting off his spider-sense. What am I supposed to make of this? That the clone is an exact replica of Spidey except that he gets inept and timid and loses his spider-sense when he confronts the Green Goblin? I’ll buy it if it discover next issue that Ben has been programmed to panic at the sight of the Goblin, but I don’t expect that to be the case.
Here’s what else I don’t buy. That this whole series is anything more than an excuse to validate the slapdash decisions of the original Clone Saga. Do Tom and Howard really expect me to believe that the idea of Allison Mongrain stealing the baby was planned from the beginning of the original storyline when Allison didn’t even show up until Spectacular Spider-Man #240, November 1996, the first part of the Revelations sequence that ended the Clone Saga? Or that the return of Norman Osborn and his subsequent killing of Ben Reilly (apparently) was on the docket from the start? N’uh-uh. I thought that dispensing with the notion that this is the real Clone Saga would be liberating but it’s hard to dispense with that notion when the writers are still trying so hard to convince you. So, if this series isn’t going to give us the real original Clone Saga and we don’t buy that the story they give us is the real original Clone Saga, then what’s the point? There isn’t one. Unless there’s one heckuva big boffo finish in issue #6.
Part of that boffo finish could be a big surprise switcheroo where the boss isn’t really Harry or Norman isn’t really the Goblin or Ben isn’t really dead or something. Would that redeem this series? Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine because the problems extend beyond this feeling that the story has its own secret agenda. It’s hard to put a finger on what is so wrong here but it seems to come down to the pacing which dotes on pointless events like Ben and Peter building a swing, immerses itself in ultimately irrelevant battles with foes like Kaine or the Jackal and seems to hurtle through any new plot developments as if afraid we’ll take a close look at them and see how flimsy they are. There’s no feeling that’s these characters are actually living these events. They don’t even feel like actors performing a script. More like cardboard cut-outs frozen in their poses. There’s no feeling that anyone is really thinking here. The cops see two Spider-Men. One mentions it. And…? Nothing. Allison Mongrain steals a baby. And…? The doctor says she came highly recommended. Yeah? And? Nothing. Ben is apparently killed with ease. And…? Nothing.
What did I like in this issue? Not much. But I did enjoy the delivery scene; the doctor with bored eyes, Allison Mongrain with sinister eyes, all implying that the old “stillborn” trick was going to be pulled again. Instead, Peter arrives and the baby is born. Suddenly that dull feeling of déjà vu that permeates this series is overcome, a rut is surmounted. Until, the baby is stolen anyway and we tumble back into that rut again. But for a moment, that thwarted expectation was enjoyable and, sadly, the best part of the issue.
What did I wonder about in this issue? Not much. But I did notice this line on the plot summary page: “Unbeknownst to both (Ben and Peter), a third clone – Kaine – has come into possession of a dangerous stabilizing agent.” Third clone? The clones are Ben and Kaine and…? Is this giving away a plot point? Or is this just a synopsis writer who has about as much interest in the goings-on as we do?
Finally, Sana Takeda’s cover is worth mentioning, with its powerful image of the two Spideys badly wounded and a grief-stricken MJ sitting between them, tenderly touching both of them. You can actually see the tears in MJ’s eye. Very well done. Too bad this cover has nothing to do with anything that happens in the issue.
So, where are we with all this? In a pretty sad spot, I’m afraid. I’m dropping the rating down to one web. The last issue of this mini-series better blow our socks off.