Prior to the mid-nineties, when you thought about things that defined Spider-Man, the word “clone” was not amongst them. While Spider-Man did deal with the occasional clone storyline, they were pretty uncommon and not much more was made of them than, say, The Shocker showing up every six months or so to have his ass handed to him by Spidey.
The first clone storyline appeared in Amazing Spider-Man during 1973. In simplest terms, Peter Parker’s college professor Miles Warren had successfully cloned Peter and his recently deceased girlfriend Gwen Stacey with whom Miles had fallen in love with. Taking on the guise of The Jackal, Miles forced Spider-Man to fight his own clone to save the life of Ned Leeds. In the end, Peter, Ned and the Gwen clone would survive. Miles would appear to die while saving Ned after a change of heart and the clone of Spider-Man would essentially be collateral damage.
There would be some fallout from this storyline, notably everyone’s favourite newspaper publisher J Jonah Jameson coming into possession of photos of Spider-Man with what appears to be a dead Peter Parker (the aforementioned clone) before Spider-Man dumped the body in a smoke stack.
Outside of that, the only real continuation of the “clone story” was the appearance of the new villain Carrion. There is some controversy about who Carrion was originally supposed to be and some battered heads and egos among the Spider-Man creative staff, but eventually he was revealed to be a degenerative clone of Miles Warren.
All was quiet after that on the clone front until the late 80’s when for no reason in particular (not like fans were crying for some form of resolution), the Evolutionary War storyline revealed that the still alive Gwen clone and the deceased Peter Parker clone were not clones at all because a simple college professor like Miles Warren would not have the skills to create a clone. But he could create a virus that would rewrite someone’s DNA and turn them into an exact copy of someone else. Yeah…that makes much more sense. So Gwen clone would be revealed to be a woman named Joyce Delaney that Miles had chosen at random because she had a similar shape to Gwen. Peter’s clone would be revealed to be Warren’s former assistant Anthony Serba. (A Spectacular Spider-Man story arc a short time later would also reveal that Carrion was another victim of a similar virus and not a clone.)
And that, as they say, was that. We’d hear no more about Miles Warren or clones ever again.
With Marvel trying to capture the magic that had occurred over at rival DC Comics with the massive success of the “Death of Superman” and “Batman: Knightfall” storylines, the Spider-Powers-That-Be, after much debate, came up with the idea of the return of Peter’s clone, who had survived after all. They would also retcon out the Evolutionary War revelations and go back to the concept that these characters were true clones.
Though not the original intention when the story was pitched, the staff came to the realization that they had created an out for themselves from what they saw as the doldrums of a married Spider-Man.
Now, I grew up mostly with a married Spider-Man. He and Mary Jane tied the knot not long after I seriously got into collecting comics. So I had no issues with it. But many readers from the 60’s and 70’s that were now grown up to be the creators of the 80’s and 90’s missed the single care free Spider-Man. So they hatched the idea to bring back the Peter “clone” and have him be revealed to be the real Peter all along. Original recipe Peter, aka Ben Reilly, would take over as the one true Spider-Man while newly revealed “clone” Peter and a pregnant Mary Jane would ride off into the sunset to live a normal life.
But somewhere along the way, everything went off the rails. I won’t get into the ins and outs of the Clone Saga that turned many Spider-Fans off the character forever, but it became a sprawling mess that instead of wrapping up in a short little storyline would continue on for years. I’m sure Ryan would compare it to Lost and to them making it up as they went along, introducing more questions than answers with each plot point and digging themselves deeper and deeper into a continuity and character hole that they struggled to get out of.
It would take a while, but the original plan was “successful”. Ben replaced Peter as Spider-Man. Peter retired and he and MJ went off to live a normal life. You might have noticed that I put successful in quotes. That is because while Marvel was successful in pulling off their “now we have a non-married Spider-Man again” plan, they were not successful in the eyes of the fans. There was great backlash over Spider-Ben. While he is to this day a popular character, fans and many of the creative staff, wanted Peter back as the sole webslinger.
