[This post covers Spider-man comics published from January 1995-March 1995: Amazing Spider-man #397-399, Web of Spider-man 120-122, Spectacular Spider-man #220-222, Spider-man #53-55, Spider-man Unlimited #9, and Spider-man: Funeral for an Octopus #1-3]
This is where it stops making sense. This is where it tests you. This is where it sees if you care enough to fight back, or if you will just let it meander on.
This is where we find out that Peter Parker has been living a lie and he’s actually a clone, where Ben Reilly learns that he is the true Spider-man tricked into believing himself a clone.
It’s also where Peter Parker learns that The Jackal lied to Ben Reilly, and that Peter is the real clone, and where Ben learns that the Jackal has lied to him. And, finally, it’s where they both learn that the Jackal is probably full of many stories, and that he’s probably lying and has nothing to do with the actual truth.
The story loses any sense of authority, when its expectations and rules that it patiently lays out are revealed as meaningless gestures: we are given a build up to finding out more about the characters, but….. the stories were selling well, ya know. There’s money to be made. And so we, as readers, feel the story stretching. Mary Jane keeps slapping different clones of Peter Parker, Aunt May keeps dying by the bedside, and the story grinds to this despairingly slow grind of the same images page after page with no progress. I guess this comic was just too real for some people.
Another Spider-man clone emerges form the woodworks: like, literally, the Jackal cloned Spider-man again just cause. And we see a failed Spider-man clone as his guardian, as well as a mysterious figure who likes watching the events from afar.
Always do we see someone watching from afar.
And here’s where the lovely bits of the arc get some bit to shine: as complex as the stories were, there wasn’t a huge editor watching over all of them, and we get to see some satire of the event: in Sal and Sienkiewicz’s Spectacular Spider-man art, they depict Kaine adopting the same pose and camera viewpoint every time they show Kaine watching over Peter and his life.
Always, always watching.
And, as disinterested in the scripts as they were, when asked to draw Kaine watching again, well, the master illustrators had this for their editors to look at:
The comics take this extreme watching to the next level! See Kaine watching the events while being watched by Scrier!
Howard Mackie, one of the more vocal supporters of the clone saga, and the man who handled the Spider-man franchise in its wake took watching to a whole new level.
In fact, the lack of a single editor watching over all of these stories may be a part of the metaphor: The Traveller has pretty much faded from view, the Jackal returns and spouts so many lies without giving any truth, and Kaine watches over it all, still unexplained.
Everything is at a standstill, not advancing any further, but the tension is real, and palpable throughout as the comics themselves struggle to make a story from the water they have to tread. Sal and Sienkiewicz turn their artwork even further away from the mainstream style, and turn in some of the most wonderful pages of art from the entire saga, rendering Spider-man’s reality with scratches and large clumps of ink surrounding pristine smiles that would make Howard Chaykin proud.
Look to the right for a wonderful collection of Howard Chaykin faces.
On the other end of the spectrum, J.M. DeMatteiss and Mark Bagley concoct a much different style of Spider-man story for the crossover: drawn in the cleanest lines, J.M.’s writing shows us a much darker Peter Parker, afraid of his aunt’s death to the point of ignoring her, and shaken up by the quandary of whether or not he’s a clone, we see him very realistically respond to the surreal situation he faces. Whereas Gerry Conway wrote Spider-man comics to make us go whoa, these comics focus on the mind as it’s going whoa.
And, basically, what we have is that it stops caring about the whoa. Thinking that the clone saga was popular enough as is, the editors behind Spider-man thought to introduce a third Peter clone, walking the streets, and with absolutely no knowledge of his past. It is perhaps the silliest plot point in the story yet, but it will have its ramifications. Because, see, the editors of Spider-man will leave when its plans for successful crossovers have failed. They will forget their plots that propelled the comics quickly into a frenzy of good sales and then, just as swift, into oblivion and quarter bins. But those who love Spider-man won’t.
The people who love Spider-man will read these comics as truth, and then make their own stories that incorporate this silliness into them. Gerry Conway, the progenitor of this clone saga mess, may have written the first terrible Spider-man run, but so many young impressionable fans of Spider-man read them as truth, and wrote stories around his silly stories that made them into one big story that has elements of silliness, but moves past the silliness into what makes each and every person what they are.
And, of course, as much as authority has pushed away its presence so that Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s CEO at the time who initiated these stories, would remain invisible, that authority is still present. The Jackal may tell Peter and Ben that they are each clones, and not the real thing, but there is still very much the real thing: there is the network of relationships that each has built, the years of living that has crafted each into a different person, and as much as authority tries to pin them as the same, and to say that both of them aren’t real or original enough to matter, they have to fight their own fantasies of inadequacy.
This isn’t a silly superhero comic, as much as it tries to look like one. It’s a comic about what happens when the silliness is over. it’s a humane comic about living in an overcrowded, overstressed world full of interruptions and unsatisfying truths, a comic about living in a shitty mess and either cleaning up the mess or succumbing to it. To have that dissatisfaction and lack of truth at hand in a parade of your own obsolescence.
And there’s always someone watching. Someone who could kill you if they wanted to.
Come back soon for more on what happens next. To be continued.