Twenty years ago, the cloning of Dolly the sheep invigorated the scientific community and hinted at the exciting future of genetic engineering. But for comic readers of the time, clones embodied an exhausting present more than a bright future. In the 1990s, Marvel Comics revisited a 1970s Spider-Man storyline about a clone of Peter Parker. The infamous “Clone Saga” sank the next two years of Spider-Man comics in an impenetrable muck of complicated plot twists and complex continuity.
But now, Marvel is returning to that era with “The Clone Conspiracy,” a major new Spider-Man event by Dan Slott, Jim Cheung and John Dell. In the spirit of the new crossover, CBR has put together a list of some of the craziest clones in comics. For our purposes, a clone is any character created from the base genes of another character through artificial means. Since we covered the multitude of “X-Men” clones on their own list, we’ll be leaving those out. With “Orphan Black” winning Emmys and “The Clone Conspiracy” on shelves, cloning might be the way of the future after all.
Created in 1958, the ersatz Superman Bizarro is one of the oldest clones in comics. While Bizarro is officially recognized as a creation of Otto Binder and George Papp, writer Alvin Schwartz also claimed to have created the concept, which appeared in the daily newspaper strip, “Superman” at the same time. In both versions, Bizarro was a product of a “duplicating ray” that created the imperfect copy of Superman. Bizarro would use that machine to create Bizarro versions of Superman’s friends Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen before eventually creating a backwards version of Earth called Bizarro World.
Although there have been several versions of Bizarro, the “duplicating ray” origin remains the standard, with the oft-added wrinkle that Lex Luthor created the faulty clone. With his frightening level of power tempered by a childlike nature, Bizarro has been used as everything from a misguided ally to a full-on antagonist in serious and silly stories alike over the years. There have been Bizarro versions of just about every major character in the DC Universe, and the main Bizarro has shown up in most of the Superman family television shows. After starring in a lighthearted 2015 solo miniseries, Bizarro is currently appearing in “Red Hood and the Outlaws” as part of DC Rebirth.
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1942, Guardian was one of the characters Kirby helped create during his first tenure at DC Comics. With a golden shield and few other powers, police officer Jim Harper bore a striking resemblance to another WWII-era Simon-Kirby creation. When Kirby returned to DC Comics in 1971, he revived the character through the DNA Project, which would later become Project Cadmus. The clone of the late Jim Harper would serve as a hero and an officer of Project Cadmus for years, eventually becoming an ally of Superman and briefly a member of the Justice League.
Over the years, a few other unrelated minor heroes have taken up the Guardian identity. However, Project Cadmus has had a continuing presence as the primary source of cloning and genetic engineering across the DC Universe. Most notably, Project Cadmus had a heavy presence as an antagonistic organization on the animated series “Justice League Unlimited” and on “Young Justice,” which featured a cloned Guardian. After a non-cloned Jim Harper appeared in the first season of “Supergirl,” James Olsen is set to become the new Guardian in the show’s ongoing second season.
13. Bentley 23
Bentley 23 started life as a clone of the longtime “Fantastic Four” villain, the Wizard. After defeating the Wizard, the child clone was adopted by the Fantastic Four and referred to himself as “23,” since he felt he hadn’t yet earned a name. After eventually taking the Wizard’s first name, Bentley, he joined the Future Foundation, a group of child prodigies mentored by the Fantastic Four. While he was a bit of a loner with an ill temperament, he was an accepted part of the group and grew especially close to Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman’s daughter Valeria. After encountering the Wizard, his “father” said that Bentley showed him who he could have become with a loving family and let him remain with the team.
Created by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham in 2009’s “Fantastic Four” #570, Bentley was introduced early in the Hickman-penned mega-arc that culminated in 2015’s “Secret Wars.” In the Future Foundation-focused title, “FF,” Bentley had several parallels with Damian Wayne, who had recently become the current Robin. Both characters were raised by villains before coming to a heroic household with a chip on their respective shoulders. Like several “Fantastic Four” characters, Bentley has been absent since he left to help rebuild the multiverse in the wake of “Secret Wars.”