And thus began an almost immediate reversal of fortunes to get Peter and MJ back and to jettison Ben. Adding insult to injury for fans, this “reversal” would also get entirely too complicated and go on way too long. Culminating in the return of Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, who at this point had been dead for over 20 years.
Peter was back. MJ and the marriage were back. Little Baby May…well, let’s not talk about that. And given the events of One More Day, she has probably blinked out of existence in current continuity anyway.
As is often the trend in comics, Marvel moved forward by returning things to status quo. At least they got the return of a major villain out of it, as Norman Osborn would have a dark influence over the entire Marvel Universe for many years that followed.
Unfortunately it also cost them many Spider-Man fans along the way. Many of whom have never returned.
The Clone Saga is now mentioned with rolled eyes in hushed corners. Not as reviled as the One More Day “I don’t care what you say Marvel, it was a reboot” storyline, but shunned nonetheless. And since that time, talk of clones has be kept very minimal.
Never one to shy away from controversy, writer Dan Slott has decided it is finally time, some 20 years later, to tread back into the clone waters. Remember, this is a guy that received death threats for replacing Peter Parker’s brain with that of his enemy Doctor Octopus. So, he knows what to expect and how to handle it.
Having been teased since Free Comic Book Day back in May and through recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man that serve as a prequel, Slott and company today finally release the first chapter in the next Spider-Epic: The Clone Conspiracy. Previously known as Dead No More, Marvel eventually switched the title (or more accurately, revealed the full title) when they finally decided to show all their cards with the clone angle.
Miles Warren, the usual pain in the ass behind all things cloning is back. Gone is the green skin tight Jackal outfit, replaced by a red Armani suit…but also a giant Anubis mask. Anubis being the Greek God of funerals, death, the dead and the afterlife. A much more fitting persona than a jackal. Especially given that now Miles it claiming to not be selling cloning, but reanimation. At the end of the day, I’m not sure really what the difference truly is (and Miles is probably full of it as well), but it does mean that a lot of formally deceased Spider-Man characters have been reappearing. And they’ve been joining forces with Miles in a plot one imagines is centred on bringing Peter Parker/Spider-Man as much pain as possible.
And that’s where The Clone Conspiracy #1 picks up the ball and runs with it. After a major death in the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Peter is inclined to finally take a hands on approach and investigate New U Technologies. The company that we the reader know is a front for all things Miles.
Spider-Man pretty quickly begins to put two and two together when a formally deceased Rhino is among the security staff at New U.
It’s a brisk read and never really elevates above the feeling of being entirely set up for the Amazing Spider-Man issues and tie-ins that follow. But the final two pages of the main story do what they are supposed to do. Hit Spider-Man with a right hook (a reveal that we all know about already) and then a left cross (a reveal that isn’t much of a surprise if you’ve been reading Spider-Man the last 4 years or so, or have seen any recent solicitations for upcoming issues…damn you solicitations! *shakes fist*).
The issue also contains a back-up story that gives us some background on one of those reveals, while also “introducing” us to another classic deceased Spider-Man supporting character that is making a return. But the big draw here is the art of classic Spider-Man artist Ron Frenz. Frenz had a lengthy run on Amazing Spider-Man in the mid-eighties as well as drawing many issues of the alternate universe Spider-Girl, featuring a grown up Baby May Parker that the regular Marvel Universe would never know.
So I don’t need to give this issue a grade, or a buy or skip recommendation. More than likely if you are a Spider-Man fan, you’re buying it anyway. And if you’re not, I doubt you are coming in cold and starting with this issue. But if you are brave, and decide to do just that, be forewarned that you may feel a little bewildered if you are not up on your Spider-Man continuity. The guts of the issue deal with storylines and concepts that have been building for months in Amazing Spider-Man. Wrapping around that and dealt with extensively in the back up story are all the previous clone inspired events amongst other Spider-Man continuity dating back to the early 1970’s.