In anticipation of my viewing of Spider-Man: Far From Home later this week, I wanted to drop a Spider-Man themed post for everyone…
Ah, the Clone Saga… definitely a low point for Spider-Man sales across the board and one massive headache for comic fans. The entire event is a who’s who of clones of Peter Parker with several claiming to be the real Peter while the actual real Peter believes himself to be a clone. It’s one convoluted plot twist after another, some openly contradict previous ones and others just flat out leading to nothing. If you ask any Spider-Man fan they will undoubtedly agree that this was the biggest waste of time that Marvel ever tried to pass off, and that includes Civil War II… To save you from having to endure this catastrophe, I’m going to give you the cliff notes on the event and what good actually did come out of it. This goes without saying but there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Clone Saga, so stop reading this right now if you want to read the saga for yourself, though… I don’t know why you would want to.. plus it came out in the 90’s, so I don’t feel bad about spoiling it.
BACKGROUND – THE FIRST CLONE SAGA
*The Clone Saga is actually two separate events that tie together*
So the Clone Saga goes all the way back to Amazing Spider-Man #121 when Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin (or Peter, however you want to take it). Professor Miles Warren (Jackal) created a clone of Gwen and kept her in isolation for many years until finally letting her loose. He also created a clone of Peter Parker in secret which he also released at that time. The clone of Peter died in an explosion with the real Peter disposing of his body in a factory smoke stack to incinerate the body along with any DNA. The Gwen clone lived and fled the City while seeds of doubt were planted that the real Peter died in the explosion and the clone only believed himself to be the real Peter.
Four years later, the clone of Gwen returned to New York and the High Evolutionary wanted to discover Jackal’s secret to cloning, so he kidnapped the clone Gwen. The High Evolutionary discovered that Jackal had not perfected cloning but merely made a virus that simulated it. The real Gwen had died and the “clone” Gwen was actually a woman named Joyce Delaney who only believed herself to be the clone of Gwen Stacy.
This all happened in Amazing Spider-Man and Sensational Spider-Man between 1973 and 1989. Still with me? Let’s keep going.
THE SECOND CLONE SAGA
This is the main event that most people recognize as “THE” Clone Saga. I will be going by the years and acts of the event rather than the individual titles as it’s easier to follow. The entire Saga takes place through the following titles: Amazing Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man.
1994 – The Beginning
Aunt May fell very ill and it didn’t look like she was going to be around much longer. One night, a mysterious man came and sat at her bedside to say one last good-bye; this man was revealed to be Ben Reilly who was believed to be a twin of Peter Parker.
Peter hadn’t been dealing well with everything and his psyche began to take a downward spiral towards schizophrenia, he even began thinking of his Spider-Man persona as someone completely different from himself. Though he stayed just on the right side of sanity, Peter was still sent to Ravencroft Institute along with Ben Reilly. It was there that the two “brothers” were forced to fight each other by two mysterious men named Judas Traveller and Scrier. While Peter and Ben did team up to defeat them, there was an explosion and Ben went missing.
Reilly adopted the persona of the Scarlet Spider and began to patrol New York while Peter was still fighting with his own mental health. Ben ran into Venom and the two fought with Reilly being the victor. At the time, Peter and Venom had formed a non-aggression pact with Venom which Ben had accidentally broken. Venom believing that Reilly was the real Spider-Man in a different costume, returned to his villainous ways.
Peter began his fight back towards his sanity in the Back From the Edge miniseries. Peter consulted long time ally, and fellow superhero, Daredevil to help him regain his own identity and to help him establish firmly that he and Spider-Man were the same person. It wasn’t long after this that Vulture poisoned Spider-Man.
1995 – The Spiral Begins, Act 1
Ben Reilly had taken up the work of Spider-Man full time and was establishing himself in his new life. He encountered Betty Brant, J, Jonah Jameson and Kaine. Kaine was a figure from Ben’s past that appeared on and off at the beginning of the Clone Sage before becoming a central character. Kaine assisted Reilly in fighting the Grim Hunter (Vladimir Kravinoff), with Kaine killing the Hunter after the fight.
Peter continued to work through his mental insecurities and fight closer and closer to getting his sanity back while he was still suffering from the poison he was injected with by the Vulture. Doctor Octopus cured Peter of the poison for no apparent reason, though an ulterior motive was suspected, and Kaine killed Doc Ock right after. Following the murder of Ock, Mary Jane (now the wife of Peter) discovered she was pregnant.