12. Ben Reilly
As the Peter Parker clone at the heart of the second “Clone Saga,” Ben Reilly is the most infamous clone in comics. In the 1970s, Peter Parker’s college professor Miles Warren, the Jackal, cloned Peter and his late girlfriend Gwen Stacy. While that clone of Peter seemingly died during the original “Clone Saga,” he lived on, taking the name Ben Reilly. During the 90s “Clone Saga,” Reilly came back into Peter Parker’s life as the heroic Scarlet Spider. After being told that he was the original Spider-Man, Ben took over that identity from Peter Parker, who retired to raise a family with his pregnant wife, Mary Jane. Eventually, Ben learned that he was the real clone and that the whole plot was orchestrated by a resurrected Norman Osborn, who was trying to destroy Peter’s life.
Despite his involvement in this infamous story, Ben Reilly remains a moderately well-liked character, defined by his Scarlet Spider outfit consisting of a sleeveless hoodie over a spandex jumpsuit. Reilly has not appeared much since the end of the 90s “Clone Saga,” except for a simplified retelling of the story in a 2009 miniseries. An alternate reality version of Ben’s Spider-Man played a fairly important role in 2014’s “Spider-Verse” crossover, which drew various alternate reality versions of Spider-Man together. While it’s unknown whether or not Ben will show up in “The Clone Conspiracy,” Marvel has reprinted “The Complete Clone Saga” and “The Complete Ben Reilly Epic” across multiple volumes for the curious and the daring.
11. Lex Luthor
In the early 1990s, Superman comics had a surprising number of clones in prominent positions. One of those clones was Lex Luthor, posing as his son Lex Luthor II, who had an Australian accent and a wild red mane of hair. After radiation from constantly wearing a kryptonite ring gave him cancer, Lex Luthor faked his own death and moved his consciousness into a youthful cloned body. Claiming to be his own son, Luthor took control of LexCorp and became a charismatic public figure, gaining the trust of Superman and the affections of that era’s Supergirl. After the “Death of Superman” story, Luthor even paid for his archenemy’s funeral and memorial statue. Shortly after Lois Lane revealed his true identity, his cloned body started deteriorating.
After recovering, a now-bald Luthor reemerged and claimed that he had been kidnapped by Cadmus, who created an evil clone that committed his various misdeeds. Having cleared himself in the public eye, Luthor was briefly elected President of the United States, becoming the first cloned president. While it wasn’t mentioned much, he technically remained in this cloned body until DC’s New 52 reboot. Luthor’s initial transference to the clone body was collected in the impressively titled “Superman: They Saved Luthor’s Brain!”
10. Ultimate Jessica Drew
As the popular alternate universe series “Ultimate Spider-Man” neared issue 100, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, John Dell and Drew Hennessy tasked themselves with reworking the “Clone Saga” into a manageable storyline for the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Their version of the story put Dr. Octopus and a non-clone scientist named Ben Reilly in charge of a program to create clones of Peter Parker. The only surviving clone was a female clone named Jessica Drew, the first Spider-Woman in the regular Marvel Universe. She had all of the memories and powers of Spider-Man, and took the identity Spider-Woman. She became a major player in the increasingly dangerous Ultimate Universe, eventually taking the codename Black Widow after the first two Black Widows of that world died.
Ultimate Jessica Drew also appeared in 2014’s “Spider-Verse” crossover, working alongside other alternate reality clones of Spider-Man. While the Ultimate Universe was destroyed during 2015’s “Secret Wars,” she seemingly appeared to be one of the few survivors in the recently completed “Spider-Verse” spin-off series “Web Warriors.”
9. Justice League 3000
“Justice League 3000” and its follow-up series “Justice League 3001” are some of the more peculiar DC Comics series in recent memory. Set in the 31st century, the series starred several imperfect genetic clones of the classic Justice League members, created by a version of the Wonder Twins as part of a future iteration of Cadmus. Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, the book mixed a high-body count with some of the duo’s trademark “Justice League International” humor. As the series progressed, future versions of present day heroes like Supergirl, Fire and Ice showed up before the series ended in early 2016.
As the New 52 world of DC Comics grew increasingly dark and serious, this lighter title seemed oddly out of step with the rest of the line. While “Justice League International” artist Kevin Maguire was originally set to draw the series, he was controversially replaced by Howard Porter, who would pencil much the series in a more traditionally serious style. The book’s lack of relation to any version of the main DC Universe or the 31st century of the Legion of Super-Heroes put it in a complicated place in continuity. But as it stands, it remains one of the stranger incarnations of the Justice League.
During Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines’ landmark Marvel crossover “Civil War,” Thor was conspicuously absent. While the real Thor was thought dead, his old allies Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic and Hank Pym created a robotic clone from an old strand of Thor’s hair. While in battle against a competing team of heroes, the clone controversially killed Black Goliath. He was deactivated and later took the name Ragnarok, the end of the world in Norse mythology, after learning that he was not the real Thor. Under Norman Osborn’s orders, Ragnarok was rebuilt and joined the Dark Avengers. While in another reality, Ragnarok successfully picked up that world’s version of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, which drastically changed his appearance, taking away his hair and giving him a goatee.
Shortly after receiving his new appearance, “Dark Avengers” was canceled, and the clone has not been seen since. Originally called “Clor,” short for “Clone Thor” by fans, Ragnarok shares his name with several major storylines from “Thor.” While the character is not likely to appear, the upcoming Thor film “Thor: Ragnarok” shares a name with the character as well.
7. Red Skull
The Red Skull is one of the handful of comic characters who always seems to have a spare clone lying around. After his death, his mind was transferred into the cloned body of Steve Rogers, Captain America’s secret identity. After he died again during Steve Rogers’ resurrection, another clone of the Red Skull made in 1946 awoke in 2012’s “Uncanny Avengers.” This Red Skull stole the deceased Professor X’s brain and “bio-welded” it into his own. He became Red Onslaught, and telepathically broadcast his hate around the world.
After the ensuing “World War Hate,” the Red Skull met Kobik, the living embodiment of the ultra-powerful Cosmic Cube. He used the combined power of Kobik and Professor X’s brain to alter Steve Rogers’ history and make a sleeper Hydra agent in a story that’s still unfolding across the Marvel Universe. While the Red Skull has been an active threat in the Marvel Universe since World War II, this cloned version of the character seems to have had more success as a villain than the original did, as the driving force behind 2013’s “AXIS” crossover and the current corrupt Captain America story.
When the creators of the various Superman titles needed a way to kill Superman, they created Doomsday, the ultimate killing machine. On the page, Doomsday began life on a harsh prehistoric Krypton, where the scientist Berton sent the creature to its death, cloned the creature’s remains, and repeated the process to accelerate the creature’s natural evolution. After escaping this vicious cycle, Doomsday cut a path of destruction across the universe over several millennia that ended in a mutually fatal conflict on Earth with Superman in 1992’s “Death of Superman.” After his remains were thrown into space, Doomsday awoke once again, stronger than before.
Like most comic book deaths, Doomsday’s death was temporary, and he became one of Superman’s semi-regular opponents, with the creature and newly created clones causing trouble on multiple occasions. In “Justice League Unlimited,” Doomsday was a failed Superman clone created by Cadmus. More recently, a version of Doomsday, engineered from a combination of General Zod’s remains and Lex Luthor’s blood, was featured in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” In DC Rebirth, Doomsday fought Superman and a reformed Lex Luthor in the first arc of the revived “Action Comics,” and seems poised to play a continuing role in the ongoing stories of the DC Universe.
In the wake of the “Death of Superman” crossover, Superboy appeared as one of the characters who rose to fill the void left by Superman’s absence in 1993’s “Reign of the Supermen.” Originally created by Project Cadmus as a rebellious teenage clone of Superman, Superboy would eventually be given the name Kon-El after Superman came back to life. After working with Cadmus for a time, Kon-El became a founding member of the teen superhero team Young Justice and lived with Superman’s parents in Smallville, where he posed as Clark Kent’s cousin Conner Kent. When Young Justice evolved into a new incarnation of the Teen Titans, Superboy learned that he was also partially cloned from Lex Luthor’s DNA. After a brief identity crisis, Conner sacrificed his life to defeat an alternate universe Superboy during 2006’s “Infinite Crisis,” though he later came back to life.
While the Superboy of the Silver Age was traditionally just a younger version of Clark Kent, the idea of Superboy as a clone quickly became standard in other iterations of the character. In DC’s New 52 reboot, Superboy was a half-Kryptonian clone created by Project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. A more aggressive but otherwise similar version of Kon-El appeared as a main character in the beloved “Young Justice” animated series. After starring in two solo series and multiple teen teams over the past two decades, the Superboy clones are being sidelined in DC Rebirth, since Superman’s son Jon Kent has become the new Superboy.
