Comic Box: Spider-Man’s Confusingly Crappy Clone Saga, Part V

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This is it. The finale. We have finally reached the end of the ridiculously long and needlessly overdone Clone Saga that plagued Spidey fans for years. There were some good times, don't get me wrong. To this day Ben Reilly is still one of my favorite parts of the Spider-Man mythology, but the way the Saga was handled always leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Today we’ll finish off the Clone Saga as well as taking a look at some of the problems that arose behind the scenes in the Marvel Bullpen. Are you as ready for the end of Spider-Man’s Clone Saga as I am, and as tons of Spidey fans were back in the ’90s? Let’s get to it.


Now where did we leave off?

Here’s what I pulled out of the Comic Box:

The Mastermind Revealed!

I know, I know, we all thought the mastermind was actually Miles Warren AKA the Jackal. That seems like the most reasonable explanation, but of course by this time that wasn’t good enough and the current editorial staff (which wasn’t the same staff that had started the Clone Saga, but we’ll get to that) decided to change everything up in one of the most hated moments of the Clone Saga.

In an attempt to not only wrap up the Clone Saga but restore the original status quo, a series of events begin that pretty much make everything that happened in the last couple of years in the Spidey universe mean absolutely nothing. MJ was drugged and prematurely forced into labor, while Peter was attacked by robots. This was the first time we saw him back in his Spidey threads, and he comes to find out that Gaunt is actually Mendell Stromm, a villain formerly known as the Robot Master. More importantly, he is the scientist who helped create the Green Goblin formula.

This leads to a new set of clues that point Peter to the real mastermind behind the ENTIRE Clone Saga, who he encounters at the Daily Bugle building standing over the beaten and battle damaged Ben Reilly. The mastermind is finally revealed as… Norman freaking Osborn. That’s right, the original Green Goblin who had died shortly after the death of Gwen Stacy had somehow survived. Not only had he survived and stayed under the radar of every single person in the entire world, he managed to pull all these various strings in the background to facilitate the already crazy amount of nonsensical plot lines that existed throughout the Clone Saga.

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Judas Traveller, the Scriers, the Jackal, the Clones, Dr. Seward Trainer, the High Evolutionary, Kaine, and even the death of Aunt May were apparently all the work of a vengeful Norman Osborn. During the battle with Norman, where he takes the time to explain his part behind the scenes and how he survived being impaled by his own glider, Ben Reilly is thrown out of the Daily Bugle building where he crashes onto a car on the streets below, degenerating after a final goodbye with Peter and proving himself once and for all as the clone. This one act pretty much destroyed the entire Clone Saga for me, and killed off a character fans had grown to love, despite all the ups and downs the Clone Saga brought us. But that wasn’t the worst part of this horrible finale.

At the start of all of this, MJ had gone into premature labor and was going through a very difficult childbirth. Amid her pained screams we see that the doctors and nurses working with her are actually pawns of Osborn, and in a heart wrenching scene we discover that the child is stillborn and carried away by one of the nurses. Of course, a final scene at the end alludes to the idea that the Parker child is alive and in the hands of one of Osborn’s flunkies, who boards a boat and sails away from the USA. So if readers weren’t already crushed by the loss of Ben Reilly, or the slap in the face that was the return of Norman Osborn, we now lose the child of Peter and MJ (they were going to name her May) that the series had been building towards for over a year.


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Look how happy everyone is in the scene above. That is not what happened. After all the months, and delayed issues, build ups and let downs, fans were rewarded for their steadfast loyalty by seeing everything they were hoping for thrown away and treated like it never happened. It’s almost as bad as if the creators had decided to wipe out Pete and MJ’s marriage, negating decades of history and fandom. Oh, wait, they did that too.


So the Clone Saga was finally finished, and the status quo returned pretty quickly, with a little mourning for the lost baby Parker that only lasted a couple of issues. Ben Reilly was rarely mentioned, and if so it was only in passing. Over the next few months little baby Parker was dangled like a carrot on a string in front of the readers, who kept hoping they would see one good thing come out of the horrible mess, but it was eventually revealed that all the allusions of the baby being alive was actually due to the fact that Aunt May was still alive. Yes, Norman had faked her death to mess with Peter as well, and the one meaningful and acceptable act from the Clone Saga was effectively retconned. It turns out that Norman had hired a terminally ill actress, who underwent surgery so she would resemble Aunt May. She then took over for Aunt May, who was kidnapped and taken to Europe, apparently unaware of everything happening around her. This meant that May never revealed that she knew Peter was Spider-Man, which wiped out one of the most powerful moments in Spidey history. And Ben Reilly stayed dead, and has remained dead, ever since.

