Do you remember Infinity War? Not Avengers: Infinity War, but the comic event? A direct sequel to The Infinity gauntlet, the huge '90s crossover featured epic battles in space between titanic forces of power, but it also featured a load of evil clones being thrown at the Marvel heroes, most of whom died by the time the story ended. One special "clone," however, would linger around and cause mayhem throughout Marvel's world.
The evil version of Spider-Man, known as the Doppelganger, was never meant to be a recurring villain. Like the rest of Infinity War's clones, he was supposed to disappear after his story came to a close, when its master was defeated and all of his machinations were rendered into their original form: lifeless tentacles. And yet, somehow, he lingered on, gaining a second life as a pet to other, far more twisted villains. How did this monster become something of an icon? And why isn't this freaky clone dead yet?
The Doppelganger and The Demogoblin
The Doppelgangers have a strange history. The villain Magus accessed a strange reality known as the Dimension of Manifestations. This reality contains what can only be described as abstract, living shapes, able to manifest as anything without any real direction. Using his abilities and hoping to reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet for himself, Magus manifests these living patterns into duplicates of Marvel superheroes (and a few villains). These copies were all mindless and chaotic, having little will of their own, beyond doing what they are told. When Magus is beaten, these doppelgangers all disappeared... at least, they were supposed to.
Spider-Man's was different. After his defeat, he was found by the Demogoblin, another prevalent character in the pages of Spider-Man in the early '90s who has mostly been forgotten by modern audiences. To explain briefly, Jason Macendale wasn't the first Hobgoblin. In fact, he was a poor substitute for the prior Hobgoblin, a then-unknown Roderick Kingsley. In order to make himself more of a threat, Macendale made a deal with the demon N'astirh, who granted him demonic powers, which, later, split off from him, forming an entirely new entity: Demogoblin. It was this Demogoblin that found the dying Doppelganger.
Using his demonic abilities, the Demogoblin keeps the Doppelganger preserved in his shape. While the Doppelganger remained mostly chaotic, it seemed fiercely loyal to those who protected him and showed him affection, and great hatred toward those who threatened those he cared for.
Demogoblin's whole goal was that he wanted to punish sinners, especially Macendale. He saw the Doppelganger as a pure spirit, someone created from chaos who had no real ill-will of his own, just a need to follow. Doppelganger served as the Demogoblin's partner in crime, despite being a mindless, chaotic beast. While it's hard to say Demogoblin treated the Doppelganger as an equal, he certainly treated him better than the Doppelganger's later "parents" would.
However, during one of Demogoblin's strikes against Macendale, the duo ended up having to deal with the combined forces of Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze and, oddly enough, Venom. This fight resulted in Demogoblin being separated for a time from the Doppelganger, though they wouldn't be apart for much longer. However, by the time the two did reunite, Doppelganger found some new parents.
The Doppelganger and Maximum Carnage
The Maximum Carnage event is sometimes criticized for being overly long and overly brutal, but it did introduce the idea of Carnage having a family, one that carried on to the modern Absolute Carnage event. It all started when Carnage, in yet another escape from Ravencroft, encounters the murderous Shriek, a woman with the ability to channel supersonic energy. The two unite, creating a Manson Family-esque cult surrounding Carnage and other wayward souls, causing destruction wherever they travel.
Carnage and Shriek, by chance, run into The Doppelganger, who Shriek adopts as a surrogate son. Carnage, from the get-go, doesn't seem to like the Doppelganger all that much, but tolerates him so Shriek, who he is very attracted to, can create her mock family. Eventually, the Demogoblin joins the family, seeing this as a chance to purge the world of sin, even if he hates everything Carnage represents.
Near the end of the event, Carnage, enraged by Shriek acting independently, attacks her. This leads the Doppelganger to defend his mother. Carnage responds by gutting the clone and throwing him down a building to its apparent death. The group is shortly beaten thereafter, though Shriek apparently is able to forgive Carnage for seemingly murdering their "child." Demogoblin is not.
This Doppelganger Will Not Die
For a while, it looked like Carnage actually had killed the Doppelganger, who didn't appear in stories for years. While Carnage would make attempts to reunite his family, these events didn't become serious business until Carnage's self -titled solo mini-series came out. It turns out, not only had Doppelganger survived, but he had been covertly visiting his "mother" Shriek in Ravencroft for years. The Doppelganger is nearly killed during an attempt to save Shriek (it's shot literally in half), but, thanks to both his "mother" and "father," the Doppelganger is saved. He helps Carnage combat the symbiote Scorn, which further cements the three as a family going forward.
This culminates in the events of Absolute Carnage, where the Doppelganger serves as a member of Carnage's cult, worshiping the Symbiote God Knull. The Doppelganger helps collect the various Codexes from the spines of those who have ever been in contact with a symbiote. As the event is ongoing, it's still possible that the Doppelganger will die (again), but considering how many other times the creature has seemingly passed, it's uncertain if this will actually stick.
When looking at the Doppelganger's history, one question remains: why? The character looks incredibly cool; that is undeniable. During the '90s, there were many evil clone characters who sprang up, especially in Spider-Man stories like The Clone Saga. Venom arguably made the trend more popular, as did characters like Demogoblin and Carnage, and later Kaine. But the Doppelganger served as a great pet villain for bigger bads.
In many respects, his continued existence and presence in Absolute Carnage fleshes out Spidey's rogue's gallery nicely in the modern age. In an interesting way, it also offers a unique perspective on villainy. The Doppelganger is a mindless thing, given shape by quite literally the manifestation of pure evil, in the Magus, and then taken in by a perhaps more misguided malevolence in the Demogoblin. It then is taught further horrors by its new foster parents, to whom it shows a sick sort of reverence.
The Doppelganger is like a tragically abused pet; and while it hasn't explicitly been presented as such by writers thus far, the character does offer audiences a villain to sympathize with, if even through subtext. Perhaps if a creative team would lean in to that reading, there would be more of a justification for an at-first disposable character to have such incredible longevity. Maybe, just maybe, the Doppelganger can find Marvel permanence in a nice forever home.