Stillanerd Reviews: Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #1

It’s the latest Spider-Man event involving the return of the Jackal and his dreaded clones in what proves an adequate but predictable opening chapter.

A little more than half-way through the first story of The Clone Conspiracy #1, Spider-Man breaks into the San Francisco headquarters of New U Technologies, the mysterious corporation which claims to have developed a medical breakthrough in organ transplants. Inside, Spidey finds a creepy “mad scientist-y” laboratory, sees central nervous systems floating in vats of liquid, encounters a “Miles Warren” on the premises, and gets attacked by the Rhino and the new Electro (or “She-Lectro” as he calls her). And after witnessing all of this, Spider-Man declares, “This is all one of [The Jackal’s] stupid frickin’ cloning experiments! Again!” While it may not have been writer Dan Slott’s intention, that single phrase not only is an accurate summary of the latest Spider-Man crossover, it underscores the flaw behind it’s very premise: Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy is really nothing more than a third Spider-Man Clone Saga.

The first clone saga took place between Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #142 to #150, where Prof. Miles Warren, a.k.a. the Jackal, created a clone of Peter Parker’s deceased girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and also cloned Spider-Man. The second, and the one commonly known among fans as “The Clone Saga,” saw, during the early to mid 1990s, the return of Spider-Man’s clone, Ben Reilly, and revealed that he, not Peter, may have been the original Spider-Man all along. This was controversial to put it mildly, and even after Marvel eventually back pedaled on this twist, the Clone Saga almost destroyed Spider-Man as a viable comic book franchise beyond repair. In light of this history, it’s no wonder why Slott would, in this latest round of cloning, would claim the Jackal has “expanded his science” and moved “beyond cloning.”

Credit: Jim Cheung (Marvel Comics); from The Clone Conspiracy #1
…the big “twist” of The Clone Conspiracy is that there is no twist. No one is back from the dead. It’s just the Jackal doing the same thing he’s always done for the last four decades: creating clones just to mess with Spider-Man.

So instead of the Jackal (or rather someone claiming they’re the Jackal) creating clones of Peter and Gwen, he’s creating clones of various Spider-Man villains and supporting characters who have died over the course of Spider-Man’s 50-plus year history. Moreover, we’re told these aren’t really “clones” but “reanimations.” Why? Because as revealed in this issue’s back-up story, the Jackal isn’t growing them from DNA samples taken from when the originals were alive; he’s growing them from DNA samples taken directly from their corpses. One doesn’t need a PhD in molecular biology to realize this isn’t “reanimation” at all–it’s still cloning! It’s still replicating and developing an identical organism from separate genetic material. The only “differences” here are when the Jackel took the samples, who he cloned, and what those clones remember. Using different labels and tweaking the process doesn’t actually make it different. Also, if wasn’t clear enough that these “reanimates” are just clones by a different name, not only does the very title of this event have the word “clone,” but one of the characters in this comic openly acknowledges they’re a clone.

Thus the big “twist” of The Clone Conspiracy is that there is no twist. No one is back from the dead. It’s just the Jackal doing the same thing he’s always done for the last four decades: creating clones just to mess with Spider-Man. Which also means, try as Slott might, we’re not the least bit shocked when we see a dead character make a sudden reappearance. Gwen Stacy? She’s just the latest in a long line of clones, only now with the memory of her own death. Doctor Octopus? More than likely it’s Doc Ock’s mind from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #18 downloaded into a new clone body. It’s not a dramatic or surprising reveal if there isn’t any drama or surprise behind it. Yet Clone Conspiracy #1 is entirely dependent upon the assumption readers will be shocked seeing dead characters “brought back to life” even though it’s evident that’s not what’s really happening. These clones are living human beings with all the memories of their predecessors, yes, but they’re not the actual person in question. For Clone Conspiracy to claim otherwise, and to try to milk drama from that claim, is disingenuous to say the least.

The other problem The Clone Conspiracy #1 has, or at least one the first story has, is that it assumes its readers haven’t been following recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man. As a result, the comic, and the beginning in particular, is full of clumsy, awkwardly placed exposition. This is the kind of comic in which conversations consist of one person telling another person about events and incidents they already know about or experienced for themselves while treating it as if it were new information. Of course, the simple question to ask is if a reader hasn’t been reading Amazing Spider-Man up to this point, then why would they suddenly start reading Clone Conspiracy?

