Well, here we are again. The last collection of the Clone Saga felt like something of a climax, but there was still a lot left before it actually ended. Back when these issues first came out, it started to feel like we would never be going back to the status quo – Spider-Man adventures that were somewhat standalone without massive crossovers and BIG CHANGES every month. Big-time “events” are fun every so often, but you get sick of them eventually. After all, if there’s always SHOCKING TWISTS, they stop being shocking after a while. Twists are only effective because of how they differ from the status quo. It obviously doesn’t help if the twists are lame, either.
The previous installment of the saga ended with the revelation nobody wanted – the man we had known as Peter Parker so long was actually a clone. The newcomer, Ben Reilly, was in fact the genuine article. Thankfully, Parker’s angst about this was more or less resolved by the end of “Maximum Clonage,” so now the duplicates wrestle with the question of whether New York needs two Spider-Men, and if it doesn’t, which one of them will keep it up? That’s what we deal with in the fifth book of this “Complete Clone Saga Epic,” but I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with just how much filler bogs down this volume. As with the horrid “Planet of the Symbiotes” story that ate up space in Volume 3, Marvel seems determined to give us EVERY story that ran during this period, even if it was just random supplemental stuff that didn’t contribute anything to the Clone Saga at large. Thoroughness is appreciated, but it gets out of hand this time.
Volume 5 starts with an issue of the New Warriors, a superhero team that the Scarlet Spider joined. There are a few NW comics mixed with this collection, which is okay because it resolves a loose end from “Maximum Clonage” – Helix, the genetic aberration that resulted from the Jackal’s experiments. His bizarre powers and violent behavior prove to be quite a handful and the team struggles to figure out what to do with him. After that, we get a totally unrelated five-part story which pits the Scarlet Spider against the Lizard and some team of mercenaries. It’s aggressively uninteresting, goes on for what feels like an eternity, and has nothing to do with the Clone Saga.
If you make it through that, we get to “Exiled.” This is basically three separate stories, and I think only linked together because Marvel had gotten so used to these multi-part crossovers. The first installment involves The Black Cat, and the fourth involves the Vulture. Sandwiched between the two is a short story arc that depicts how Ben Reilly came to meet his friend, the geneticist Seward Trainer.
Things get much crazier with the two-part “Time Bomb” story. Think Spider-Man meets The Manchurian Candidate. Specifically, a post-hypnotic suggestion planted by the Jackal (and set off by his cryptic last words before his death in “Maximum Clonage”) sends Peter Parker into an uncontrollable rage and Mary Jane has to run for her life. The New Warriors show up once again to halt Spider-Man’s unwilling pursuit, and he basically makes them all look like amateurs. But eventually he manages to resist the programming through pure will. The story was just kind of depressing. It seemed to be yet another indicator that Peter Parker was really, truly a clone…which nobody particularly wanted to be true.
Finally, we have the three-part “The Greatest Responsibility.” In this collection, parts two and three are separated by a completely random team-up between Spider-Man and the X-Men that’s really long and totally irrelevant. Enough with the filler already, sheesh! The story introduced a new Doctor Octopus, a young woman named Carolyn Trainer (Seward’s daughter). She didn’t have the charm of the original, but oh well…the mystical ninjas will be along to resurrect him eventually. Both Spider-Men get involved and the bond between them carries this story along. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is farther along in her pregnancy and the couple’s upcoming parenthood becomes impossible to ignore. By the end, Parker has given up his superhero duties, handing it over to Ben.
A brand new Spider-Man? Did anyone really want this? I know I’ve said that a few times, but I really feel like this whole nonsense was just pushed on the fans because Marvel had this stupid notion that Parker was too old, too married, too boring to appeal to readers. The narration in the third part of “The Greatest Responsibility” is insufferable, transparently forcing the agenda of the writers on to the readers. But that’s the way it was at the time, and some more silly stunts were on the way.
As of this writing, I can’t find a release date for the sixth volume of this Clone Saga collection, meaning that this series is on hold indefinitely. But fear not, I have a new fifteen-part one that’s coming up and should keep this blog at lest semi-busy all through the summer, if not until Oscar season.