Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #117 - October 1994

Power and Responsibility Part One - Shadow Rising
Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Steve Dutro (letterer), Kevin Tinsley (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man confronts Ben Reilly, incredulous that his clone could’ve survived. During the fight, Ben knocks Spider-Man unconscious and slips away. Meanwhile, Dr. Judas Traveller arrives at Ravencroft with his entourage. He quickly takes over the facility and mentally examines the inmates’ connections to Spider-Man. His devotee Chakra sends a message to Spider-Man -- the inmates will be killed or freed; either way, Spider-Man must face Traveller. Ben overhears the message and secretly follows Spider-Man to Ravencroft.

The Subplots: Mary Jane’s aunt Anna arrives to visit Aunt May in the hospital.

Web of Continuity: Well, obviously, nothing important has happened in the Spider-titles since the last issue of Web.

*See _________ For Details: Dr. Ashley Kafka is still recovering from Shriek’s escape in Amazing Spider-Man #390. The original clone storyline from Amazing #149-151 is mentioned in a later footnote.

Creative Differences: An added thought balloon has Ben remarking that he only kept his old costume as a souvenir. Unfortunately, the extra balloon interrupts a sentence that had been broken into two separate thought balloons, making the addition particularly awkward.

Gimmicks: This issue has a cardstock foil cover and an extra flip book story. The cover price is $2.99.

Review: And now we’ve reached what used to be considered the most controversial Spider-Man story of all time. Of course, this goes back to the days when a) comics were reaching a mainstream audience, and b) readers had enough of an emotional connection to get worked up about this kind of thing. The Marvel Universe is a living, breathing retcon today, so it’s a little difficult to appreciate just how outrageous this story seemed at the time, even before Ben Reilly was revealed as the “one, true” Spider-Man. The clone was dead. He lived and died back in the ‘70s, before much of the audience was even born. And the fans that actually were old enough to remember the original storyline tended to regard it as one of the low points in Spider-Man’s history. He was gone, dead, and virtually forgotten, only getting referenced in a few late ‘80s Spectacular Spider-Man issues (and those stories largely existed to correct the implausible science of the original storyline). Revealing that the clone not only survived, but also had his own life “behind the scenes” of the Marvel Universe for the past twenty years was enough to make many fans apoplectic. And, again, this is before they found out that this was the “real” Peter Parker.

Looking back, with demonic pacts, several origin revisions, and illegitimate Gwen Stacy/Norman Osborn babies in our rearview, the outrage over this story almost feels quaint. I bet Marvel wishes they could get the fans to care so much about a storyline today. Too bad for them, because I think the overabundance of these stunts has left the readers in a permanent state of ennui. You could reveal that Peter Parker and Harry Osborn were secretly lovers during their college roommate days and only the editorial staff of The Advocate would probably care.

As for this specific issue, it really is the best issue of Web in a while. Kavanagh’s dialogue isn’t as overwrought or clunky as usual, and the alternating Spider-Clone/Judas Traveller plots certainly grab your interest. The revival of the clone was Kavanagh’s idea, and perhaps his enthusiasm for the concept is coming through in his work. It would’ve been nice to see some sort of a recap explaining how exactly Spider-Man ended up on a rooftop in a confrontation with his long-thought dead clone, though. Even if this wasn’t labeled the first chapter of a crossover, that’s information that at least warranted an editor’s note. That complaint aside, it’s a decent chapter that stirs up a lot of interest.

The story’s helped a lot by new artist Steven Butler, who seems to be specifically channeling Mark Bagley during this stint. He’s even joined by Bagley’s Amazing inker Randy Emberlin, giving this issue a look that’s virtually identical to the line’s flagship title. I can understand the desire to give each series its own distinctive look, but there’s something to be said for linewide consistency, too. Even subconsciously reminding the readers of Amazing sends the message that Web isn’t a disposable spinoff anymore.

