I did a very bad thing… I collected all of the Spider-man Clone saga, and I want to read it all.
Those familiar with the clone saga know how frustrating it is to collect. While some trade paperbacks do exist neatly compiling it all into a spine, this reader did not seek those out: besides lacking the thrill of the hunt, I just like stapled comics. The way they open so casually and flirtatiously, staying open for your eyes to gaze over. Reading the same story in a perfect bound trade paperback, you’d have to spend all your time reading also holding the book open. That book is ready to be closed and put on a shelf instead of opened and enjoyed.
Here are some pictures to illuminate:
A view of a trade paperback open and not wanting to be read:
Notice the thumb that has to work.
And so, almost 200 comics later, and I still wasn’t complete. I had found all the nineties appearances of Ben Reilly, but I was still missing the early 70s issues, issues which seemed to always just stretch back earlier and earlier if you read them. Oh, last issue Harry Osborn became the Green Goblin, these comics tease. And ten issues before that Spider-man got paid to make a spider-mobile through a sponsorship. And twenty issues earlier Spider-man and Ka-Zar hung out. It all looks rather absurd, and, above all, fun. The kind of absurd fun you smile while you’re doing it, ashamed and amazed that, yes, you are sitting down to read a Spider-man comic where his popularity gives him worries like sponsorships of spider-man themed cars.
I have to say, as silly as these comics are, they are compulsively readable. For every moment that a super-villain boasts of an impregnable trap only to have Spider-man completely ignore the warning and not suffer at all because of it, a charming caption such as “Thankfully, we are readers and can skip forward a couple hours past this boredom” greets the reader as he turns the page.
And that is what these comics are about: turning pages. I’ve only read the first four Gerry Conway issues, #138-141, and already they’re bursting to the gills with so many elements that will come to define Spider-man: Flash Thompson returns from Vietnam and Peter calls him up for a friendly game of catch-up wherein they become friends again, Mary Jane comes on by to flirt with Peter, only to have him wistfully think about Gwen’s death and the impossibility of him loving another woman (a reminder to which Conway and many other writers would return with the three clones of Gwen Stacy who meet Spider-man), and many more: Gibbons first appeared a handful of issues ago, a character J.M. DeMatteis would bring back for the Clone saga, as does Grizzly. Peter sleeps through some of his graduate program, a recurring element of his life that would not be rectified until Doctor Octopus takes over his body and finally completes his degree well into the new millenium.
As much as they do set up long term soap operatic elements, these issues still burst with the same creativity that founded marvel. #138 debuts Mindworm, a misunderstood deformed human that is possibly a mutant who suffers stigma from his freakishly large head. And so he uses his telepathy to force the thoughts outside of a mob to kill Spider-man. While an arguably hammy plot point serves as the issue’s inspiration, Spider-man possessing powerful emotions that cause a possessive telepath too much despair and pain when contacted, the fact remains that this character was created, and then forgotten.
Which is exactly the kind of thing that makes shared universes beautiful. A forgotten, ugly villain was returned to by Paul Jenkins in 2002, and he wrote the story of him not being able to find help because he tries to take control of everyone’s minds instead of allow them to give him kindness and original thoughts. It’s a tragic parable of a story that ends with a man possessing street thugs and forcing them to kill himself. And it couldn’t have happened without an overly eager Gerry Conway creating too many characters to keep track of.
Thankfully, in superhero comics, everyone takes care of everyone else!
Coming up next: Something!!!