Credit: Jim Cheung (Marvel Comics); from The Clone Conspiracy #1
…characters in [The Clone Conspiracy #1], and Peter in particular, behave, respond, and act in ways consistent with who they are…For once, Slott writes Peter Parker like Peter Parker…mostly.

All of this aside, characters in the main story, and Peter in particular, behave, respond, and act in ways consistent with who they are. While readers may groan at Peter once again declaring “This is all my fault” when J. Jonah Jameson (predictably) accuses him of being complicit in his father’s death, it still does makes sense in context. Moreover, it’s Jay Jameson’s funeral which motives Peter, along with his assistant Anna Maria Marconi, into truly investigating New U, the implication being that if he can uncover what they’ve really been up to, then he can absolve his guilt and reaffirm he made the right decision in convincing Jay not to go along with their transplant procedure. Slott’s narrative is also effective in establishing Peter’s slow, gradual realization that he’s dealing with the Jackal yet again, creating a palpable sense of anger within him. For once, Slott writes Peter Parker like Peter Parker…mostly.

But this comic’s real asset lies in Jim Cheung’s art. His figures have distinctive facial features, expressions and body language. Not only can one clearly see what is happening in every panel without relying on word balloons or narrative boxes, you can tell also what characters are thinking and feeling. It also isn’t over-rendered by John Dell’s inking, and although black clothing appears as solid black masses without any creases or folds, it doesn’t make the people on panel appear as flat as one might assume. Cheung also is able to instill the correct mood at the right moments; the scene in which Spider-Man finds “Jerry Salteres” is appropriately creepy and horrifying without restoring to gore. And of course, the fight between Spider-Man, Rhino, and the new Electro is brilliantly and energetically composed. Meanwhile, Ron Frenz in the back-up story once again hits it out the park. He’s also an inspired choice of artist, given how this involves a flashback to one of Spider-Man’s most influential story, and Frenz’s style evokes the traditional “Marvel art style” of the Silver Age of Comics.

Credit: Ron Frenz (Marvel Comics); from The Clone Conspiracy #1
…no matter how much Slott tries to spin it, Clone Conspiracy #1 isn’t as innovative or fresh as it alleges. It, like the clones themselves, is a mere imitation of what has come before.

As for that back-up’s plot, no doubt there will be some controversy among Spider-Man fans over Slott tinkering with Gerry Conway’s “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” For the first time, we see those events from Gwen’s perspective, and learn not only was she conscious on that bridge, but also learned Peter’s identity as Spider-Man before her fateful plunge. And her reactions, her feeling betrayed by the man she loved, her wondering what she did to deserve this, make perfect sense in light what was happening during Stan Lee and Conway’s run. Unfortunately, it ventures into complete silliness once Jackal clones Gwen and recruits her to his cause. Moreover, the “return” of yet another long dead supporting character ends up undermining “Gwen’s” entire reason for turning against Peter in the first place. But at least this back-up didn’t do what I feared it would do by revealing that Gwen never died and one who did was just a clone. Gwen’s death is still intact, only now it’s further embellished.

Still, no matter how much Slott tries to spin it, Clone Conspiracy #1 isn’t as innovative or fresh as it alleges. It, like the clones themselves, is a mere imitation of what has come before. Like the Jackal, it’s using the same gimmick while wearing a different suit, all while playing semantic games and claiming it’s doing something new. And while this is just the first issue of a five-part series, it’s clear thus far there’s no big secret involved. Is it any wonder then why we can’t help but ask ourselves, even before the story is over, “What’s the point?”

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Credit: Jim Cheung (Marvel Comics); from The Clone Conspiracy #1

    Hooray! Mary Jane is back and talking to Peter again. Even if it is only for one scene and it’s more than likely this will be only time we’ll see her in this entire event.