The Double Part One - Born Again!
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Liam Sharp (penciler), Robin Riggs (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), John Kalisz (colorist)

The Plot: Professor Miles Warren creates a clone of Peter Parker. After weeks of abuse, the clone knocks Warren unconscious and escapes his lab.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: This story shows the unambiguous creation of a Peter Parker clone, rejecting the retcons from Spectacular Spider-Man annual #8 that established Warren’s “clones” as genetic duplicates. Gerry Conway’s retcon of his original clone storyline revealed that Warren merely used a virus that changed the appearance of a person to match that of someone else. Hence, the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy “clones” were normal people injected with a virus that altered their DNA to resemble Peter and Gwen’s.

*See _________ For Details: The story of the clone continues in Amazing Spider-Man #394.

Review: J. M. DeMatteis is widely viewed as the best writer of these clone stories, and it’s obvious from this back-up that he’s intrigued by the issues of identity and “nature vs. nurture” that cloning introduces. Most of the script is a series of narrative captions offering a poetic reflection on the creation of life and the fundamental question of “Who am I?” that everyone must face. The basic plot consists of an old man beating a naked teenager. That kind of sums up the clone saga right there -- a talented writer could find numerous avenues to explore, but the basic premise is hard to escape. Your thoughtful reflection on human nature might be beautiful, but it’s wrapped around laughably bad science and ridiculous Bronze Age continuity.


Matt said...

I liked the Clone Saga. I have always said so, and I will never apologize for it. I was losing interest in Spider-Man around this time, and the return of the clone reawakened my interest in the titles. For the first time ever I started buying all four core books. I couldn't get enough of the twists and turns and each improbable and outrageous story development just excited me more.

I know today that the whole thing was a mess behind the scenes, strung along by marketing and editorial to keep sales up, but that doesn't change my nostalgia for these stories. I've even been re-buying the whole thing in Marvel's "Complete Clone Saga" and "Complete Ben Reilly Saga" trades. I am a Clone Saga fan (and in particular a fan of the Ben Reilly character), and I happily admit it.

All that said, I still wasn't a fan of Terry Kavanagh on Web, though I loved the addition of Steven Butler as artist. He captured the big eyed McFarlane style Spidey better than Saviuk ever did (though I loved Saviuk anyway).

Adam Farrar said...

You said "This issue has a cardstock foil cover and an extra flip book story." but you meant "a fantastic flip book."

wwk5d said...

Was the clone in the back-up the story of Ben Reilly? Or just another clone?

Anonymous said...

It was the origin story of Ben Reiley.
The back-up would change to "The Lost Years" (not the mini-series, which would elaborate on the theme) soon enough, so that DeMatteis could continue to outline the hidden history of Ben Reiley:Spider-Clone.

Matt said...

Kendall, I know this started as a series of Web reviews, but you absolutely HAVE to review the entire Clone Saga. You basically did the entire 90s X-Men, then Spawn, then Mcfarlane's Spider-man, now you need to cover the next most notorious thing in 90s comics. I would love to see your take on the series. Most people write the whole thing off, but I'm curious to see if there were parts you liked (I remember you saying something to the effect that you were a bit of a Spidey-fan in the 90s).

G. Kendall said...

The only decent Clone material I remember was written by DeMatteis, and even then I had a hard time getting past the concept. Reviewing the entire Clone Saga would probably take too much time and money. Besides, I like the idea of only reading ONE title during a never-ending crossover event and trying to discern what exactly is going on. Plus, the Life of Reilly series already covers the same material, with commentary by people who actually worked on the books. That's more than I could do.

However, there's a good chance you'll see more Clone material here once the WEB reviews end. Just not the entire thing.

dschonbe said...

As with Matt, I've been reading through Marvel's recent collections of the clone stories. There really was some fun stuff in those, though mixed with a LOT of bad (or just plain boring) stuff.

I will advise against the Real Clone Saga series from a few years ago. It's basically just a reader's digest version of the saga and not anything that could have been the "original" vision for the story.


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