It was all the X-Men’s fault. Following the huge success of the Age of Apocalypse event, which took over the X-books for four months in 1994, Marvel’s marketing department requested a similar event to run in the Spider-Man books. Little did they know that this sales ploy would lead to one of the most controversial and divisive storylines in Spider-Man’s lengthy history.
The clone saga, featuring the return of the Spider-clone from the original 1975 clone story, was originally planned as a 3-month storyline. Instead, huge initial sales and interest led to the story being expanded and then expanded again, throwing the writers’ original story into disarray. By the time that the story concluded in 1996’s Spider-Man #75, it had lasted two years and had spanned hundreds of comic books. Despite its notoriety, many of the concepts and characters featured in the story – including Kaine, the Jackal and Ben Reilly – have continued to feature in Spider-Man stories in the years since. Now, with Ben Reilly about to headline his own ongoing series, CBR counts down 15 of the craziest moments from Spidey’s most infamous storyline.
15. PETER PARKER IS THE CLONE
From the moment that Peter Parker first encountered Ben Reilly, his returned clone, in Web of Spider-Man #117, readers were treated to a stream of misdirection, fake-outs and false reveals about whether Peter or Ben was the clone. Finally, nine months after Ben’s return, in Spectacular Spider-Man #226, comprehensive testing of both Ben and Peter revealed a shocking truth. Peter was the clone: the character that readers had been following for twenty years was a ‘fake’.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this reveal. The focus of Spider-Man comics had always been as much about Peter Parker as it had been his costumed alter ego, and there was an angry reaction from many fans who saw the development as a reset button on twenty years of characterization. Fortunately for Marvel, the reveal took place before the advent of social media, or things could have got really ugly.
14. DEATH OF DOCTOR OCTOPUS
Since his introduction in Amazing Spider-Man #3, Doc Ock had vied with Norman Osborn for the position of Spidey’s greatest foe. Otto had romanced Aunt May, almost killed the Black Cat and had crossed paths with Spidey time and time again. Their relationship wasn’t just business: it was personal.
These deep bonds are what made the circumstances of Doc Ock’s death so effective. After Peter was infected with a deadly virus, Otto cured him, recognizing that he needed his arch-foe in his life. Indeed, Ock is portrayed throughout the storyline as someone who respects Spider-Man as a foe, with his discovery that Spider-Man is Peter Parker only fueling his resolve to save him. Doc Ock’s actual death at the hands of Kaine aroused some controversy as not being a fitting way for such a legendary villain to die. It did, however, prove that in the clone saga anything could happen.
13. SCARLET SPIDER JOINS THE NEW WARRIORS
Spidey has had numerous team-ups over the years, famously headlining the long-running Marvel team-up series in the ’70s and ’80s. When Ben Reilly returned to New York and assumed the identity of the Scarlet Spider, it was fascinating to watch him encounter familiar Spidey foes for the first time, including Venom and Hobgoblin. Ben also teamed up with heroes but took it one step further than Peter, becoming a member of the New Warriors.
Scarlet’s brief membership of the youthful team was a strange fit, its primary purpose appearing to be an attempt to raise the profile of the Warriors’ series. A romantic relationship between Ben and Firestar was teased and it was interesting to see Scarlet as the voice of experience. However, he never quite fitted in and it was hard to escape the impression that he was like the ‘cool’ uncle trying to get down with the kids.
12. DEATH OF AUNT MAY
May Parker had been a central part of the Spider-Man mythos since her introduction in Amazing Fantasy #15. Her wheat cakes, doting love for Peter and constant health scares were all well-established, with her character forever reminding Peter of the part his inaction had played in the death of his Uncle Ben. Aunt May’s health problems had been so frequent that it almost appeared that she would live forever. The clone saga shattered that expectation, with J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Bagley teaming up to chronicle Aunt May’s death in the landmark Amazing Spider-Man #400.
In an emotion-heavy issue, Aunt May died with her family at her bedside, after telling Peter that she was proud of his efforts as Spider-Man. Many anniversary issues are hyped as containing a death but this really was superb: one of the most emotional comics of all time. Let’s hope no-one spoils it by bringing her back to life…
11. BEN REILLY – PETER’S LONG LOST COUSIN
When Ben Reilly first came back to New York he kept a low profile, doing his best to stay out of Peter’s life. When Peter and MJ left New York City, Ben — now believing that he was the real Peter Parker — decided to stick around and make a new life for himself. He designed a new Spider-Man costume and innovations such as impact webbing, but there was another issue that was somewhat harder to fix. The minor problem that he looked exactly like Peter Parker.
