After two sputtering issues, last issue finally started taking us somewhere. But, is it to a place worth going? And are we still heading there?
Ben Reilly is now Spider-Man and, as this story begins, he fights Doctor Octopus, who was not killed by Kaine in this version of the Clone Saga. Apparently Ock has been breaking into “major laboratories and medical research facilities” stealing “chemicals and equipment.” Ock escapes Spidey by the usual method: putting innocent bystanders in danger and forcing the wall-crawler to rescue them. Ben wonders why he wanted to “wear these stupid webs again.”
Meanwhile, the now-retired Peter Parker is back in Forest Hills with Aunt May and a very-pregnant MJ trying to apply for research grants to finally get into a life of science. Ben, not using his science knowledge at all, heads to his job at the Daily Grind where Shirley tells him she has a friend who “has this lovely daughter who is just perfect for you.” She gives Ben a slip of paper, presumably with the phone number of the “sweet girl.”
Down in the sewers, Kaine visits Ock, who has an underground lab. He gives Octavius parts of the Jackal’s notes and the “formula for a stabilizing agent to prevent clone degeneration” in return for an unspecified formula of Ock’s creation. When Otto tells him that he rarely works with others, Kaine replies, “I assume no one else has offered you immortality.”
While this is going on, Ben goes out on a blind date with Shirley’s friend’s daughter, whose name is Beth. The problem is that Beth reminds him of Elizabeth Tyne (who also went by Janine Godbe, but God knows I’m not going to go over that) and this puts him in a funk. Back in Forest Hills, Peter puts together his “best proposal ever” and tells MJ he is happy to leave the web-swinging to Ben. Actually, Ben is too busy feeling like a fake Spidey to enjoy it too much. Even so, he sees enough of a pattern in Doc Ock’s robberies to anticipate where the next one will take place. (The pattern that Ben finds is not explained.) He arrives just as Otto does and they duke it out. Unfortunately, Ben remembers the Octopus he used to fight years before and isn’t aware of how Ock has amped up his tentacles so he is defeated easily. Ock brings his latest booty to his sewer lab. There he tells Kaine that he has “perfected and produced a large quantity of the Jackal’s stabilizing agent.” Ock demands more of the Jackal’s notes but Kaine attacks instead and is just about to snap his neck when Spidey arrives. As Kaine and Spidey fight, Ben asks, “Why are you continuing the Jackal’s work? Are you planning to make new clones or resurrect the dead?” Kaine refuses to say. When Spidey shoots webbing at him, Kaine picks up the wounded Otto and positions him so that the webbing strikes him full in the face. With his mouth and nose webbed up, Octopus can’t breathe. Kaine does the same thing Otto did at the beginning of the story. Gives Ben the choice of capturing him or rescuing the bystander. Ben opts for pulling the webbing off Ock’s face, saving his life. Why? “Isn’t it obvious?” he says, “I’m Spider-Man.”
Elsewhere, Kaine, carrying the clone stabilizing equipment, contacts his boss, telling him that they “can now clone or revive anyone we desire without fear of degeneration.” His boss, that shadowy Osborn figure (who is pretty clearly Harry at this point) knows exactly whom he plans to revive. He’s got Norman Osborn (or a clone of him) safely ensconced in a clone chamber.
That’s it? That’s IT? The story finally gets going last issue and this is what we get for a follow-up? Cut away Ben’s insecurities about being Spidey, Peter’s attempts to write a grant proposal, Ben’s day at work and his date with Beth, and Spidey’s two battles with Ock (which are exciting enough but don’t advance the plot one bit) and what are we left with? What are the developments this issue? Pretty much this: Otto Octavius creates a clone stabilizing formula for Kaine who is working for Harry (presumably) who is going to use it to revive a clone (presumably) of Norman. That’s it. And it only took 22 pages to tell that.
So, this issue’s a big letdown but here are a few things I liked about it:
Kaine assertion that he is offering Otto immortality is intriguing even though it later appears that he actually plans to kill him. The offer of immortality refers back to the Jackal’s assertion last issue that he can make someone virtually immortal by cloning them. So, Kaine is presumably offering a cloning to Doctor Octopus. But is this the same as immortality? Is Otto’s clone the same thing as Otto? He may think he is but is that enough? Peter and Ben and Kaine sure aren’t the same person. I’d like to see this further explored. I’m thinking it won’t be.
The nicest touch in the story is Ock’s defeat of Spidey, who is still fighting Otto as he did pre-clone times. It makes sense that Ben would be at a disadvantage because he wasn’t involved in all of the Spidey-Ock fights and missed out on the progress of the rivalry. I’m not sure if this sort of thing was ever explored in the actual Spider-Ben stories. If it wasn’t, it should have been.
I like the way Ben allays his feelings of inadequacy by choosing to save Otto rather than pursue Kaine but he also saves the bystanders at the beginning of the story rather than pursue Ock. Shouldn’t that have helped his Spidey-ego? Or did he need to save someone he would rather let die to make him realize he’s Spider-Man?
Todd Nauck gives us a formidable classic Doc Ock; a swirl of tentacles and white suits and a very expressive face (in spite of an excess of grimacing). Ock wears sunglasses throughout the story until we see his eyes twice; first looking stunned and defeated as Kaine prepares to kill him, then looking intent but confused as Spidey saves him. Todd draws some of the most expressive eyes in comics and these two panels are the only moments in the battle scenes in which anyone’s eyes are seen, thereby amplifying their impact.
Beyond that…eh. The whole story felt like a big fancy bookmark just holding our place in the story. Nice to look at. Not the same as reading the book.
You can’t ratchet back the plot twists and storytelling and not expect the rating to ratchet back with you. At least we’ve gotten past all the revamps of earlier issues that pretended this was the way the original Clone Saga was intended. Well, except for Doc Ock. Why the heck is he still alive here? Oh well. Call it two webs.