SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “The Clone Conspiracy” #3, on sale now.
Clone-centric stories from Spider-Man’s past have always been rooted in their surprising twists and unexpected turns, and Dan Slott treats his own such storyline no differently in “The Clone Conspiracy” #3, illustrated by Jim Cheung and John Dell. One of these surprises was in the form of a character unwelcomed by many who was nonetheless a central element to the oft-maligned “Clone Saga” from the ’90s, and who Slott makes into a key character once again, while adding another element that even the previous saga dared not broach. There’s also a revelation that provides the true meaning of the series’ title, while hinting that the so-called conspiracy might go even deeper than shown thus far.
The Jackal Isn’t Miles Warren, He’s Actually . . .
Within the context of the story, the re-imagining of The Jackal’s look was readily passed off as a simple modernization of the longtime character’s appearance; after all, it’s not like he was ever an iconic Spidey foe along the lines of The Green Goblin or The Kingpin. Design-wise, the character always looked more like the illegitimate love child of The Abomination and a Skrull more so than a jackal, anyway. So when the character was brought back in advance of this series, the reason for the new look didn’t really draw too much attention.
The issue reveals a secret behind that mask that pretty much no one realized even was a secret: the mask doesn’t conceal the face of Professor Miles Warren at all, but instead that of a regenerated Ben Reilly, Warren’s original clone of Peter Parker, as revealed to Peter himself at the conclusion of the issue. Reilly’s return surprises on multiple levels; his demise two decades ago in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” #75 was followed by the extremely rapid decomposition of his cloned body, leaving seemingly little, if anything, to be regenerated in the first place, even with his cutting-edge New U tech. Perhaps more importantly, the character of Ben Reilly was so hated by the time the meandering “Clone Saga” had come to an end in 1996 that many fans were all too happy to see him go, seemingly once and for all.
And Then There’s That Other Ben
Through all the events comprising “Clone Conspiracy” and “Dead No More” and the return of many characters long since dead, there has been one character in particular that has been the proverbial spider clinging to the ceiling, seemingly safely out of reach. When Reilly reveals himself to Peter, he had just received a crate containing the presumed remains of the man he was named after: those of Benjamin Parker himself, Peter’s uncle and the man who ultimately shaped Spider-Man’s career. Uncle Ben’s not up and at ’em just yet, but if Reilly has his way, he soon will be. With Peter’s help, no less.
Deaths in the Marvel Universe at one time had been classified into one of two categories: there was “dead,” which was largely akin to a serious illness that most characters afflicted with eventually came back from. Then there was “Uncle Ben dead,” which meant, well, dead. For good. Should Uncle Ben return, he would stand as the last character in the Marvel Universe to fully recover from being murdered.
The Conspiracy Is Revealed, Or At Least The Tip Of It
The title of “The Clone Conspiracy” is catchy, sure, but until this issue, “The Clone Caper” or “Clone Saga II” would have seemed just as fitting, as there was no evident conspiracy of any kind. With Kaine’s knowledge of the potential Carrion virus epidemic that New U is on the verge of creating, as well as New U’s location, a call to the police department to report the same unveils another shock. The conspiracy becomes clear when it’s revealed that others outside of Spidey’s supporting cast have also been reconstituted by New U; among them, members of the police department themselves.
The nature of The Jackal’s “cure” makes those who have been brought back to life dependent on his drug in order to keep them that way. The amalgamation of far-reaching elements like drug addiction, an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” motif, and a “Walking Dead” endgame all point to an extensive conspiracy indeed; one that likely extends well beyond the boundaries of those directly associated with Spider-Man. It’s a logical extension of Slott’s storyline; fulfilling the ultimate wish of bringing loved ones back to life is a universal desire, not one solely limited to the confines of Spidey’s comparatively small world.
The Marvel Universe Is Full Of Characters Dead . . . No More?
Slott’s story lends itself to have eventual impact across the Marvel Universe. “Civil War II” by itself has had no shortage of longtime characters seemingly bite the dust; could these same characters readily stand to be brought back by way of The Jackal’s technology? As the cure stands now, the most likely scenario would result in a “Marvel Zombies”-like world full of the undead, but if Reilly’s formula is perfected (as Doctor Octopus is working on doing), it could be a convenient catch-all for any character, say, seemingly obliterated at point blank range, or shot through the eye with an arrow.
Of course, Reilly’s intent genuinely seems altruistic; he’s certainly not trying to unleash a zombie apocalypse, despite Kaine’s observations of his alternate-reality counterparts inadvertently doing exactly that. Doc Ock is seen attempting to develop next-gen technology to solve this problem, at Reilly’s behest, to avoid creating an army of drug addicts, at best, or carnivorous killer zombies, at worst. Marvel Comics in recent years hasn’t shown any trepidation over having multiple incarnations of the same characters coexisting, be they new characters taking up an old mantle, similar characters from other dimensions, or time-displaced versions of the same person. Thanks to Reilly’s breakthrough, clones can be added to that list — or regenerated lifeforms, if one prefers.
Mar-Vell has been gone for a while, after all. Young Man Logan is a thought. And if controversial ’90s characters like Reilly and Kaine are being brought back, can the loathed teenage Tony Stark be far behind?
The Life Of Reilly
Reilly’s reappearance raises a whole host of questions on its own, the most obvious of which is: who brought him back to life? This hints at either Miles Warren still being behind the conspiracy, or perhaps that the conspiracy extends to parties yet unseen. If Reilly must take his own medicine to survive, it hasn’t been shown; is he somehow immune to the decay that plagues his reanimated creations? Or does he simply pop his pills in private?
It’s also notable that he is likely the first clone to be cloned, so to speak; perhaps his seeming immunity is a benefit from this. Or, he may be subject to some future consequence from being a second-generation creation, requiring him to continually re-clone himself — hence, again, Doc Ock’s work perfecting the next generation of clones.
“The Clone Conspiracy” #3 is a game-changer; not just for the series at its midpoint, but also potentially for Spider-Man, his cast — and possibly the rest of the Marvel Universe.