After Aunt Anna bumped into him believing him to be Peter, Ben decided to change his look. A hair cut and some blonde hair dye later and – voila! – Ben Reilly was ready to take on the world. As for how this disguise could fool Peter’s old friends? Simple! Ben introduced himself as Peter’s long lost (and never previously mentioned) cousin.
10. THE LADY IS AN OCTOPUS
The death of Doctor Octopus back in Spectacular Spider-Man #221 left a vacancy for a multi-armed baddie to complicate Spidey’s life. Luckily, only eight months later Marvel introduced a new female Doctor Octopus – Carolyn Trainer. Carolyn was similar to many ’90s revamps of characters in that she had a previously unmentioned connection with the deceased (being a protege of Ocks) and was more extreme. She had pink hair and body armor! How could Otto hope to compete?
The main problem with Carolyn is that the relationship between Spidey and Ock was so successful because of their shared history. Scarlet Spider and Carolyn didn’t have that and while the writers made Carolyn the daughter of Seward Trainer, Ben’s surrogate father, her character never caught on.
9. PLANET OF THE SYMBIOTES
The mid ’90s were a confusing time for Eddie Brock and his Venom symbiote, with the character’s popularity seeing him turn from a monster into an antihero. As well as the ongoing Spider books the clone saga saw a lot of extra product being put out. One such event was “Planet of the symbiotes” which appeared in five 1995 super-specials.
The creators obviously deciding that bigger was better, the specials featured Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, Venom and multiple symbiotes, revealing the history of the symbiotes and giving Venom a new purpose. Bizarrely, the story also featured a giant-sized Carnage and an army of symbiotes destroying New York; all of which happened off-panel, never to be mentioned again after the story’s conclusion.
8. GWEN STACY FINDS LOVE… WITH THE JACKAL?!
The memory of his first love had stayed with Peter Parker ever since Gwen Stacy’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #121. It was Gwen’s apparent return that kicked off the original clone saga, it eventually being revealed that she was a clone created by an obsessed Miles Warren (the Jackal). This was presented as the one-sided obsession that an older teacher had for a student, making what happened next all the more disturbing.
In Web of Spider-Man #125 it was revealed that clone Gwen was still alive and had embarked on a relationship with a clone of Miles Warren. The two had even married and were happily living together until Ben Reilly unwittingly stumbled across them. At the time it seemed a crazy plot point, but perhaps this idea of Gwen and an older man was what inspired JMS to hook Gwen and Norman Osborn up in the infamous “Sins Past” storyline.
7. PETER PARKER – JAILBIRD!
For readers accustomed to Peter being one of Marvel’s more moral characters, the events of the clone sage provided one shock after another. First came his retreat into the Spider-Man persona after the trauma of losing his (seemingly returned) parents. Then there was the way that he treated Ben Reilly, initially totally unsympathetic to the difficulties that Ben had been through in the intervening years. So when Peter was arrested on multiple counts of murder, readers would have been forgiven for allowing themselves a tiny moment of doubt.
In actual fact, Spidey’s no-killing rule remained intact. The culprit was revealed as Kaine, the psychotic clone of Peter whose fingerprints – rather unfortunately – were identical to Peter’s. While Peter’s eventual exoneration was never in doubt, the plotline did allow for some nice reactions from the supporting cast, the best being J.J.J anonymously paying all Peter’s legal fees.
6. SO… MANY… CLONES!
The clone saga was absolutely filled to the brim with Peter Parker clones, the trend reaching its zenith in the “Maximum Clonage” storyline which featured a veritable army of Spidey clones. While many of these clones were easily forgettable, there were a few that stood out from the pack. In the early part of the clone sage, a mystery revolved around the identity of an amnesic third Peter Parker. Briefly teased as the original Peter, this was eventually revealed to be another clone, swiftly followed by his discovery of shapeshifting abilities and adoption of the name Spidercide. Unfortunately, he was unable to shapeshift into a halfway decent character.