  • You know, someone should’ve told the minister Jonah’s dad’s Christian name isn’t “Jay Jameson Sr.” It’s “John Jonah Jameson Sr.” Hence also why Jonah’s full name is “John Jonah Jameson Junior.” Jay was only his nickname.
  • I like how we only now learn Jay Jameson was an “anti-war activist” while the minister just so happens to leave out that Jay himself was in the military. As explained in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #596, Jay was dishonorably discharged because he was declared AWOL while seeing his first wife, who lay dying giving birth to Jonah.
  • Okay, here’s my attempt in naming “Peter’s guilt ghosts” he thinks about at Jay Jameson’s funeral: Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy, Dr. Kafka, Ned Leeds, Marla Madison-Jameson, Mary and Richard Parker, Nathan Lubensky, Silver Sable, Jean DeWolfe, Ezekiel Stane, and of course, Gwen Stacy. Gee, I wonder if we’ll see any of them brought back as clones?
  • As pointed out in the “Nerdy Nitpicks” for Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19, I understand why Jonah’s upset and angry at Peter, given how he just lost his dad. But again, as far as Jonah knows, New U has the technology to “resurrect the dead” like just they did with “Marla.” Which means he knows New U could bring his dad “back to life,” too. Although given what we learn about what really happened to Jerry Salteres, the Parker Industries lab worker injured during Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16, Jay would’ve died regardless.
  • Yeah, in case you didn’t figure it out, New U didn’t replace Jerry Salteres’ damaged organs with transplants cloned from his DNA. They didn’t save him at all. Instead, they let him die, then replaced him with his own clone. Which also means, by calling New U, Peter really did kill his own employee. Whoops! I guess that’s one more “guilt ghost” for him to deal with.
  • Any guesses about who that mysterious, shadowy figure is hiding behind the tree in front the Salteres residence?
  • Pete, I know you’re trying being stealthy while breaking into New U, but why do you need “acid webbing” to remove the grating? You have the proportionate strength of a spider, remember? You could easily pry it off with your bare hands. And quietly, too.
  • Also, you’re not a “PhD in rationalizations” Or any kind of PhD for that matter. It was Doc Ock who earned “your” degree, remember?
  • And the #1 reason why Mary Jane is better than Anna Maria at keeping Peter’s secret identity? MJ never accidentally called Spider-Man “Peter” within earshot of his co-workers and friends like Anna Maria did with Horizon University’s Bella Fishbach.
  • Hey Pete? Would you be calling your brothers Ben Reilly and Kaine Parker a “bad copy” like you did Rhino’s “wife?” I didn’t think so.
  • I guess “Gwen” is just like that woman from Seinfeld who wears the same dress every day. How else can you explain why “Gwen” is still wearing the same outfit she died in?!
  • Um, Pete? Just because your spider-sense didn’t tingle when you saw Gwen like it did “Jerry Salteres” doesn’t prove anything. Remember all the other times you were around other clones of Gwen? Your spider-sense didn’t tingle around them, either.
  • And despite these new clones having all their “genetic defects” removed, Doctor Octopus still has to wear prescription sunglasses. Just like Marla also still has to wear her glasses. Just like the Miles Warren clones still have to wear glasses, too. Just what is it about this cloning process that can’t improve someone’s vision?
  • “…the man who helped kill dad.” So that means you also blame (and rightfully so) Doc Ock for father’s death, right Gwen? So then why would your clone, who has all your memories, be a-okay with working for Doc Ock?
  • So you’re telling me, Spidey, that after these years, even though you could tell Gwen was in “a state of shock,” you still couldn’t she was awake when you were that close to her face? Some power of observation you got.
  • Guess the Jackal not referring to himself as “Miles Warren” when talking to “Gwen” but rather as a separate person is possible evidence he isn’t really Miles Warren. Looks like the theory that this Jackal’s really an evil Peter Parker clone impersonating Miles Warren just got more traction. And wouldn’t it be funny if this was really Spidercide?
  • So Gwen, a supposed “science major,” completely falls for the Jackal’s “you’re not really a clone” nonsense, but “Francine Frye,” who isn’t a “science major,” knows she’s a clone? So much for Gwen being smart.
  • If these clones can remember everything up to their predecessors’ death, then that means Captain Stacy’s clone would also remember how he died. And he’d also know that his death wasn’t Peter’s fault at all, and that he gave him his blessing before he died. So what’s to stop him from telling “Gwen” what really happened, especially since the reason she now hates Peter because she thinks he caused her father’s death? Moreover, if Captain Stacy’s clone has all the original Captain Stacy’s memories, then why would he go along with the Jackal’s plans at all? And why would he be okay with working with Doc Ock, the person who caused his death?