I’ve spent a LOT of time on my 1990s posts complaining about the decline of quality in comics during this decade–and how that decline accelerated rapidly around 1994.
And nowhere was that decline more painful than how it took Marvel’s flagship character to the depths of a dumpster fire.
I am not reading all of these issues. It’s just too painful. Most of them just feature nonsensical fistfights or elaborate, pointless exposition. The Clone Saga could have been told over the course of maybe 3 months and it might have been good, tight, and well-remembered. Instead, it went on and on and on. And I’m not tracking down and reading all the “Super Specials” and “Annuals” and tie-ins. I’m just not.
I’m going to use this post to summarize the clone saga and refer you to posts on specific issues when those issues actually had something to say.
The first Clone Saga was actually pretty good. During it, there was some misdirection by writer Gerry Conway so that both us, the readers, and Peter Parker himself, were unsure whether he or the clone was the real human. The doubt seemed to be resolved so firmly by the end of the story that Peter didn’t even read the DNA test results that Doctor Connors has run.
It ended with Parker’s clone, created by Jackal, apparently dead. There were a few references to clones now and again, but the real return of the clones happened in 1994. The X-Men were doing a seeming linewide reboot with their event called, “Age of Apocalypse” (also frustratingly bad), and Marvel now wanted to do the same thing with Spider-Man. And so the half-dozen (or so) of Spider-Man/Spider-Man adjacent books began dedicating themselves to moving toward a Spider-Comics Reboot.
All of these books–over a year’s worth of comics–can be summarized in a few paragraphs–especially since there are almost zero lasting repercussions of the story. But of course, I’ll go into a little more detail.
Clone Peter Parker believed, dead after the first Clone Saga, reappears and says he has been living for years under the assumed name Ben Reilly. Jackal reappears as well, and he tells Peter Parker that he (Peter) is in fact the clone. So this second saga recreates the same exact source of tension from the first: Who is the real Spider-Man?
After we are introduced to Judas Traveller and Scrier, who were mildly important for this Clone Saga but who aren’t used much after it. Ben Reilly puts on a costume that looks vaguely like Spider-Man’s and beats up Venom, which is why Venom has such a hard-on for Spider-Man in 1995/1996, despite that the two of them had decided to leave each other alone after Venom became a “hero.” This part of the story is covered here. It leads directly into the Venom miniseries Separation Anxiety.
Peter Parker is starting to lose his mind at this point, and we get the Back From the Edge arc, which is … Extremely pointless.
Then, Peter gets poisoned. Doc Ock saves him. Kaine kills Ock. Mary Jane is pregnant. We get the miniseries Funeral for an Octopus out of this arc.
From here, Aunt May “dies” (it was a trick by Norman Osborn, revealed at the end of this mishmosh), and Peter Parker gets arrested on false homicide charges. This is all set-up for the big Kaine story. Kaine, another Parker clone, kidnaps Mary Jane. Peter breaks out of prison with the help of Judas Traveller, then teams up with Ben Reilly and Spidercide–yet another Parker clone–to rescue her.
Spidercide seems to die and Ben Reilly assumes Peter Parker’s identity to return to prison, so that the real Peter could be with MJ–who is pregnant. This Ben Reilly guy is actually a pretty nice dude.
Peter then has to wear the Scarlet Spider costume and is reunited with the Gwen Stacy clone who … Nevermind. Seriously. Never mind.
Peter Parker (Ben Reilly) goes on trial and we learn that the real killer is neither Ben nor Peter but Kaine. I mean, with a half-dozen versions of Peter Parker running around, this kind of confusion actually seems understandable.
At this point, we’re told that the Peter we’ve known since 1967 is actually the clone and Ben Reilly is real.
Because of publishing delays, Marvel then pushed out a bunch of crappy one-shots and miniseries, like “The Lost Years,” which talked about what Reilly and Kaine did before this clone saga brought them back, and “The Jackal Files,” among many others.
We then get to Maximum Clonage, which is covered here, and seems to finally kill Jackal. But he’s been dead before so I’m not sure anyone really believed it. It also had some complicated aspects to reinforce that, yeah, the Peter Parker we’ve known forever is really the clone. (But was anyone in real time actually fooled?)
Peter then decides to be a daddy and gives his costume to Ben Reilly.
In addition, Peter Parker got de-powered (it doesn’t matter how), in a miniseries titled, Spider-Man: The Final Adventure.
And so all the Spider-Man titles shut down and get replaced by Ben Reilly versions. Web of Scarlet Spider. Spectacular Scarlet Spider. and so on.
This was an obvious swipe from what the X-Men did when they cancelled all their titles and rebooted them during the Age of Apocalypse event.
Jim DeMatteis quit at this point, as did Danny Fingeroth, and Tom DeFalco was fired as editor in chief (but took over as writer of this horrible mess).
So, yeah, people knew by now that this was awful. Yet, Marvel double-downed and, in addition to renaming all the books for Scarlet Spider, pushed out a bunch more unneeded, low-quality one-shots. The story roughly tied into Venom’s Planet of the Symbiotes. They even brought in Carnage.
Remember how I said, though, that all of this was an attempt to sell Spider-books the way the X-Men sold books during the Age of Apocalypse event? Well, at the end of that event, it’s all erased and the real X-Men come back.
Time for that kind of thing to happen now–time to undo all the stuff that happened.
Only…No, wait. There were a bunch of Onslaught tie-ins first. Ugh.
Then, Editor Bob Budiansky, who had been trying to resolve clone saga in a way that wasn’t stupid, got fired. It seems that the Clone Saga’s impact on the Marvel Bullpen would be long-lasting and have a lot of real impact. Not so much for Spider-Man.
In the end, we learn that Norman Osborn is still alive(!) and all of this–all of it–was his manipulations. May is still alive. Mary Jane has the baby stillborn so she and Peter are still childless. (For absolutely no reason, we learn later that the baby survived only to be kidnapped and killed by Normal Osborn.). Peter Parker “dies” and then comes back and regains his powers. For reasons that truly don’t matter, Kaine walks away into the sunset, not to be heard of for quite some time.
The story spans the following issue. (Note again, I’m not covering them individually except in rare cases and if you care to, hit the “clone saga” tag, below, and you’ll find all the issues I found significant enough to write about.)
- Amazing Scarlet Spider #1-2 (1995)
- Amazing Spider-Man #394-418 (1994-1996)
- Scarlet Spider #1-2 (1995)
- Sensational Spider-Man #0-11 (1996)
- Spectacular Scarlet Spider (1995)
- Spectacular Spider-Man #217-240 (1994-1996)
- Spider-Man #51-75 (1994-1996)
- Spider-Man: Funeral For An Octopus (1995)
- Spider-Man: Maximum Clonage Alpha and Omega (one-shots) (1995)
- Spider-Man: The Clone Journal (one-shot) (1995)
- Spider-Man: The Final Adventure #1-4 (1995)
- Spider-Man: The Jackal Files (one-shot) (1995)
- Spider-Man: The Lost Years #1-3 (1995)
- Spider-Man: The Peter Parkers Years (one-shot) (1995)
- Spider-Man: Redemption #1-4 (1995)
- Spider-Man Unlimited #8-15 (1995-1997)
- Web of Scarlet Spider #1-4 (1995)
- Web of Spider-Man #117-129 (1994-1995)
As for the publishing line:
Spectacular Spider-Man returned as a series. So did Amazing. Sensational Spider-Man, which launched during the clone saga, continued. Adjectiveless Spider-Man became Peter Parker: Spider-Man. (I assume to clarify that he was in fact Spider-Man again and our long national nightmare was over.). Web of Spider-Man was cancelled.