Written By Mat Frank
In the right hands you can have a story that will go down in history as a classic, or on the other hand, one that people cringe at. I want to talk over the next few weeks about this, highlighting three stories that were given the short stick and explain how they could’ve been done better. This week I’d like to discuss the infamous ‘Clone Saga’.
The ‘Clone Saga’ was an attempt in in 1994 to ‘stir things up’ and create a rival to the ‘Knightfall’ and ‘Death of Superman’ story-lines which had garnered DC massive sales due to the dramatic nature of the story. Clone Saga ended up being on of the biggest bombs Marvel would ever release from the ‘House of Ideas’, resulting in what would be a part of the culmination of the excess of the 90’s for Marvel. While ultimately much of the premise of this story was undone/written out of continuity in subsequent issues, I think this story-line had a lot of potential but was ultimately wasted due to Marvel directive (at the time). I’d like to take a moment to explain the story and then illustrate how it could’ve been done better.
The Clone Saga actually originated back 1973 where Prof. Miles Warren was introduced and actually cloned Peter and Gwen Stacy in a convoluted plot that included Warren discovering Peter was Spider-Man. Fast Forward to the end of that arc and Peter is seemingly the sole survivor of a duel with his clone and rather ambiguously claims the title of Spider-Man since he loved MJ prior to this all happening? Super flash forward to 1994, now the same clone, Ben Reilly, has shown up and throws Spidey’s world into a twist. What ensued from there was the most convoluted, company mandated story Spider-Man will (hopefully) ever encounter. Peter is the supposed clone, he gives up being Spider-Man, allows his supposed ‘clone’ to over take the Spider-Man mantle and leaves with a very pregnant MJ. We all know how it ended from there, things got crazy, and now the story is the butt of every nerd’s Spider-Man joke. I still think there’s life in this story and I hope Marvel takes the opportunity of the Secret Wars ‘rebooting’ of certain elements of their characters to really take the time to redo this tragically underused story-line, and here’s how I think they could do it.
Clone Saga had amazing elements, including callbacks to story-lines from 20+ years ago, a new disruption to Peter’s life and the return of past loves. Right off the bat you have an amazing story that revolves around Gwen Stacy returning to Peter’s life. At this point in comics, had they introduced the premise he had just found out MJ was pregnant and now Gwen show’s back up?!?! Allow me to delve into how this story-line could’ve been salvaged.
So at the point Peter finds out he has a clone he’s just also found out he’s having a baby with MJ. Peter is well established as Spider-Man, he’s got a semi decent career, things are going relatively (for Spidey) well. What I would do would be to spend the year prior establishing that things are going well for Peter. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want Parker to win one every once in awhile? Perhaps show that he’s partially beloved and gaining a following, then start introducing through peripheral avenues (background tv, broadcasts) that there are Spider-Man impersonators. Peter initially brushes them off as a nut job taking matters into their own hands, but when he is saved amidst taking down one of his famous foes by one of these impersonators, who exhibits the same power set he has, he begins to take things seriously. From there you have an intriguing story of Spider-Man tracking down his impersonator and a much more dramatic reveal when Peter realizes that he has a clone. You could even introduce a premise that Ben’s methods are more brutal and favored by the public which causes Peter to question his own methods.
In the midst of all the hubbub, you include a shocking revelation with a (soon to be discovered) Gwen clone! Peter is still absorbing what is going on in his alter ego life and is now faced with the love of his life returning. Couple that with the subplot that Peter is shown to have the same degenerative blood type as a clone, now Peter is in a tailspin. Ready to leave town and give up the mantle he leaves, he packs up MJ and everything they need and leaves, believing he is the clone (note that there’s no definite answer to that in the books, its just heavily implied he’s the clone) and heads to places unknown. From there you have a new Spidey taking up the mantel and filling the void much like Miles Morales or Ben Reilly do in the comics. Meanwhile you periodically pop into Peter’s life as he grapples with the reality of being a clone, and slowly show him discovering that he is in fact the real Peter as he begins to uncover the mastermind of deceit, Harry Osborn!
You’ve introduced a twist where his best friend (close friend?), not his father as Peter was lead to believe, has back-stabbed him and masterminded the entire cloning process and plot. You can have a subplot with Harry finding out the Jackal was stalking Peter and Gwen but took him out when he served his purpose. From there you have a Peter who has had his entire world rocked, who knowing he has a clone, he relinquishes his title to his clone who (as far as he knows) is fully capable of taking care of his neighborhood while he sorts out his life. While Peter is aware Ben is able to step in and deal his own version of justice but it is ultimately too extreme, pulling Peter back to NYC to deal with an increasingly more violent Spider-Man. Peter soon realizes Ben’s body is failing him and will not be around much longer causing him to step back into the role he abandoned in his moment of disillusion.
End of story. You have a compelling reason for Peter to leave, a rational reason for Peter to return and a sample of life in the Spider-verse that shows you why he is necessary to the title.
Stay tuned next week for another story-line that could be saved. You can also check out my ideas for a story that is ripe for revision on my podcast ‘Crackle Pop’ new episode released on Monday.
To see and hear more from Mat check out Crackle Pop Podcast – @cracklepoppod