Clone Saga #0001 can be found here.
[covering Amazing Spider-man #142-150]
After reading through the initial Clone Saga trade paperback issues, and finding the story ludicrously unsatisfying to read without knowing what went on before, I returned to the initial clone saga, and, instead of wondering what the heck Harry had done to Peter, and, actually, what Peter had done to Harry, I was able to plainly enjoy the story for what it was.
Which is an absurd, leisurely mess. The actual clone plot-line threads in as a sub-plot around each issue’s main story after #144, and before that the only connection to The Clone Saga is through The Jackal’s first handful of appearances. We have plenty of time to absorb Conway’s writing style of Spidey throughout these pages, and, well, let’s just say some people place him in the “unholy trinity” of Spider-man writers [with Marv Wolfman and Len Wein]. It seems that almost any muscled thug is a muscle match for the man who lifted an entire bridge that was falling on him to bring a cure to his aunt May.
That is not where other people’s complaints end, indeed some spider-fans complaints of Conway never end, but it is where mine end. I will say this in the story’s defense: Conway’s world is a very different world than other writers of Spider-man. Whereas other writers focus on the tragedy of Spider-man never doing good for himself while he’s risking his life for strangers and not getting the credit of The Avengers or Fantastic Four, Conway exaggerates the comedic and soap operatic aspects of Spider-man. He turns the book into a story of responsibility being a bummer into a farce of responsibility being a bummer. He loves to have Spider-man save JJJ from certain destruction, and have him joke about how much he wants let him die to his face. No wonder the man says Spider-man is a menace: He swings JJJ from the top of the Daily Bugle and says “I really hate to do this. I’m going to regret this.”
Peter means this with utmost sarcasm, but JJJ can’t know it. Spider-man resonates so well because so many people are sarcastic about the ideals they care most about; they are quick to joke about, say, demanding a discount from a coffeeshop they regularly patronize when really they want to support the business and will tip. Spider-man’s stories, his humor while fighting but especially his joking with JJJ, depict this aspect of humanity writ large. He can’t keep himself from mocking his opponents or his ideals, and the cycle of Spider-man’s sarcasm engendering more publicized propaganda remains. Ironically, in combat, his wit and sarcasm blind his opponents with annoyance and anger, and work to his advantage often. And who’s to say that JJJ isn’t Spider-man’s biggest villain of all?
Ah, but these comics really do portray a different villain for Spider-man. As a boss paying Peter low wages, he does more damage to Peter than he does as a newspaper propagandist, a fact which Conway’s dialogue remarks upon. That still isn’t the central villain of this piece: Spider-man himself.
All throughout the story, if Spider-man simply does nothing, he would be so much better off. He could ignore the smoke and mirrors of Mysterio instead of damage his hands out of repair for a couple issues. If he ignores the clone of Gwen pining to be with him, then The Jackal could never capture and then throw Spider-man into New York’s bay. If he didn’t raise a finger to battle his clone, he would’ve never had to live with the uncertainty that he was or wasn’t the clone when the dust clears and the concussions have settles.
Just talking about these comics, man, its absurdism is infectious. It turns anyone reading it, and certainly anyone blogging about it, into an absurd reflection of humanity. This is most succinct in the opening of Amazing #141, which is called…
It’s about Mysterio battling Spider-man. Unfortunately, the absurdism relates in more than these oddball comedic moments. We learn that Mysterio died in jail six months ago because Joe Robertson says it, but not because a comic book depicted Mysterio’s death. As the story is told, Mysterio dies quietly in jail. He was an old man, after all, and eight whole years of Spider-man comics had passed between then and now. Spider-man spends his time in disbelief, thinking that it’s a sham. He never saw the body. And he knows a thing or two about comic books: if you don’t see the body, they ain’t dead.
The comic speaks truth and pulls no punches. Gerry Conway kills two members of Spider-man’s supporting cast. The first Mysterio did indeed die, and has stayed dead and outside of comic books since Amazing Spider-man #67 all the way back in 1967.
All of these stories happen with Peter driving his Spider-mobile around town until he crashes it in a river, and thinks about how he should go in and get it back. He never does. Some say Conway forgot his plot points. I just think Peter would rather repress something like this:
Other moments in the comic have that air of the unbelievable meeting the “The Man’s Name Appears To Be… Mysterio” has. While fighting The Tarantula, a lame villain whose defeat only serves to bring The Punisher and Spider-man into agreement as well as echo stereotypes about South Americans, Spider-man enters a bus but something weird happens:
We see a random passerby’s thought balloon, and he isn’t freaking out about the fight going on in front, it just is kind of bargaining. Well, if I don’t engage with anyone in the fight, the fight won’t come to me.