At the funeral service for Doc Ock, both Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider (Ben Reilly) fought the Sinister Six on separate occasions. Eventually Peter and Ben came back together and teamed up against a new Jackal that was a clone of Peter… Another Jackal showed up accompanied by a mysterious figure known as the Guardian. This new Jackal was claiming to be Miles Warren stating the Miles that had previously died was a clone. He also went on to say that both Peter and Ben Reilly might be clones before disappearing in another explosion.
Following the explosion yet another clone of Peter’s emerged from the rubble of the Jackals lab, this clone became known as Spidercide. Reilly was attacked again by the Jackal, but he managed to defeat him with Jackal being sent to Ravencroft Institute. Aunt May recovered just long enough to tell Peter that she knew he was Spider-Man and that she was okay with it before dying. Later, it’s revealed that this wasn’t actually Aunt May but a genetically modified actress. Peter was then arrested by a Police Lieutenant from Salt Lake City that claimed Reilly had killed his partner.
1995 – Down the Rabbit Hole We Go, Act 1.5
Kaine, kidnapped the now pregnant Mary Jane in order to save her from “someone she loved”. Judas Traveller broke Peter out of prison so that he could go and rescure her. Peter teamed up with Ben and Spidercide and together they fought Kaine. Spidercide turned out to be an insane shape changer who after helping Peter save MJ, died in an explosion. Knowing that Peter needed to be with his wife, Reilly took Peter’s place in prison.
Peter took Ben’s Scarlet Spider costume, put it on, and tracked the clone of Miles Warren (Jackal) to a house in New Jersey where the actress pretending to be the clone of Gwen Stacy was living. As the clones tried to flee from Peter in a vehicle across the George Washington Bridge, their car crashes and Gwen is rescued by a new Green Goblin. The clone of Warren degenerates so far that he dies still in the vehicle on the bridge. When Gwen runs from the accident she trips and falls over the railing of the bridge where Peter rescues her. It’s in this instance that we learn that Gwen is actually a clone pretending to be another woman pretending to be a clone (it only gets weirder from here).
We get lots of information quickly in the next little bit: Kaine is revealed to be another Parker Clone (the first one in fact), Judas Traveller apparently has control over space/time, New Goblin is Phil Urich, New Goblin is a hero, Kaine killed the police Lietuenant’s partner not Reilly or Peter, Spidercide survived the explosion, Peter and Reilly are tested by a long time friend of Reilly’s and find out that Peter is the clone.
1995 – The Rabbit Hole Is Never Ending, Act 2
Jackal returned with an aerosol bomb that he wanted to use to try and mutate humanity into an ideal form with Peter and Ben teaming up to stop him. While the Spider-Men were successful, Warren fell to his death attempting to save the cloned Gwen Stacy. Reilly was also chased through the city by hundreds of Spider clones that all degenerated at the same time; this meant that Spidercide died as well as Kaine. Reilly believing the whole thing to be over was trying to leave town when he came across Vulture and defeated him prompting Reilly to remain in the City. Peter began having increasingly bizarre dreams about him killing Mary Jane.
Before his death, Jackal (Warren) had activated a command in all of his clones that would force them to kill the one they loved the most. This would go further to confirm that Peter was the clone as he was having the urges to kill Mary Jane and his unborn child. Peter wrestled with his duties to his unborn child and his responsibilities as Spider-Man for a while before deciding to leave the mantle of Spider-Man to Ben and focus on his family.
Following this act, Marvel attempted to retcon some of the earlier inconsistencies that had cropped up into the Saga. Most of what happened in those issues makes no point save for one thing. Peter had given up his title permanently to Ben and moved to Portland with Mary Jane. Peter’s powers were also taken away leaving him as just a normal person to raise his family. The Clone Saga was effectively “over”
1996 – The Rabbit Hole Turns Into A Spider’s Web, Act 2 (Do Over)
Reilly was firmly established as the “new” Spider-Man taking on some of Peter’s classic foes like Mysterio. Kaine was revealed to be alive despite the other clones degenerating into nothing. Another Spider-Clone was found as a skeleton in a factory smoke stack where Peter had dumped his clone’s body way back when the first clone was discovered. This discovery of a new clone brought Peter and Mary Jane back to New York from the life they had built in Portland and threw them back into the middle of the Saga.
Several new characters arrived, a female Doc Ock showed up who was Carolyn Trainer, the daughter of Ben Reilly’s friend who had run the test on Peter and Ben to discover who was the clone. The character Gaunt showed up, along with the new Hobgoblin and another (final) mysterious figure.
