Before Spider-Man can endure the chaos caused by clones (again), he must first tackle not one, but two medical emergencies.
Ever since becoming the main writer for Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott tends to favor “the big event.” Whether it’s “Spider-Island,” “Ends of the Earth,” “Dying Wish,” Superior Spider-Man’s “Goblin Nation,” or “Spider-Verse,” there’s always one major story where Slott devotes all of his creative energy towards. A story he often foreshadows and teases with randomly placed interludes and one panel clues. A story which he guarantees will “forever change Spider-Man as we know it.” Which would explain why most of the comics preceding whatever “big event” Slott has planned sometimes read as if he’s spinning his wheels; because compared to whatever “big event” he’s itching to write about, those other comics don’t seem as important. This time his latest big story is Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. And although Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16 to #19 falls under the heading of “Before Dead No More,” this might as well be chapter of this forthcoming epic. Which could explain why Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16 is also Slott’s most focused, tightly written, issue to date.
If you’ve seen the marketing for this issue, you may think it’s all about Spider-Man coming to the rescue after an industrial accident in one of Parker Industries’ chemical plants. It’s not. Rather, this issue is more of a follow-up to what happened at the end of Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #15, in which Aunt May’s husband and Jonah’s father, Jay, suddenly collapsed after coughing fit. Thus when the comic begins, we learn he’s gravely ill, not from something he picked up while with Aunt May in Africa, but from some conveniently unnamed “rare and hereditary disease.”
Enter one Dr. Clarkson, an enigmatic medical researcher from the even more enigmatic New U technologies. She offers to have Jay take part in a clinical trial using an experimental new treatment, one in which Peter, after conducting his own research, is more than eager for Parker Industries in taking part in. So enamored with this treatment and it’s potential, Peter doesn’t even think twice about calling Dr. Clarkson so her team can save one of the hospitalized chemical plant workers. What is this modern miracle of medicine you might ask? Well, without getting too far into spoiler territory (and skip ahead to the “Nerdy Nitpicks” if you do), let’s just say it’s no coincidence Slott is introducing this new character and the institute she works for in a comic featuring the Jackal as the main villain. In fact, the link between New U and the Jackal is so blatant and obvious, you wonder why Peter’s spider-sense doesn’t start tingling a whole sooner than it does. It also highlights how the Jackal as the villain of choice will be “The Clone Conspiracy’s” greatest conceptual flaw.
Unlike other villains in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, the Jackal only has one gimmick: making clones. No matter what his latest scheme is, or how convoluted it gets, it always involves him cloning people. Even Slott’s own “Spider-Island,” in which cloning wasn’t essential to the Jackal’s master plan, still involved the making of clones. No matter how much Slott dresses it up–whether it’s a different wardrobe, or suggesting there’s more than mere cloning taking place–it’s still the Jackal with the same, worn-out playbook he’s used since 1975. So although we don’t know the specifics, we already know what the Jackal is up to just from his mere presence alone. Thus every one of this issue’s plot twists, including the cliffhanger on the last page, are devoid of any and all genuine surprise. This is a comic with all the pretense of being chock-full of mystery and suspense, and then setting out to prove it has neither mystery nor suspense.
It’s also a comic which takes the readers’ empathy for Jay Jameson and his declining health too much for granted. Problem is, after eight years as a recurring character in the Spider-Man comics, Jay has never developed past being just another “cool” and “hip” senior citizen. Fortunately, Jay’s illness gives Slott an opportunity to eschew his usual plot-driven form of storytelling in favor a character-driven narrative. Is Peter foolish for wanting to jump head first into investing in an apparent medical breakthrough despite Anna Maria Marconi’s reservations? Absolutely! But given the circumstances presented, it also makes sense why he would. Because it’s not just about saving his step-uncle, or saving the life of an employee. It’s an opportunity in using the “great power” of Parker Industries to potentially save more lives than Peter ever could as Spider-Man. Likewise, Jonah’s initial refusal in wanting New U’s help, only to later change his mind, also feels in character. In showing us how money is no object for the otherwise skinflint media mogul if it involves family, Slott also shows how Jonah has more in common with Peter than he thinks or is willing to admit.
One more reason this comic is an improvement over past issues? It’s an honest-to-goodness Spider-Man story instead of another Marvel Team-Up in all but name. Spider-Man doesn’t call the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. for back-up, nor does a member from his supporting cast have to save him. For the first time since Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #6, Peter performs genuine acts of heroism on his own, without needing help or making things worse in the process. But just like every other issue since the relaunch, the chemical plant rescue is another excuse in Spider-Man showing off his latest high-tech gizmos. This includes the comic book introduction of the Spider-Cycle. Though unlike the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, it doesn’t shoot webbing–it sprouts legs.
