[this post covers Spectacular Spider-man Annual 8 and Spectacular Spider-man 149]
When last we left the clones, Gwen’s duplicate had wandered off into anonymity, Spider-man’s clone had still not been seen since an explosion, and Spider-man had torn up the documents affirming whether or not he was the natural born Peter Parker. Carrion had arrived, and attempted to destroy Spider-man, and he claimed to be the living clone of Professor Miles Warren.
The seeds of the epic were still not set in stone, but it was still an oddity. Each issue seemed to resolve the plotline, and, at the same moment, leave a shock ending with so many possibilities. Downplaying the importance of the actual clone saga at this point, the Carrion storyline barely mentioned the original clone saga until Mantlo’s signature mad dash surprise twist.
And so, these comics reintroduce the original writer of the clone saga to the mix. Gerry Conway, the developer of Peter and MJ’s romance, the architect behind Harry’s emergence as the Green Goblin, and, yes, the killer of Gwen Stacy, shows up to remind us why he invented the clone saga in the first place.
If Gwen never died, the story never would’ve come about. The story starts with Gwen’s clone returning, and not Spider-man’s clone emerging. However, Mantlo’s invention of Carrion distorted the clone narrative into a much more terrifying menace. Gone from a larger than life comic about what you would do if you could get your ex back, the comic becomes a bildungsroman of illusioned youth against a terrifying villain that can create duplicates of people, can turn them into almost the same person enough for them to fight over territory, and, well, suddenly you have Ben Reilly fighting for the Spider-man name.
Conway saw where this was going. That’s why he wrote Spectacular Spider-man Annual #8 the way he did. Born out of an entitled cry for respect than anything else, this is the worst comic thus reviewed for the clone saga. While The first Spider-man comics blazed forth with tales of young love for love’s sake getting people into trouble and great Ross Andru art, as well as druggie tinged storied of sibling rivalry, they only lacked the Frank Miller Batman. Bill Mantlo’s comics, the head rush of latino and white integration politics wrapped around a terrifying villain whose breath wilts plants, earned those Spectcular comics all seven Batmens, as much of Mantlo’s Spider-man runs deserve. Even his Marvel Team-up comics [especially #72!] deftly brought new villains and everyman characters into exciting and modern Spider-man tales.
Ah, but back to this comic. Within its 64 pages, Conway handles an annual wide crossover event, The High Evolutionary, as well as introducing the Young Gods into the Marvel Universe proper. Thought of as a response to, or perhaps idle imitation of, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, the Young Gods all have clever one liners, differently colored and iconicized and all too easily forgotten. They even have mini-encyclopedic entries in the back of the annual, cramming in much too much for the comic’s core: Gwen Stacy returning, and Mary Jane’s confrontation with Peter about his attachment to the Gwen Stacy clone, are all entirely too rushed, although what we do have there is good, worthy stuff.
Seeing Gwen’s clone made Peter decide that he loved Mary Jane in the first place. Gerry ignores the Carrion add-on to the story and tells that story: although Peter has seen Gwen return, and he feels relieved at her return, he has already had to move his mind past that moment, and he can’t love her. One year after their marriage, Peter sees Gwen, and he knows he loves Mary Jane.
And then, in the next comic, he reveals that everything we knew about Carrion was wrong: he wasn’t a living clone of Professor Miles: Miles had become an airborne virus infecting someone and having that cloud poison them with the consciousness [and vengeful rage] of Professor Miles Warren. In what is most assuredly a better comic than the jam packed and all around meaningless Spectacular annual, we see a comic also notable for more than its soap opera:
Sal Buscema’s style, as inked by himself, takes on a much more scratchy quality than normal.
And the very stellar embellisher and inker who sometimes embarrasses himself from giving characters the 90s saliva hanging from their mouths in the mid 80s turns in comic work that wouldn’t look out of place next to Kyle Baker pages.
Sal gets a bad rep in the industry, specifically for his late 80s penchant to take on rush works when deadlines loomed, and he spent a lot of his life making money while ruining his consistency.
Don’t turn your nose up at a book by him, necessarily, however. For the journal pages of Spectacular 149, especially, his work looks as unique as it ever does, with the magic of memory carried through in the linework and composition of pages. The brother of John Buscema, more at home drawing Thor and monsters, Sal found himself best when drawing people. It’s too bad that after he could stop successfully being a full time inker [inking almost all of marvel’s entire line in 1969], he was forced to be a rushed penciler instead of a masterful embellisher.
Here’s a comic where we get to see him at his best, and, still, Conway seeks to bury the Spider-man clone. By focusing solely on Professor Warren’s unhealthy fascination with Gwen, he does his best to brush aside the question of the spider clone’s return: Conway’s clone saga is about Peter realizing he can’t love Gwen anymore because he was forced to live without her and that became one of the defining truths of his lives. The Carrion issue, which spreads cloning around not as laboratory development but the intentional vandalism of people’s private lives, seeks to arrive at this point as well, revealing the “cloning” process as nothing more than the forced genetic manipulation of already extant subject who has their life replaced with the life of another. It’s a pretty horrific crime to commit, much worse than creating life sui generis, and it sets the stage for the lengthy clone saga that focuses not on Peter’s ability to find an old love again, but for a saga that focuses on how a man can change his identity.
It will get more complicated than these comics. It will get better than the “two Batman” Spectacular Spider-man annual [“the animated series” and “adam west” ones], and it will get worse: it will spawn a rush of raw energy that creators throw onto a page in order to make an editor, instead of reader, happy. It will even get better than the six Batman Spectacular Spider-man 149 [missing “the Neal Adams Batman”], but it will remain a group of people’s struggles to coherently tell an epic of a man trying to cohere his life in the face of overglobalized obsolescence.
Coming up next: David Micheline and J.M. DeMatteis hint at the beginning of the clone saga, and lay the ground work. Tune back in to find out what their fuss is about.