Far better was Jack, the Jackal’s diminutive lab assistant. A little-person clone of Peter Parker, Jack looked like a mini Jackal. Sadly, the little guy was too cute for this harsh world, with the Jackal disintegrating him after he disobeyed orders.
5. THE MARK OF KAINE
Kaine was the first Peter Parker clone created by Miles Warren, but clone degeneration led to Miles discarding him. This rejection made Kaine insanely jealous of Ben Reilly (his ‘replacement’ as Peter), while at the same time he admired Peter for his supposed perfect life. Kaine made it his mission in life to torment Ben, constantly destroying his every prospect of happiness. With his brute strength and ability to leave the ‘mark of Kaine’ imprinted on others, he was a constant reminder of how dangerous Spidey could be if he thought he had nothing left to lose.
For years, Kaine was one of the few clone sage concepts that Marvel didn’t try to sweep under the carpet. After he returned to the Spider-books in 2009, he embarked on a quest of redemption, assuming the mantle of the Scarlet Spider and following Ben’s example by becoming a member of the New Warriors.
4. DEATH OF BEN REILLY
When the Parkers left for a new life in Portland and Ben Reilly (re)assumed the mantle of Spider-Man, it seemed like a new era of Spidey stories was beginning. This wasn’t quite how things turned out. For starters, Peter and MJ returned to the Spidey books after only a few months. While this created a nice family dynamic between the three, it also made it harder for Ben to flesh out his own identity.
When the decision to end the clone saga was decided upon, Ben was disposed of in the harshest manner possible. This was a character that Marvel had presented as the real Peter Parker and who had been starring in the Spider books for two years. Despite this, he was used as a punching bag before being impaled by a goblin glider, his body turning to dust in a final confirmation that he was the clone.
3. LOSS OF PETER AND MJ’S BABY
For ’90s kids, the marriage of Peter and MJ and their growth together was a key part of that decade’s stories. This was particularly true in the clone saga; events severely tested the two but each time their love helped them overcome obstacles. When MJ told Peter that she was pregnant in “Spectacular Spider-Man” ‘#220 it seemed a natural progression, with many readers excited to hear the patter of tiny spider feet.
While the plan was to reveal Ben Reilly as the original and Peter as the clone, this didn’t create a problem: the Parkers would ride into the sunset to enjoy domestic bliss. Unfortunately, when Marvel reversed this decision it was also decided that Peter and MJ couldn’t have a baby as this would age them. Fans upset by this contentious decision were later able to follow the adventures of a grown-up May Parker in the long-running Spider-Girl series.
2. PETER HITS MARY JANE
The clone saga was full of controversial moments, but this was the one that horrified fandom. After finding out that he was the clone, a horrified Peter Parker lashed out at Ben Reilly, desperate to prove that it was an elaborate hoax. Mary Jane attempted to intervene but Peter, rather than just brushing off her hand on his shoulder, backhanded her into a wall. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Mary Jane was pregnant at the time with their child.
From a storytelling point of view it’s easy to see what the creators were going for. They wanted to show Peter’s horror and desperation and to justify his turn towards the Jackal. Nevertheless, Peter hitting MJ, regardless of the circumstance, was dangerous territory, inviting comparisons with the Wasp/Yellowjacket storyline that haunts Hank Pym to this day.
1. THE RETURN OF NORMAN OSBORN
Given his prominence in the Marvel universe over the last decade, it’s easy to forget that Norman was absent for two decades, from his ‘death’ in Amazing Spider-Man #122 until his return in Spider-Man #75. His reappearance and the reveal that he was the true mastermind behind the clone saga was controversial among both fans and creators.
The original intent had been for the clone saga to end with a time loop, created by Mephisto, that revealed Ben and Peter to be the same person, Peter having been sent back in time 5 years to become Ben. When this scenario was rejected as overly complicated, editor-in-chief Bob Harras decreed that Norman Osborn was the only character with the motivation and means to pull the strings. It really shouldn’t have worked, but the restoration of the Osborn/Parker rivalry and Norman’s role in future stories more than vindicated the decision of Harras.
Do you remember the above points and can you think of any crazy moments that we missed? Do you consider the clone saga to be a great success or an epic flop? As always, let us know in the comments or on Facebook!
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