Saturday, December 22, 2012

Clone Saga Revisited - Conclusion

This is the last entry for this series, so I'm going to add a few links in case you stumble upon it first. Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10 and Part 11.

We're done going through the Clone Saga itself, but its impact was felt for a number of years afterward. The "Revelations" storyline ended with Peter and Mary Jane believing that Baby May was dead, when she had actually been taken to Europe by Norman Osborn's agent Allison Mongraine. As I said last time, this is a premise that could have led to some truly epic storylines. Imagine Peter and Mary Jane getting word from some mysterious source that the baby was still alive and Spider-Man adventuring through Europe searching for her. If they ever keep a series of Spidey movies going long enough without restarting it, that idea sounds like a winner. For a while, it seemed like Tom DeFalco was patiently building up to that.

In the "Identity Crisis" storyline, one of the last truly great Spider-Man tales before that rancid "One More Day" crap ruined the continuity, there was a subplot about all of this. Allison Mongraine met with members of the Cult of Scrier, who told her to hand May over and unsuccessfully tried to assassinate her. The Scrier cultists were ambushed by Kaine, who presumably rescued the baby. After all, as another clone of Peter, he's basically an uncle. Later, in the "Gathering of Five" storyline, Mongraine was killed and told Peter before she died that "May is alive." It all sounds pretty good so far, right?

Well, the brass at Marvel didn't think so. They intervened and tried to convince the readers that Mongraine was actually referring to Aunt May - you know, the ancient character who had passed away peacefully in a beautiful story during the Clone Saga? The writers were forced to bring her back, using the absolutely heinous rationale that the old lady who died was actually an actress who underwent plastic surgery to resemble Peter's aunt. Yes, I'm serious. This was one of the first salvos in a noxious campaign to undo Peter Parker's character development to try and appeal to the Johnny-come-lately fans who would have been more likely to make fun of comic readers on the playground until the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film made $400 million at the box office. This culiminated in the "One More Day" storyline (have I mentioned yet how much that one sucks?) but I was gone long before then. As an older fan, I could tell I wasn't wanted.

Years later, something caught my eye at a local pharmacy - an issue of "Spider-Girl." The cover featured a woman in the classic Spidey suit but also a visibly aged Peter Parker. I wondered to myself, "is this a series about Baby May?" There was only one way to find out, so I took a chance and bought it.

I loved it. Every panel of every page. With DeFalco at the writer's desk, this series was a lifeline to those fans who were left out in the cold and a chance for him to pursue storyline which had been wrested from him years earlier. It turns out Kaine really was the one who rescued the baby and returned her to the Parkers. He had a role too, as a mercenary working for the United States government who was often a mentor figure for May, now protecting New York City as Spider-Girl. Many readers latched onto this series as the "true" continuity. We were older and we were ready for Peter to be older as well.

I read the Spider-Girl comics faithfully for a number of years, but unfortunately a female heroine doesn't always inspire confidence in comics executives. The series was constantly canceled, un-canceled, and restarted until it finally vanished. Once again, I'm an aging Spidey fan without any Spidey comics that capture the stories I grew up with. So I wind up going back into the comics of the past, which is what I've done for the last 2+ years as part of this blog retrospective.

Since the Clone Saga ended, many of the creators have come forward with their views on why an otherwise promising storyline eventually imploded. "At its heart, the Clone Saga was a very simple story," DeFalco said. "[It] was a storyline designed to last a few months, but, for various reasons, kept getting extended and extended and extended."

J.M. Dematteis said that "it would have been a classic if the creators had been allowed to follow their original vision through to the end." Another writer, Todd Dezago, recalled when "we realized the train was being driven by indecision and sales figures." For an amazingly detailed look at what was going on behind the scenes during the entire Clone Saga, I'd suggest reading the Life of Reilly blog. It was a superb resource while I worked on this series.

In late 2009, DeFalco and fellow Spidey-writer Howard Mackie wrote a six-issue mini-series called, (what else?) Spider-Man: Clone Saga. This was an interesting attempt to do-over the Clone Saga and was likely very cathartic for the creators who watched that original storyline spin out of control. It's a fascinating, highly entertaining take on the storyline that basically fixes every wrong turn the first version made. Here's the list.

-In general, Peter Parker is much more reasonable. He does scuffle with Ben Reilly during their first meeting but is in a more sensible place by the end of the first issue. When it's "revealed" that Reilly may the original, Peter simply says "I honestly don't care if I'm the clone. The way I live is more important than the way I was born." Uh...yeah! Very refreshing indeed.

-Judas Traveller, Gaunt, Seward Trainer, and the Cult of Scrier are completely excised. The Jackal's role is also mercifully less grandiose. I'm sure Marvel got a lot of angry letters about this...maybe even one.

-Kaine defeats Doctor Octopus but doesn't kill him. This obviously means that Lady Octopus and all her "cyberwar" nonsense doesn't come up.

-The mastermind turns out not to be Norman Osborn, but Harry Osborn, who had been dead for far less time. As for Norman, he does show up as a clone. Interestingly, he winds up as one of the good guys. Perhaps because the clone was unburdened with the insanity that eventually twisted the original Norman Osborn?

-Aunt May survives her stroke and Baby May is returned to the family by Kaine shortly after her kidnapping. Ben Reilly also survives the final battle and eventually heads off to seek new adventures.

As you can see, there were many improvements but I don't think this mini-series is perfect either. If over two years worth of comics was way too much, six issues isn't quite enough. It feels a bit too breezy and there are pretty big time skips between the issues that you couldn't get away with in a main continuity. Twelve issues would have been just right...but I don't want to sound ungrateful, this was a very valuable effort!

I suppose that brings us to the end. It's been very satifying to get some additional insight by revisiting this saga and I hope these write-ups provided some of that same insight. But Oscar season is in full-swing once again, so this blog should remain busy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

totally agree on the miniseries/writers cut of the clone saga too short... I still don't know why they revived aunt May that of all the 90's spidey sories felt right. thanks for this link...G.Sferrazza