Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clone Saga Revisited, Part Nine

With the newest volume of the Clone Saga collections (Complete Ben Reilly Epic Book 4), we've now arrived at the point where Marvel has realized that the fans are unlikely to warm to the radical changes to the Spidey mythos regardless of the amount of manipulative tricks the writers pull. This particular collection has a lot of content I had never read before, suggesting that I've reached the point where I gave up on the comics back in the 90s. What I didn't realize then is that this is the point where the writers are starting to reverse course.

The massive, six-part "Blood Brothers" storyline is one of the most important stories in the Clone Saga. This is where the writers start to tear down everything they have tried to build for the last two years. If you recall from the "Web of Carnage" storyline, Ben Reilly's trusted friend Seward Trainer, who ran the test that concluded Reilly was the original Peter Parker, is acting very suspiciously. Peter suspects something is amiss, but Ben doesn't buy it and just assumes Peter is hoping to find new evidence that he's the real deal. Well, Peter is right. Trainer is working with a mysterious new villain named Gaunt and The Hobgoblin, who is now a cyborg or something. This is the Jason Macendale Hobgoblin, who was never as awesome as the Roderick Kingsley Hobgoblin who put Spidey through the wringer in the 80s, even though Marvel tried to make him cool with various silly gimmicks like this.

Gaunt is far more interesting because a lot of mystery is built around his identity. He taunts Spider-Man by saying "We've met before, but I'm not surprised you don't recognize me in this form." Who is this guy? Whoever he is, he's a serious threat because he's figured out that Ben has been the one wearing the Spidey suit and systematically starts to destroy his life. His apartment is ransacked, the Daily Grind coffeehouse where he works is torched, and even Peter and Mary Jane are targeted by a group of vicious mercenaries. Ben and Peter discover that all this madness is somehow linked to Osborn Industries, currently run by Liz Osborn's brother Mark Raxton (aka the former supervillain The Molten Man). Raxton is also out to figure out what's going on and this story ends with him, Ben and Peter (still without his powers) battling Gaunt and a horde of armed guards. Seward and Gaunt appear to die in an explosion, but the reader soon finds out they are still alive...and are being scolded by yet another mysterious villain.

Next is "Who did Spider-Man Murder?" which is the closest we're going to get to a resolution to the skeleton-in-the-smokestack subplot. Upon its initial discovery, both Spider-Men were concerned that this corpse undermined everything they thought they knew about their identities. A more immediate concern is that J. Jonah Jameson is so determined to solve this mystery that he's put a $100,000 reward out for anyone who can find out the whole story. This story is entertaining mostly because of the numerous C-list villains, like Beetle, Boomerang and the Shocker, who show up to try and grab that reward. Peter and Ben come up with a clever ruse to throw Jameson off the trail, but the actual truth about the skeleton is not revealed. I'm not sure if the writers even knew what was going on with that.

The next story, "It Begins with a Bang, not a Whimper," is a rare one-off tale where Ben hunts down The Hobgoblin and beats the ever-loving crap out of him for all the trouble he caused in "Blood Brothers." After that is some filler, a tale of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four going to an alternate universe of something. It's sometimes funny but utterly ridiculous. Next up is "Ultimate Responsibility," starring Jessica Carradine. As we found out last time, she is the daughter of the Burglar who shot Uncle Ben and has become a love interest for Ben. In "Blood Brothers," she found out Ben was Spider-Man, who she blames for her father's death. Armed with a photo of Ben in the suit with his mask off, she has the power to completely expose Reilly to the public. But after she sees Spidey perform an amazing rescue of people in a burning building, she decides to give him the photo and give up her revenge and walks out of the mythos. Too bad, she was a fairly interesting character.

After that is the four-part "Redemption" mini-series, a sequel to "The Lost Years" that brings together Ben, Kaine and the long-missing Janine. Writer J.M. Dematteis returns and is reunitied with his team from the legendary "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline - artist Mike Zeck and inker Bob McLeod. Zeck's depiction of Kaine is totally unique, other artists had tried to convey some handsomeness behind all the scars, but here he looks more like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera. As for the story, it's as intense as you would expect from DeMatteis and finally gives a peaceful resolution to Kaine's storyline. After trying to destroy Ben for years, the two come to an understanding and he surrenders peacefully to the police. There are also some revelations about Janine - her real name is Elizabeth Tyne and she's been on the run for years after murdering her abusive father. Her relationship with Ben inspires her to find some closure and she also surrenders to the police. It's a bittersweet ending, but it is still satisfying to have some of those loose ends from Reilly's backstory finally resolved.

Next is a single issue story called "Toy Wars," where Spider-Man appears to have been shrunk to the size of a bug and must battle some malevolent toys. Veteran Spidey fans will be able to figure out pretty quickly which villain is behind this. The best part of this issue is the references to various popular 1990s toys and cartoons. Spidey fights Stretch Armstrong, Buzz Lightyear and Goliath from Gargoyles, among others. Then we have some filler where Spidey guest-stars in a Daredevil comic. The final story in this collection is "Above It All," which introduces the crime lord Fortunato. He doesn't seem connected to the Clone Saga at large, but it gives Ben and Peter something to deal with while the writers work out how they are going to resolve the saga once and for all. At the end of this one, Peter has a violent seizure and collapses. What's going on?

That's all for now, but I suspect the next Clone Saga collection (set for a July release) will be the last. That means this series, which has been going since 2010, will soon be wrapping up as well. Not only that, we have a new Spider-Man movie coming out within weeks! So expect lots of Spidey on this blog this summer.