Reilly fought several villains including Gaunt and Hobgoblin with the former renouncing all ties with the latter. Though he didn’t have any powers Peter was dragged into the battle and was injured as a result.
Ben went through some trouble where he was blamed for setting his work ( The Daily Grind) on fire and burning it down. He was eventually cleared of all wrongdoings and rebuilt his work relationships as the new building for the Grind was being constructed. His girlfriend Jessica (the daughter of the burglar who shot Uncle Ben), left him so he could be the best Spider-Man he could be after forgiving him for killing her father (even though it was Peter).
Peter’s injuries worsened and he fell into a coma. Mary Jane rushed him to the hospital and tried to contact Ben for help but Ben was busy fighting villains. Peter would eventually snap out of his coma only to apparently sicken and die like Aunt May had briefly before he was resurrected and given his Spider powers again.
1996/1997 – The Saga Ends – Act 3
The Saga finally came to an end with a big reveal that really just spat in the face of the readers who had kept the event going since it started.
Mary Jane was thrown into premature labor when she was drugged by a mysterious woman, Alison Mongrain. Much to her and Peter’s dismay, the child was stillborn. Mongrain took the child’s body and fled to Europe, the purpose for her flight is still unclear.
The mysterious figure was revealed to be Norman Osborn who had somehow come back from the dead (the goblin serum had brought him back to life after his glider had killed him) and was masterminding the entire saga as a means of revenge against Peter. He revealed that Peter is the real Peter Parker and that all others including Ben and Kaine were clones. I the inevitable ensuing fight, Norman activated his glider and impaled Ben Reilly in the chest with it, mirroring his own previous “fate”, and killed him. Following Reilly’s death his body degenerated away just like all the others confirming that Reilly had been the clone all along.
Following the release of Revelations(the end to the Clone Saga) Marvel released Spider-Man; The Osborn Journal to fill in the gaps and try and connect all the dots to show, that despite what all the fans knew, they didn’t pull the ending out their ass to finish the Saga that had become hated by pretty much everyone. The journal goes to explain that, like I already said, the goblin formula resurrected Norman in the morgue following his death. He killed a homeless man and placed the body on his slab after he saw Harry bribe the coroner not to perform the autopsy and expedite the funeral process. I won’t go into this comic as it really just doesn’t do anything to further the actual story it just tried to retcon their mistakes and somehow make it work.
There were some silver linings to this saga though!
Ben Reilly is obviously the best thing to come out of this convoluted mess. The first time I saw him, was on the 90’s Spider-Man the animated series. He showed up for a couple of episodes in one of the later seasons and his obvious 90’s costume was amazing. The red body suit, with the ripped blue hoodie over top and the web shooters on his wrists, it just screams 90’s nostalgia!
The thing that made Ben Reilly one of the best new additions to the Spider-Man mythos, was that he was so loved by the fans, he was brought back. Much like DC Comics did with Jason Todd, in the recent All-New, All-Different Marvel Ben was resurrected and became the villain Jackal. This didn’t last long as Ben knew who he was the whole time but he still did some not so nice things before shaking the conditioning done to him by the real Jackal, Miles Warren. Ben eventually moved to Las Vegas where he began his heroic life again.
This is a personal choice for me, but I do love Kaine as a character. While yes, he did start out as a villain, he became a hero when it counted and he has tried to stay on that path as much as he can. I think I just have a soft spot for good people doing bad things for the right reasons, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Not only did Kaine become a hero, but he took the name of his hero, Ben Reilly aka Scarlet Spider, as his own as a tribute to his fallen brother. He moved down to Texas where he remained for several years until the Spider-Geddon and Spider-Verse crossover events. Kaine’s suit is also really cool to look at. Opting for only red and black it provides a distinct difference between him and the other Spider-Men of the multiverse. Besides his suit looking really cool, he is also one of the few Spider-Men who, like most of my favourite characters, acknowledges that sometimes in order to stop a bad person you can’t just throw them in jail. It adds for some very great stories and deep moral grey areas which I love!
There you have it, I just saved you several dozens of hours of reading and quite a few headaches and book throwings in frustration. Like I said, this is a very brief explanation of the event, because I didn’t want to spend any more time on it than I needed to. The Clone Saga happened, there’s no way to deny it; no amount of retconning or alternate histories will ever displace it from the canon timeline. That being said, it did give us a few good nuggets that have stayed with Spider-Man and grown into interesting and compelling characters in their own right.
That’s all for this week! I’ll see you next week with my review of Spider-Man: Far From Home! See you then!