SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "The Clone Conspiracy" #1, on sale now
Every generation or so, the subject of clones has worked its way into the world of Spider-Man, and writer Dan Slott formally kicks off the latest Spider-event in "The Clone Conspiracy" #1, penciled and inked by Jim Cheung and John Dell respectively. Carrying the latest storyline's "Dead No More" banner, Spider-Man finally investigates the mysterious corporation known as "New U" as seen in "Amazing Spider-Man," and indeed finds that many foes, and friends, thought long gone are seemingly dead no more.
As readers of that title know, one character who is dead is Jay Jameson, father to J. Jonah Jameson and husband to Peter Parker's Aunt May. The issue opens, in fact, with those characters and others in the cast grieving at Jay's graveside funeral service. As shown in last week's "Amazing Spider-Man" #19, the unfortunate senior Jameson had succumbed to his illness after a wary Peter refused to give consent for New U's seemingly miraculous lifesaving treatment to be administered to Jay, a decision that leads Jonah to waste no time blaming Peter for Jay's death. As historically is the case, Peter takes the heat because of Spider-Man, as it was his spider-sense that warned him and gave him the uneasiness he felt towards this outwardly successful cure.
Peter relates to Anna Marconi these events, shown in the recent "Amazing Spider-Man" #16, where gravely injured Parker Industries employee Jerry Salteres made a full recovery after receiving New U's untested procedure, but set off Peter's spider-sense thereafter. When Peter and Anna visit Salteres' wife, they learn that he had become extremely sick after not taking the required post-procedure medication and was subsequently taken back to New U's lab without his consent. This motivates Peter to finally take a look inside the workings of New U, and after sneaking into the facility as Spider-Man, he discovers the still-living Salteres, or what's left of him, uncovering a glimpse of the ghastly nature of New U's "procedure" and affirming the danger his spider-sense alerted him to.
Spidey also encounters an even more familiar character: that of former Empire State University professor and mad scientist Miles Warren, or more precisely, the latest of his clones. Warren alerts the facility's security team, which most prominently consists of The Rhino and Electro. The latter, of course, being the new "regrown" Electro, Francine Frye, who inherited Max Dillon's powers when his DNA became mixed with hers just before New U reconstructed her body. The appearance of Spidey's foes – who were believed to be dead – along with Warren's clone, leads him to deduce that New U is the latest twisted scheme by Warren's alter ego, The Jackal, the villain behind virtually all of Spidey's clone troubles in the past.
Spider-Man dispatches his two foes easily enough, only to come across yet another familiar face: that of his beloved Gwen Stacy, seemingly alive and well, and even dressed in her classic 70's-retro fashions. Before he can even process that, however, he's sucker-punched in the story's final scene by perhaps the most surprising foe of all: that of a newly reconstituted Otto Octavius, back as the classic Doctor Octopus. The return of Doc Ock also features the return of his traditional and most recognized guise, after spending years with his mind locked in his previous withered, crippled body, Peter's body as the Superior Spider-Man, ind most recently inside the robotic Living Brain.
Slott and artist Ron Frenz supplement the issue with a ten-page backup entitled "The Night I Died," the dark and aptly named story that retells the moments leading up to, and beyond, Gwen's death at the hands of the Green Goblin. As the title starkly implies, though, the story is retold from Gwen's point of view, mirroring the events from Gerry Conway's original "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" story in the landmark "Amazing Spider-Man" #121.
Slott's retelling unveils a heartbreaking revelation that stands to reignite the decades-old debate over the circumstances of Gwen's death; namely, that Gwen was actually still conscious just before her death, and not only overheard in those final moments that Peter was Spider-Man, but tearfully comes to the realization that Peter himself was then partially responsible for her father's death, having long blamed Spider-Man for his role in George Stacy demise.
Gwen's brutal murder is replayed, and the scene goes black -- until she awakens in The Jackal's lab at New U, where he explains how his procedure regenerated her and restored her back to life. As she ponders an attack on him, she loses her resolve when The Jackal also reveals another surprising resurrection: her father, George Stacy, also seemingly fully restored and in perfect health. Seeing her father alive once again, Gwen willingly takes the drug provided to her by The Jackal, a drug required to sustain her new life, in order to remain reunited with her father.
Gwen's choice explains her presence at New U and her previously confusing apparent loyalty to The Jackal. The elder Stacy's story has yet to be explored, however, and stands to upend Gwen's dynamic with The Jackal and Peter; one word from George to Gwen regarding Peter's innocence relating to his death could hold the potential to change everything. The "Dead No More" subheading also hints that perhaps George, or even Gwen, could be here to stay.
Clones and controversy have long gone hand-in-hand with Spider-Man fans, and the story, along with any potential controversial developments, continues in "The Clone Conspiracy" #2, on sale November 2.