Well, it’s not the Clone Saga, in spite of the title. We’ve pretty much established that the last two issues. Call it A Clone Saga since there’s no denying it’s got plenty of clones in it. But is it long enough to be called a “saga” now that it’s condensed down to six issues? Perhaps the better question is, “Is it a story worth reading?”
The Jackal holds Peter, Ben, and Kaine captive on some high-tech operating tables as his thousands of Parker clones assemble around him. He explains that all of his previous clones degenerated except for Ben, who has shown no flaws, and Kaine, who partially degenerated but stayed alive. After whisking off Kaine’s mask to show his scarred Parker face, the Jackal tells Peter that he infected May and MJ with a genetic disease because he knew that would make the two Spider-Men “come running to find a cure.” He adds that he needed both of them because Peter’s blood “provides them with a genetic foundation” while “Ben’s stabilizes them.” He further believes that any procedure that stabilizes the Peter clones will stabilize any clones. (Even though the point seemed to be that he needed the original as “a genetic foundation.” If Peter’s blood will serve for any clones, then why does it have to be Peter at all?)
At the hospital, MJ consoles the comatose May until the disease gets the better of her and she collapses. Meanwhile, the Jackal teases Peter with an antidote for May and MJ until his genetic brew is ready. Deciding he has an effective stabilizing agent, the Jackal reveals his other completed clone… Gwen Stacy. Outraged by this, Kaine breaks loose, then frees Peter and Ben. The Jackal sics all of his Parkers on them and the melee begins. Peter, Ben, and Kaine quickly discover that the new Parkers are tabula rasas, possessing Spider-Man’s physical power but none of his fighting skill. Still, they seem sufficient to overcome the three allies and the Jackal even prepares to “introduce you to another old friend” about whom he says “you’re simply going to die when you see who I’m going to resurrect next,” when all of the new clones degenerate. The Jackal can’t understand it unless… Ben is the original and Peter the clone.
The Jackal unleashes some of his “bio-plasmic goop monsters,” hoping to use them as a cover to escape. However, Kaine scars his face with the “Mark of Kaine” and then murders him. He grabs the antidote and tosses it in the air, forcing Ben and Peter to grab it, allowing him to escape. The Jackal’s lab explodes but Peter and Ben get out. Ben thinks they should talk about the Jackal’s realization that he is the real Parker, but Peter wants to race to the hospital first. There, the antidote rapidly cures May and MJ. Ben introduces himself to May while MJ tells Peter “we can expect a normal pregnancy from now on.” Peter tells her that the Jackal labeled him the clone. He adds that he doesn’t believe the Jackal but, even if it’s true, he doesn’t care. “The way I live is more important than the way I was born,” he says.
Later, Peter gives Ben his Spidey suit. Ben, thinking Peter is giving it up because he is the clone, tries to refuse it but Peter assures him that he is resigning to start a family “with all that entails.” Ben dons the suit and, not knowing or caring if he is the real Peter Parker or not, happily declares, “I am Spider-Man.” Kaine, communicating with his apparent partner, watches Spidey-Ben as he web-slings away. “They seem to have reacted just like you predicted,” he says, adding that he has the Jackal’s stabilizing agent and will “deliver it to the man who can perfect it.” He asks his partner “Were you able to retrieve the desired clone pod from the lab” and his partner assures him that “Everything is proceeding according to my master plan.” The partner, who is in shadow but certainly looks like an Osborn, says to no one in particular, “Gotcha!”
You can divide this one right down the middle. The first 11 pages of this 22-page story are more of the same. Army of Parkers…Jackal conveniently reveals that he has an antidote for May and MJ… the 3 Peters escape… big fight… blah, blah, blah. Then on page 12, everything changes as the clones degenerate and the Jackal realizes that Ben must be the original. From there, the mysteries arise and deepen. Yeah, it looks like it’s all winding down (and up) what with Kaine “killing” the Jackal and May and MJ cured by the antidote but that’s all window dressing. In fact, the first two and a half issues of this series are window dressing. Now we have some meat: to whom is the Jackal referring when he tells the trio “you’re simply going to die when you see who I’m going to resurrect next?” Is this the same clone pod acquired by the Osborn at the end? In the final panel our mystery villain looks like Norman Osborn but his “Gotcha!” line refers back to Harry during his final Goblin days. So, is the mysterious Osborn actually Harry? Is the new clone in the pod Norman then? (As someone who wishes they’d reveal the current Norman Osborn as a clone, I would love that.) Is the Jackal really dead? (Doubtful, with all the clones around.) How does Kaine fit into all of this? Who is the man who can perfect the stabilizing agent? Suddenly, I’m interested to see what Tom and Howard are going to reveal next.
After two issues of feeling like we were following shadow puppets going through the motions, some genuine character touches appear here as well. Tiring of Peter’s continual concern over May and MJ, the Jackal barks out, “I have conquered death! This stabilizing agent allows me to clone anyone I want and make them virtually immortal! That should put your mind at ease. Even if your precious Aunt May and Mary Jane die, I can always bring them back. So stop aggravating me already!” In all of the previous “oh-he’s-just-crazy” Jackal appearances, this idea was never explored. If the Jackal thinks he can recreate any living being, then, of course, life becomes very cheap. He’s not nuts. He just views death with the same seriousness as he views a hole in his shoe. He can always get a new one.
Kaine also gets a nice character moment here, breaking free when he sees Gwen Stacy because, “She is my only unblemished memory. I won’t let the Jackal transform her into a monster like me.” Kaine views himself entirely as a flawed version of someone else. The only thing he has that isn’t flawed is his memory of Gwen… which isn’t even his. I like the thought of him cradling that like he’s holding an egg on a bumpy road.
This story also rectifies one of the great errors of the original Clone Saga: the moments when Peter goes off his head and strikes MJ because he can’t deal with the thought of being the clone. Even at the time of those stories, it seemed clear that those moments were written so that we would sympathize with Ben over Peter and accept him as the new wall-crawler. It was a cheap gimmick and it never rang true. Peter’s acceptance here that he may be the clone is more like it. And Ben’s identical reaction to the Jackal’s manipulation makes sense since he and Peter are the same person, after all.
Another Clone Saga flaw is the omniscient manipulations of the Jackal as he declares first Peter, then Ben as the original Parker. Why should the Jackal know which one is the real one, anyway? In this story, he doesn’t and is as surprised as we are that Peter may be the clone. A nice touch.
So who is responsible for these effective details and character touches? Howard or Tom? Or maybe both? Another compelling mystery.
The art wins me over this time for two moments in particular. First, the look in Kaine’s eyes when he sees Gwen Stacy. All of his fear and longing are contained there. Second, for the scene in the busy spread on pages 2-3 in which three Parker clones get their costumes off the rack. Imagine the Jackal’s tailor fees. And, to make it worse, all of those suits degenerated with the clones. So, then, maybe he cloned the suits, too?
Things are looking up but it took half the issue to get there. Still, I like it and I’m looking forward to the next three issues. I’m still rooting for this mini-series but now I’m doing a little hoping as well. Back to my original question. Is it a story worth reading? For the first time, it looks like it may be. Two and a half webs. Here’s to a higher rating next time.