And because modern superhero comics cannot help but make call-backs to classic, iconic stories, we have yet another instance in which a determined Spider-Man finds just enough strength to lift several tons of collapsing debris above his head. Surprisingly, Giuseppe Camuncoli takes this a step further by actually swiping Steve Ditko’s iconic classic splash page from Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #33. I have no idea if Slott requested this in his outline, or if this was Camuncoli’s own idea. Either way, it’s fan service at it’s laziness. Which is a shame because Camuncoli turns in some otherwise solid penciling and design work. He also gets to show off some minor but significant artistic flourishes, such as giving Peter with a five o’clock shadow after the chemical plant rescue. It’s not only a visual cue for how many hours have passed, but indicates just how inattentive towards his own needs Peter can be when someone’s life is on the line. And I admit, I do prefer the Jackal’s new look. It makes him appear more dignified and, seeing how he claims to have “beaten death,” thematically fitting.
As a comic intended to incite readers for “The Clone Conspiracy,” Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16 does a capable, workmanlike job. Yet it’s also an issue where Slott may have revealed his cards far too early than intended. Not to mention the marketing campaign for “The Clone Conspiracy” may have affected Slott’s writing, too. After all, it wasn’t in a previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man that revealed the mysterious Man in Red as the Jackal; Slott and editor Nick Lowe spilled the beans in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. How to explain the nonchalant manner in which characters call the Man in Red Miles Warren directly? Unless there’s more going on with Miles Warren–if that’s who this really is–than getting himself a snazzy new wardrobe.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- If “New U” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s one of the things Scorpio saw “one year into the future” during Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #11. It’s also an Easter Egg for Marvel’s former imprint line from the 1980s called “New Universe,” created by Marvel’s former editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter.
- Isn’t it a hospital’s policy, not to mention professional courtesy, for the attending physician to inform a patient’s immediate family about the patient’s diagnosis before visitation? Or at least before Jonah starting blaming Peter for Jay being sick from “Good ‘ol Parker Luck.”
- “While there are many treatments for Jay’s condition…” Which, of course, we have no clue what those are because, for all we know, Jay could have the same “rare and hereditary disease” Norman and Harry Osborn had in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
- “This is better than cloning.” Um, no Peter. When someone is “using a subject’s own DNA to grow…compatible organs for transplants,” that’s not “better than cloning.” That is cloning! Even if these organs have “every genetic defect screened out,” they’re still cloned organs. Given you’re a scientist whose had more than enough run-ins with clones over the years, you should know a thing or two about this.
- “Doesn’t this sound a little…mad scientist to you?” While you’re more right than you know, Anna Maria, it’s not as crazy as you think. Scientists are able to clone stem cells from adult human skin calls, which, according to the UK Telegraph, “[is] a breakthrough which could lead to tissue and organs being regrown.” And that was only two years ago.
- “But for once, I could save…millions.” But as Spider-Man, haven’t you saved the world–which is 7 Billion people!–more than once, Pete? Continuity-wise, “Ends of the Earth,” where Doctor Octopus tried wiping out most of the human race with global warming, wasn’t all that long ago. And speaking of Doc Ock…
- Yes, Doc Ock/Living Brain drooling over New U’s organ cloning is pretty creepy. But what’s even creepier is how Doc Ock’s astral projected head looks as if it’s been strangled by his own tentacles.
- And once again, Peter blows off another major company meeting. So how long until Parker Industries’ board of directors decide to vote him out as CEO? Because they certainly could if he keeping on avoiding doing actual company business. Not to mention his ordering the pilot of his corporate jet to turn it around more than half-way across the continental United States, thus no doubt deviating from a scheduled flight-plan, must’ve been a nightmare for air traffic control.
- Since when did Martha Connors earn her doctorate? It was only in The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon where she worked alongside her husband, Curt, as a fellow scientist. Then again, this is a clone of Martha Connors, so maybe the Jackal downloaded some advanced degrees into her brain Matrix-style.
- Um, Electro? You already know who the Lizard is. You were both part of Norman Osborn’s “Sinister Twelve” during Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. And the Lizard was wearing a lab coat back then, too.
- If you don’t know who Francine is, she was the super-villain groupie from Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #2, who accidentally electrocuted herself after french-kissing Electro. Seriously.
- “Is he–cracking jokes?!” I don’t think Spider-Man shouting out “P.I. Employees, good news, your company mascot is here to save you” is much of a joke, dude.
- Guess Spider-Man forgot that every part of his body has wall-clinging abilities other than just his fingers and toes. Which means he didn’t have to waste any webbing to carry “Jerry Salteres” on his back.
- “I was bitten by a radiologist.” I know you’re making a cute reference about being bitten by a radioactive spider, Pete, but Jerry’s dying from inhaling toxic fumes, not cancer.
- “Because I need…to be an adult.” Which you have been for several years now, Pete. But I forgot, you’ve been in your “overgrown man-child” phase ever since “Brand New Day.”
- So even though the Jackal can create perfect and “fresh” clones without any “genetic abnormalities,” Marla Jameson’s clone still needs glasses?