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Trouble in the Bullpen

As the Clone Saga was starting out, Marvel had a set idea of how to run their titles, and making money took precedence over producing good stories. Obviously any company needs to make money, but during this time period Marvel owner Ronald Perelman was looking to maximize the financial impact of many titles, which is why there were a ton of epic big events and embossed covers during the ’90s. It was a ‘profit or die’ situation, which left the team of editors (Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Eric Fein, Mark Powers, and Mark Bernardo) and initial creators (mainly Terry Kavanagh and J.M. DeMatteis) in a difficult position. They were dedicated to producing a great story, while the marketing department was interested in making money, and for the most part had veto powers over any storyline pitched by the creators.

Everything started off well enough, but as the conclusion of the (originally planned) Clone Saga kept getting pushed back with pointless one shots and limited series that contributed little to the overall story, the writers became frustrated. Around the time of Maximum Clonage, DeMatteis became fed up with the delays to the story and quit, while Kavanagh had creative differences with Eric Fein and left as well. They were replaced by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago, respectively, but this now meant that the writers who had initially thought up the Clone Saga were now gone. Editor Danny Fingeroth also left, leaving a gap in the team of editors. Eventually DeFalco was fired as EIC, but stayed on as writer of Amazing Spider-Man.

Peter Parker’s story was initially supposed to end with his life in Portland actually working out, and the birth of his child would pretty much be the last we saw of him, but that was changed along with many other decisions. The main one being that Peter Parker would ultimately end up as Spider-Man, opposed to the original decision that Ben Reilly would wear the webs for good. This carried the Clone Saga on for much longer than was originally planned, and added to the frustration among the writers as Executive Editor Bob Budiansky made the overall decision that negated a years worth of work to make Ben Reilly Spidey.

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New writers had been brought on board to start off the new Spider-Man’s run, most notably Dan Jurgens, who would then later quit due to frustrations over the delays, problems with Budiansky, and the fact that nobody really knew where the story was going as things were constantly changing due to Budiansky’s inability to decide on the over course of the story. Then X-Men editor Bob Harras became EIC, fired Budiansky and Eric Fein, and made Ralph Macchio (not the Karate Kid) the new executive editor of the Spidey titles. He also decreed that the Clone Saga would be pushed even further back so as not to interrupt the Onslaught Saga that was brewing over in the X-books.

Harras began making decrees left and right, taking set in stone decisions and tossing them out, such as his decision to have Norman Osborn as the main villain, which was rejected earlier by Budiansky, who had said the mastermind could never be Osborn. These last minute decrees, changed decisions, and ludicrous additions to the final story that made little sense resulted in the finale of the Clone Saga that left a lot of unanswered questions and even more cheated fans. The mismanagement of the Clone Saga left a very dark stain on the character that had been Marvel’s flagpole hero for years, as well as ruined more than a few working relationships between writers and editors.

The Clone Saga was a brilliantly conceived and potentially amazing change to the Spider-Man mythology, and had it worked out as originally planned we may still be here reading about the adventures of Ben Reilly, the one time suspected clone of Peter Parker. However, due to a business model that focused more on bringing in money than telling good stories and keeping the readers happy, the Clone Saga turned into a monumental headache that will forever be remembered as the mess it became, instead of the story it could have been.

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That brings us to the end of our look at the Confusingly Crappy Clone Saga. We had some good times, didn’t we? Didn’t we? And it’s not like the events of the series didn’t have lasting repercussions as Kaine survived and is currently the new Scarlet Spider, the Jackal is still playing around with genes and causing nothing but trouble, and Norman Osborn has elevated into an Avengers level threat. So there were a few good things to come out of it.

For the next Comic Box we are going to move on over to Marvel’s Distinguished Competition and take a look at the best damn sidekicks ever to grace the pages of a comic book. See you then!

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