Stillanerd Reviews: Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5

An underwhelming climax to an equally underwhelming Spider-Man crossover event, with even more underwhelming long-lasting effects.

Written by Dan Slott
Penicls by Jim Cheung
Inks by John Dell; Jay Leisten and Jim Cheung
Colors by Justin Ponsor
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Covers by Gabriele Dell’Otto; Mark Bagley, Scott Hanna, and Richard Isanove; and Alexander Lozano and Morry Hollowell
Title Page Design by Anthony Gambino
Published by Marvel Comics

Stillanerd’s Score:

1.5 out of 5

Whenever there’s a big crossover event in comics, there are at least three ways it can end badly. There’s the flaccid ending, in which after months of foreshadowing and teases, of building suspense, of escalating the conflict, of raising the stakes, of promising an epic saga the likes which you’ve never seen, it comes to an abrupt stop, and whatever excitement is there simply deflates. Then there’s the cop-out ending, which, like the flaccid ending, also makes all sorts of promises to the audience; only in this case, it cannot muster the courage to deliver on those promises. And then, there’s the non-ending, where there is no real resolution, and any lingering, unanswered questions are addressed with a “Don’t worry, this other comic explains everything,” turning the finale into a glorified commercial for another series and upcoming event. Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5 somehow pulls off the stupendous feat of being a flaccid ending, a cop-out ending, and non-ending all at once.

Oh, yes, there are ramifications, if you can call them that. (And fair warning, this review will go over lots of spoilers.)  There are clones who die from the “brown note” which made them undergo rapid decay, but they’re the ones you pretty already guessed were going to die anyway, like “Oksana,” “Captain Stacy,” and “Marla Jameson” as seen in the previews.  Most, if not all, the cloned super-villains survived when Spider-Man and Anna Maria create an “inverse frequency,” meaning the “return” of a slew of C and D-list villains no one was clamoring to have back. It’s heavily suggested Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard, saved the clones of his wife and son, possibly with some spare serum to turn them into reptilian humanoids like himself, although we’ll have to wait until Clone Conspiracy: Omega to find out. Finally, to save the world, Spidey may have short-circuited all his company’s iPhone-esque Webware devices, thus possibly putting Parker Industries in financial turmoil just in time the next story arc. I stress the words “may have” and “possibly” because, after setting up this potential consequence, the comic doesn’t make it clear if that’s what actually ended up happening.

Credit: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor (Marvel Comics); from Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5
This is a “zombie apocalypse” with even less gravitas than the ridiculously awful Resident Evil movies. At least those films were more entertaining [than Clone Conspiracy #5].

In fact, there’s a lot of may haves, possbilys, ifs, could bes, and maybes littered throughout Clone Conspiracy #5. Such as the second death of “Gwen Stacy.” Except unlike the original Gwen, her clone chooses to apparently sacrifice herself to save Peter, and take out some Goblin clones in the process after (somehow) catching a lit pumpkin bomb. Couple this with some saccharine-laced “last words” to her beloved, and this event is clearly trying way-too-hard to craft a better “death scene” than “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” by claiming this Gwen, unlike the original, didn’t “die” as a “victim.” Except unlike Gerry Conway’s signature story, this has no pathos of any kind because we never see her death occur on panel. All Spider-Man finds of her after averting the crisis is her pea-green coat. Thus “Gwen” might still be alive since, in comics, no body equals no death.

Then there’s the one-on-one fight between “Ben Reilly,” a.k.a. the Jackal 2.0, a.k.a. Ben27, and Doctor Octopus. Having undergone too much cellular degeneration for the reverse brown note to take effect, both villains are last seen at each others throats, with Doc Ock giving what amounts to an if-I’m-going-down-I’m-taking-you-with-me speech.  But when Spider-Man and Anna Maria return, all that’s left is Ben27’s Jackal mask, Doc Ock’s harness, and lots of clone dust. Oh, the “proto-clone” Doc Ock created has also mysteriously disappeared. Which, of course, strongly implies that one the villains uploaded their minds into the “proto-clone” at the last possible moment. Was it Ben27? Doc Ock? Both? Who cares. Because whatever happened, it’s still resulted in Ben Reilly–the original Scarlet Spider and one-time Spider-Man–being completely irredeemable; Doctor Octopus’ resurrection, and all the painstaking, convoluted rigmarole Slott himself orchestrated just to bring him back to his classic look, being an utter waste of time; and, with the upcoming Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, a possible bait-and-switch that may also be a blatant rehash of The Superior Spider-Man. Congratulations, Marvel! You’ve now insured that another promising Spider-Man spin-off comic will be dead on arrival.