We even see the same psychology again, as well as the bus driver’s own refusal to acknowledge the fight happening. And it’s not like it’s a robot bus driver driving a death trap disguised as a bus filled with robot bus death bots disguised as passerbys. Everyone runs like heck when the doors open.
well, that’s not quite true. They do reflect that the bus driver may have been in on the plan, too. And they shrug and say, “what can we do about it?” and go on with their lives.
It’s another startling moment in these comics, a conflicted kind of emotion at the center of this original clone saga, in fact, at the center of every superhero story: Do we go on with our lives as if nothing happened, or do we go out of our way to help a stranger if we can?
The same tension recalls itself in the lameness of the villain The Tarantula. He is a superhero so lame that even Spider-man knows it.
Heck, there’s no way Conway doesn’t know it, and yet he brings him back, issue after issue, for Spider-man to defeat. Do we continue to watch Spider-man conquer lameness, or do we move on to another comic book?
This issue is made infinitely more complicated when Peter comes into touch with a stranger who needs his help who happens to be a clone of someone he previously knew. The clone saga does not begin with Ben Reilly, and, indeed, in the 90s it will begin again with Peter’s parents coming back into his life as robots before he meets Ben Reilly. It begins with Gwen. Peter swears he sees her when possibly under the effect of Myserio’s gas, and he returns from Paris [don’t ask: Conway jazz] to find Gwen at his doorstep.
His first response is very violent: he saw Gwen die, and there’s no way that she can be back, so it must be an impostor. He yells at her, enough where her laboratory forged love is tested past its breaking point. She stops talking to him, but through the magic of sub plots multiple issues pass and the shock of seeing Gwen return after he has made peace with her death changes in him a little bit. Peter has just warmed up to the idea of his former love actually returning and he has just decided to maintain relations with her when the knowledge comes back that she is a clone.
This accelerates the plot into high gear, and is done remarkably well. No hokey jokes here, just incredibly human, emotional responses to very outlandish events that have no real life equivalent: it’s the Conway jazz.
And I think that’s why I keep reading these comics. Not because the stories are the best constructed [there are plenty of extraneous issues with pointless team ups and fights: it’s no surprise that Conway would start Marvel Team-up and write the initial issues, a higher amount than anyone else would write, of that terrible filler title], although they have a nice pace between sub plots and main issue feature battles. It isn’t because the stories have the most unique and envelope pushing characters, although the stories do have their progressive moments.
It’s because the stories both have a strong sense of history and invite and reward long term readers. Heck, for readers seeing Peter and MJ date, it was a long time coming, actually. Conway had been thinking about this dynamic for a while.
It’s also stories that push the soap operatic boundaries, that show us what happens when something unimaginable happens, like our lover dies because we haven’t killed a crazy person out of righteousness, or our lover returns unexplainably two years after her death. These are comics that want to make you go whoa, over and over again. Almost at their expense.
I said earlier that the villain of this comic piece is Spider-man himself, which isn’t entirely true.
The Jackal clones Gwen, clones Spider-man after kidnapping him for a day, employs The Tarantula to make Spider-man’s life a living hell, heck, before he clones Ben Reilly and gives Peter another deeply loyal friend, he unleashes The Punisher on Spider-man, who realizes the righteousness of his quest, and they become partners in tackling crime.
And the reason behind his quest is simple: an inappropriate crush on Gwen Stacy, and hatred of Spider-man, who is publicly blamed for her death. He reveals himself to be Professor Miles Warren, and suddenly the Clone Saga reaches back further. Miles is seemingly a gentle man on Peter’s side who forgives Peter skipping of classes.
He becomes so much more: he becomes the creepy older guy leaching on youth. Despite the sick “build a wife” undertones of cloning Gwen Stacy, “only to get back at Spider-man”, he assures us as The Jackal, we find out that his secret identity is really that of the gentle professor. He’d rather, as The Jackal, take over the criminal underworld by sending middlemen such as Hammerhead and Punisher after his villains instead of tackling them on.
The real villain of the clone saga is the old men exploiting the youth, and thinking they can micro manage and control it. Peter breaks out now, and, in a move that reveals Spider-man may secretly know that he’s the clone, he shreds a medical report with the results of his test that say whether or not he is the genuine, Richard Parker produced human. Calling people clones and lumping them into a mass of indistinct identity is exactly what men like Miles Warren wish to do. He makes Spider-man’s clone fight Spider-man, and they actually do, instead of unite against their common enemy.
That is, until a clone realizes that it’s a person, too. Peter gives the Gwen clone a reasonably sincere goodbye but treats her like a person. And, as we shall see, Peter gives his clone very humane treatment, too. It’s the only way to get out of the industrial, aged forces which create us and conspire to make us think we’re clones of each other instead of something brilliant and new.