It happened again. I had planned just to read the Clone Saga issues reprinted in Marvel’s recently published “THE ORIGINAL CLONE SAGA” TP, and was left scratching my head and wondering the backstory of all these characters that only have small explanations. It’s weird that these stories don’t have nearly as in depth back issue summaries, either. Bill Mantlo, the writer of this Spectacular Spider-man run would often devote a full page or two just describing last issue’s events, but as soon as the clone saga rears its ugly head, he ditches these.
Conway, of the first clone saga epic, did a similar thing, too, although he would never devote as much space to backstories as Mantlo. “If you’re just picking up this issue, sorry, true believer. It’s really complicated”, a caption reads beginning #147, and he doesn’t even try to bring the reader up to speed. This flies in the face of the ideals of Marvel’s Editor in Chief, Stan Lee, who has been famous for saying [although never exactly quoted] “Every Comic Is Somebody’s First.” Every single comic will be picked up by someone who has not read the issue before, who maybe has never even heard of the character before, and who, even more scarily, might not have read a single comic book before.
The comics of the clone saga care not for this reader. They just wish to jam more and more into their stories as they can. Which is what’s so maddening and brilliant. I’ve written before that these are comics which depend on other comics heavily for their emotional impact, and they absolutely do: read a single issue of them, and you’re liable to think they’re stupid. Read all of them together and you have one huge story whose stupidity can be debated, especially because later, smarter writers are able to take a stupid story and use its characters or the impact of its drama to make a much better story. Amazing Spider-man #138 is a stupid story about a stupid villain [see part 1 of this series for more on these specific issues], but Spetacular #22 [vol. 2] shows that lame villain down and out, and puts a whole new spin on where stupid stories can take you.
And, let me tell ya, Gerry Conway’s run is full of absolutely stupid stories.
I even repressed one of the worst ones: Aunt May falls in love with Doctor Octopus, robotic arms and all, and it’s only his incarceration at the hands of Spider-man that halts their marriage and prevents the four armed monster from being Spider-man’s father in law. Not everyone has repressed this story, though: Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-man sees Doc Ock taking over the consciousness and body of Peter Parker, which makes moments like the one to the right downright creepy.
Which would all be well and good, except that isn’t the only comment Peter’s extra diligent dotage does: apparently he starts spending almost all of his time with her, until he does find a girlfriend.
Conway’s run is a hard one to forget, for all the zaniness he brought into Peter’s history, and it’s something writers are still resolving plot points for. The Spider-Mobile was rescued from the watery depths under the writership of Len Wein in Amazing #160, The Tarantula, an incredibly lame villain Conway created and for some reason wanted to write into almost every Spidey story, embarrassingly lost to Spider-man under Roger Stern’s masterful Spider-man run, and the villains Grizzly and Gibbons, similarly lame villains, were rewritten by J.M. DeMatteis to form a support group for failing super-villains whose group therapy of planning simple and almost harmless crimes was as comedic as it was pathetic.
Conway’s Spider-man run didn’t just build a stockpile of lame villains awaiting revision: Spider-man’s comics lived with the uncertainty of whether or not Spider-man’s attempt to save Gwen killed her or if she had already died before he shot out with his webbing to grab her foot, and it was an ambiguity Conway’s writing never mentioned, and, of course, there was the clone saga to return, twenty years later, with both Gwen’s clone reappearing as well as Ben Reilly.
Ah, but to return to Mantlo’s comics at hand. In what can only be described as a drinking game gone wrong, he decided that the clone saga had more legs. He had Professor Miles Warren clone himself before he met his final fate, and, in a move that out-Conways Conway, he cloned himself before meeting Spider-man and his eventual death in Amazing #149, and, without a doctor to remove the rapidly growing clone from the birthing apparatus, the clone developed to old age and essentially became a deteriorated zombie before the equipment’s power shut off and the clone ceased his rapid development.