4. Donna Troy
Donna Troy, also known as Wonder Girl and Troia, may very well be the most needlessly complicated character in the history of superhero comic books. While Donna Troy has been everything from a regular human girl to a Moon goddess, the 1990s version of the character was a magical clone of Wonder Woman. Donna was originally created on the Amazon island of Themyscira to be a playmate for the young Wonder Woman. She was kidnapped by the villain Dark Angel and was forced to live tragic permutations of her life over and over again, losing her memories each time.
After breaking this cycle, she reestablished her relationship with the adult Wonder Woman and the rest of the Amazons. She also joined an adult incarnation of the Teen Titans simply called the Titans, but died during that team’s fight with an android Superman. After her death, Donna Troy was revived in a story that complicated her origin even more. A new version of Donna Troy is currently appearing in DC Rebirth’s “Titans.”
The bizarrely-named Spidercide represented all the excess of the “Clone Saga” that eventually crippled the story. Originally another one of the Jackal’s Peter Parker clones, Spidercide believed that he was also the real Peter, and had the ability to transform into a giant hulking form. After a brief death, the undead Spidercide was resurrected and killed thousands of civilians after releasing the Jackal’s Carrion virus. Spidercide continued to work for the Jackal and was a major antagonist during the “Clone Saga.” He died after being thrown off of the Daily Bugle building.
Despite the story’s reputation, the “Clone Saga” continued for longer than it was initially planned because of high sales and positive reader response. Needless complications like Spidercide obscured the merits of the story and artificially extended the narrative past the breaking point. Spidercide has not appeared since the conclusion of the “Clone Saga” and is regularly listed among the worst Spider-Man villains, and sometimes the worst comic book villains, of all time.
While not as bad as Donna Troy, Supergirl has had more than her fair share of complicated origins. One of the most unusual began in an alternate dimension, where a not-evil Lex Luthor cloned a Supergirl from the brain patters of a deceased Lana Lang using a shape-shifting “protoplasmic matrix.” After her world was destroyed, Matrix, as she came to be known, traveled to the main DC Universe and became the first Supergirl of the 1990s. Shortly after her arrival, she met and quickly fell in love with Lex Luthor, who was posing as his charismatic cloned son at the time. With his full head of hair, he bore a striking resemblance to the Luthor who created her. During this time, Supergirl even led Team Luthor, Luthor’s private security force, against Doomsday during the “Death of Superman.”
After discovering that Luthor had cloned her hundreds of times, Supergirl fought her ex-lover until his cloned body fell into a coma. This version of Supergirl went on to merge with a dying girl named Linda Danvers and become an earthbound angel with fire abilities. She would remain the DC Universe’s primary Supergirl until the New 52 reboot and bears little relation to the Kryptonian Supergirl on the ongoing show “Supergirl.”
In one of the greatest acts of character salvation in comic book history, Kaine began as one of the many players in the 90s “Clone Saga” and became a compelling fan-favorite protagonist in his own right. Kaine was the Jackal’s first clone of Peter Parker. However, he was imperfect, and his body and mind began to deteriorate. When he joined the “Clone Saga,” he killed Spider-Man villains like Kraven the Hunter’s son, the Grim Hunter and Dr. Octopus. He left his victims with the “Mark of Kaine,” a creative use of Spider-Man’s wall-crawling abilities that left a handprint-shaped scar on his victims’ faces.
After the “Clone Saga,” Kaine eventually became an uneasy ally of Spider-Man, briefly dying to save him during 2010’s “Grim Hunt.” When he was revived and cured of his degenerative diseases, Kaine took Ben Reilly’s old identity and became the new Scarlet Spider. Wanting nothing to do with Spider-Man, he moved to Houston, Texas and served as that city’s primary hero in a cult-favorite solo series. He eventually joined a new incarnation of the New Warriors, a team the first Scarlet Spider once served on, before seemingly sacrificing his life in 2014’s “Spider-Verse.” However, the epilogue to that story teased a still unseen return for the character, who could quite possibly show up in “The Clone Conspiracy.”
Who’s your favorite member in the clone club? Let us know in the comments below!
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