And remember how the looming threat, as seen in Clone Conspiracy #2, was that the clones were all infected with the Carrion virus and, if a cure for their cellular degradation wasn’t found, they’d turn into rage zombies and potentially bring about the apocalypse? That never happens with any of them. Other than being contagious, it’s just the same old clone degeneration as before. Their mental facilities are still intact the whole time they’re wasting away. Most of them (conveniently those who survive or whose deaths are ambiguous) aren’t even suffering any pain despite earlier scenes, including this very issue, showing them being in constant pain. So much for editors Nick Lowe, Allison Stock, and Devin Lewis, along with Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, demanding any semblance of consistency within their comics whatsoever. This is a “zombie apocalypse” with even less gravitas than the ridiculously awful Resident Evil movies. At least those films were more entertaining.

Credit: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor (Marvel Comics); from Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5
…bad enough readers will have to read Clone Conspiracy: Omega and Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #24 to have a proper conclusion to a crossover that’s already unnecessarily far too long. Because Clone Conspiracy #5 creates even more plot holes than the event already had when it started.

But the very last straw is, undoubtedly, the comic’s twist ending. Because it turns out all the New U transplant recipients secretly cloned by Ben27 are still alive, having been kept in hibernation the entire time. And among those patients is the real Hobie Brown. Turning the now cancelled Prowler series into an even more of a cynical cash-grab is the least of this ending’s problems. It undermines the more sinister aspects behind New U’s operation. It makes Peter’s decision not using New U to treat Jay Jameson a foolish one. And it also creates a tacked-on, anticlimactic, and completely unearned “happy ending.” Worst of all, it unequivocally confirms that all of Marvel’s double-talk about the clones being “reanimates,” about the Jackal’s “new science” and it’s philosophical implications, about Clone Conspiracy being an event that brings characters “back from the dead” instead of killing them off, about all those “resurrected” characters who “died” in this issue, and those other “resurrected” characters still roaming around free–not a single bit of it matters. Because these are all literal carbon copies of other characters.  As I’ve said so many times before during these reviews, why then should readers have any emotional investment or attachment towards these characters, much less care about which of them live or die, if these aren’t even the actual characters?

It’s also bad enough readers will have to read Clone Conspiracy: Omega and Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #24 to have a proper conclusion to a crossover that’s already unnecessarily far too long. Because Clone Conspiracy #5 creates even more plot holes than the event already had when it started. Did the “inverse frequency” completely cure all the clones of their cellular deterioration? But is that only so long as the Webware broadcasts this “inverse frequency?” If so, what’s stopping the clones and those infected by them from dissolving again once those devices get turned off? How come the “brown note” didn’t accelerate Kaine’s own degradation, yet Anna Maria’s “inverse frequency” reversed it? Why didn’t Anna Maria just upload her “inverse frequency” from the control room she was already in since that’s where the source of the original frequency came from? Better yet, why not just shut off the controls which were creating that original frequency in that same room? Oh, “Marla Jameson” already shut down the Fact Channel feed so Spider-Man and Anna couldn’t upload their “inverse frequency?” Then why are the clones and those infected by the Carrion virus sill disintegrating from the original frequency if the original frequency’s no longer being broadcast? There just comes a point where the “because comics” excuse stops being an excuse.

On top of all of this, Slott once again writes over-expository, on-the-nose dialogue, struggles to find proper pacing, and–because what passes for plot cannot function otherwise–deliberately contradicts earlier issues. Scenes such as Spider-Man’s nonchalance over the death of Rhino’s “wife” are astoundingly tone-deaf. Ben 27’s sudden switch to full-blown genocidal cackling insanity makes even less sense than in did in Clone Conspiracy #4. There’s also an appearance by Silk that’s so random and out-of-the-blue that it’s obvious the only reason it exists is to remind readers of her own comic’s Clone Conspiracy tie-ins.

Credit: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor (Marvel Comics); from Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5
There are nuggets of pure gold poking out of the muck of this story, and if [Dan] Slott only dug just a little deeper, with a little more effort, his event could’ve been a “Clone Saga” to be proud of.

Even Jim Cheung’s art, the one saving grace of this entire event, isn’t immune to this issue’s awfulness. As shown in the previews, colorist Justin Ponsor filters several panels during the first four pages with a red hue to indicate the activation of emergency lighting. Unfortunately, it ends up masking Cheung’s first-rate eye for detail, with one two-page spread in particular becoming almost incomprehensible. But because this a comic demanding an action-laden climax that needs most of its loose-ends wrapped up quickly as possible, Cheung’s illustrations, particularly during fight sequences, become overpopulated and tightly spaced to the point of instilling claustrophobia. When he does give his panels more breathing room, however, then Cheung’s art becomes less rigid, less choreographed, and more alive. Even if the dialogue accompanying the panels are stilted and trite, there is a strong, vivid emotion being expressed. You feel the sadness on characters’ faces as clones of their loved one dissolve in their arms, the desperation in Spider-Man when he punches reinforced glass to get back to “Gwen,” and the warmth in Anna Maria’s smile when she realizes she’s going to be all right, and so is the rest of the world.