These comics are much, much better than the original clone saga. It isn’t just the absurd idea behind the clone saga’s continuation that makes them better, although Mantlo’s startling creativity is unmatched: he wrote 75 issues of a comic based on an action figure, and 68 issues developing another toy line’s universe, creating personalities for plastic. What makes these comics better is their rich references to the original epic that wink at the absurdity of the original and weave superheroics into a story about heroism’s place in friendship.
Bill Mantlo points readers in the direction of the original clone saga before even introducing Carrion. A villain who had only appeared prior in Amazing #143, Cyclone, shows up, and it’s odd. He’s only appeared once because he’s based in Paris, and Spider-man had to go to Paris to save him [don’t ask: Conway jazz]. Thankfully, Mantlo has a good reason to bring him back: he was sprung from prison by an international crime organization and is in their debt for his freedom [some freedom], so he goes where they point onto a map now.
He also goes from speaking in French and not directly speaking with Spider-man and speaking broken English with a bad French accent. Mantlo is a man of details.
The similarities to the original clone saga do not end with a perhaps coincidental villain’s appearance.
Much like before, Peter had just gone through a break-up with Mary Jane that left him as stranded as Gwen’s death did: he proposed marriage to MJ and she wanted to wait and wasn’t ready. Just like Peter met and unhappily spent time with a love from his earlier life, Peter starts seeing the first love of his life, and is bored and unhappy out of his mind.
Turns out flirting with old flames can have its downside, and Mantlo even takes an element from the original clone saga and weaves it neatly.
As much as the original clone saga involved what Peter does after forced away from a romance, so, too, does this one, but instead of having a cloned Spider-man, we only see a hero so similar to Spider-man that a villain captures him thinking that he is Spider-man.
Hector Ayala, The White Tiger, is a student in many of the same classes as Peter Parker, juggles a girlfriend precariously with his superheroic life, and suffers from not attending classes as much as he should just like Peter. The pairing of these two characters together tells the same story of what truly makes Spider-man what he is the same way Ben Reilly’s appearance will later.
They also both suffer for their heroism. The White Tiger sees Spider-man in trouble, and stays after to help him, a reckless attitude for which his girlfriend breaks up with him, albeit temporarily [just like MJ].
It is a disservice to simply call The White Tiger a clone of Spider-man. He takes many more political positions than Peter ever does, and is active in student protests at school which Peter can’t seem to find the time for, declining his friend’s invitations. His story doesn’t end with the clone saga, either. Although in some ways he doesn’t trust the value of his people seeking an education, thinking books are far from the reality of South Bronx, he goes on to buy a school bus with his sister, and the two of them become a mobile library spreading literacy and critical thinking skills to impoverished youth in New York. All fighting crime without a costume, and doing a better job of it by showing potential criminals and misfits of society that they can carve out a different role for themselves.
He was also one of the first Hispanic American superheroes treated and written with respect. Much of that is due to The White Tiger’s co-creator, George Pérez, wanting a Hispanic American superhero to draw, but Mantlo took the concept further in a black and white kung fu magazine and brought their creation into the international spotlight of his Spider-man run and developed the character much further than his roots as a rowdy and revolution hungry Hispanic American into the more responsible, subtle, and humble man he would become.
I don’t know how much more I can write about these comics. Frank Miller, one of the most interesting stylists in Comic’s history, penciled two of these comics, 27 and 28, and really developed from an interesting fill in artist to a groundbreaking new talent with these pages.
Also, in two months time after 28 was published, he was offered the assignment to take Daredevil by the reins and do what he wanted with a low selling comic book. They are some of Alan Moore’s favorite comics, and mine, too. It’s a no wonder he got offered that job with designs like these redefining how to depict Daredevil’s radar sense.
After Spider-man’s teaming up with Daredevil [another hero who becomes a spider-man clone in this saga from Spider-man’s temporary blindness], the international crime corporation that threw Cyclone at Spider-man throws Carrion at him, too, and the theme of clones as robotic pawns in a violent game returns: Carrion keeps his genetic rage at Spider-man for the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Miles Warren and, at least for now, all he can do is what he was made to do.
next: The clone of Gwen returns, as does Carrion!