That’s what makes Clone Conspiracy #5, and the event itself, all the more disappointing. There are nuggets of pure gold poking out of the muck of this story, and if Slott only dug just a little deeper, with a little more effort, his event could’ve been a “Clone Saga” to be proud of.  But as it too often happens when he’s tasked with writing event-driven narratives, Slott leaps too high, misses the bar, and falls hard and fast on the floor. And did he ever fall hard here. Because this comic, without a doubt, is the most laziest, most rushed, most disorganized, and most incomplete resolution of a major Spider-Man storyline Slott has ever done. It’s incredible to think how an otherwise clever and enthusiastic writer, with such a deep love for all things Spider-Man, could churn out something so drenched in half-hearted mediocrity. We can always just blame the clones, I suppose.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

Credit: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor (Marvel Comics); from Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #5
  • Again, “Ben,” how can anyone hear you and your lame jokes over the “brown note?”
  • Now, I understand this comic can’t have every single panel with the “SKREEEE!” sound effect. But it sure makes it awkward when characters are reacting and talking about said sound when there’s no sound effect. Speaking of which…
  • “Gotta get away from [the signal]!” Um…like I said during the “Preview Review,” How?! It’s not only being piped through all the loudspeakers in the building, but all across the world. Plus, I don’t think any these bad guys are fast enough to outrun sound.
  • I’m sure those who’ve been reading Prowler along with Clone Conspiracy may have noticed how not only is Hobie’s clone wearing a different costume in the tie-ins than in the miniseries, he doesn’t even continue helping Spider-Man in holding back the cloned super villains. Do the creators in the Spider-Man offices just not talk to each other?
  • Was I the only one who thought that, when “Captain Stacy” died and told “Gwen” to “keep Peter safe” that this sounded an awful lot like what the real Captain Stacy told Spider-Man as he lay dying in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #90?
  • “What you’ve done here! You’ve killed us all!” Oh I’m sorry, Kaine. I thought you were addressing Doc Ock instead of Ben27. Because it was Doc Ock who turned on the “brown note” in the first place. Or did you, and apparently everyone else in this issue, somehow forget that little detail?
  • So by Ben27 addressing Kaine as “brother,” Kaine immediately knows the Jackal is “Ben Reilly.” But why wouldn’t he just assume the Jackal was him instead of another Peter Parker clone?
  • “[Spider-Gwen’s] not even from this dimension.” And you know this, Ben27, because…?
  • I appreciate, Spidey, how you deduced your spider-sense was reacting to the clones because they’re infected with the Carrion virus. Too bad the readers already figured that out since Clone Conspiracy #2.
  • “There’s only one Gwen Stacy. And I’d know her anywhere.” Except didn’t you tell “Gwen” not so long ago that she wasn’t the real Gwen, Pete, because the real Gwen is still dead and you’ve met other Gwen clones before? Oh well, I guess I can understand you not wanting to hurt “Gwen’s” feelings again.
  • So after Kaine’s thrown outside the Transamerica building through a window, Spider-Gwen leaps outside to save him. And after breaking Kaine’s fall with a web-net, they’re somehow still inside the same building?
  • “Two of you now?” Don’t you mean “Two of you again,” Otto?  Because you know Kaine’s also a clone of Peter Parker, too, right?
  • “Otto, can you keep [“Ben Reilly”] busy?” That’s going be hard Pete, seeing as how Otto declared he’d fight you and Ben27 both. Wait a minute? Otto’s not fighting you for some reason? And he’s following your orders? Way to luck out there.
  • “You’re not all bad.” Um…you realize who you’re talking too, don’t you, Peter? Because under Dan Slott, Doc Ock has tried to destroy the world (“Ends of the Earth”), attempted to destroy all of reality (“Spider-Verse”), openly declared how he aspired to be “a mass murderer worse than Pol Pot, Hitler, and Genghis Khan combined,” (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #687), tried to kill you and take your place (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #700), seduced Mary Jane and Anna Maria under false pretenses (Superior Spider-Man), murdered criminals in cold blood (Superior Spider-Man again), and turned New York City into his own private police state (also Superior Spider-Man). But nope! He’s not “all bad,” right?
  • Why did Peter even have a “Plan A” if he already knew Ben27 would shut down the Fact Channel and “never planned on using [New U’s] equipment?”
  • “Oh my God, this’s from some kind of terrorists!” Because that joke certainly hasn’t gotten old.
  • “Melt with me!” Cue the Modern English.
  • “I just–I just wanted to do some good.” Oh, I see, Dr. Clarkson. You’re not a bad person for working with New U. Just a terrible, incompetent doctor.
  • Shouldn’t the real Hobie Brown still have third degree burns all over his body from his battle with She-Electro?
  • Boy, I can imagine all the awkward conversations and surprises in store for the New U patients once they get home and learn how their own clones took their place.