Friday, October 4, 2013


Aces & Eights
Credits:  Roger Stern (plot), Joe Edkin (script), Darick Robertson & Dan Lawlis (pencilers), Keith Aiken (inks), Christie Scheele & Ian Laughlin (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  SHIELD scientist William Allen is exposed to Miles Warren’s virus, transforming him into the third Carrion.  He uses his newly developed powers to turn portions of New York into zombies.  Spider-Man quarantines a group of zombies, then jumps onboard a SHIELD helicopter.  At SHIELD’s headquarters, Spider-Man learns that the Tinkerer’s son has been infected by the zombie virus.  With the Tinkerer’s help, Spider-Man teleports to Wundagore Mountain and asks the High Evolutionary for help.  He refuses, sending Spider-Man back to New York.  Spider-Man turns to Miles Warren’s journal for inspiration, and soon abducts Carrion.  SHIELD scientists are able to cure the zombie plague, and are confident that William Allen can be cured of the Carrion virus.  One of the scientists consulting SHIELD reveals himself to Spider-Man as the High Evolutionary, telling him that he changed his mind after thinking about their conversation.

Web of Continuity:  
  • This story establishes the first Carrion as a true clone of Miles Warren.  The second, Malcolm McBride, was created by a virus left by the High Evolutionary in order to sell his story that Miles Warren never created clones.  
  • At one point in continuity, Miles Warren was established as an apprentice of the High Evolutionary.  The original retcon was intended to reveal that Miles Warren could never create clones, only genetic duplicates, but the Clone Saga re-established Warren’s cloning ability.
  • The High Evolutionary tells Spider-Man that the memories William Allen inherited from Miles Warren are incomplete, meaning that he doesn’t know Spider-Man’s secret ID.  

*See _________ For Details:  The Scarlet Spider learned that the High Evolutionary altered the contents of Miles Warren’s journal in order to cover up his ability to create clones in Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1.  The Maximum Clonage one-shot established Miles Warren created a virus intended to wipe out mankind.  

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page one-shot, with ads, and a wraparound cover.  The cover price is $2.99.

Review:  When Gerry Conway established back in the 1980s that Miles Warren never actually created clones, this lead to a series of letters asking the question “What about Carrion?”  We know this because Spectacular Spider-Man ran an entire letters page dedicated to these letters.  The answer was revealed in Spectacular Spider-Man #149, making Carrion another product of the genetic replicator virus Warren created.  You could argue that downgrading Warren’s creations from clones to genetic duplicates was playing semantics, but I do think the creation of the second Carrion was a worthy effort.  Under Gerry Conway, and later J. M. DeMatteis, Malcolm McBride was sympathetic, tragic character in the classic Marvel tradition.  Plus, I think Carrion has a strong design, so I’m glad the character was revived in some way.

Years later, the original clone storyline was revisited, and it’s decided that Miles Warren really could create clones after all.  I’ve stated before that this re-retconning didn’t add anything to the overall storyline, and only served to create more hurdles for the creators at the time.  And, unlike Gerry Conway, no one seemed to care enough to answer the question “What about Carrion (II)?”  Two years later, this one-shot appeared, coming out of the office of the more continuity-conscious Tom Brevoort and Glenn Greenberg.  Roger Stern is once again tasked with cleaning up other writers’ sloppy work and trying to get a coherent story out of what could easily be a mess.  His solutions (along with the ones already established by Glenn Herdling in Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1) are fairly simple and not hard to grasp.  Warren studied under the High Evolutionary.  Warren could create clones.  Carrion was his clone.  High Evolutionary wanted to keep his work a secret, so he concocted the “genetic virus” cover story.  High Evolutionary arranged for Carrion II’s creation in order to sell the story.  Carrion III is the work of Miles Warren, yet again.  If you care about keeping this stuff straight, and Marvel still pretended that it did in 1997, it seems to work out.  

Judged as a story and not a continuity patch, the one-shot is still fun.  The plot moves along without getting bogged down in all of the backstory, and Joe Edkin’s script is sharper than most of the work being done on the main titles at the time.  You could argue that the Tinkerer is only there to provide Spider-Man a quick trip to Wundagore and back, but he never comes across as an overly obvious plot device.  (The Tinkerer has a grand tradition of popping up in Roger Stern’s Spider-Man stories anyway.)  The transition from Darick Robertson to Dan Lawlis is smooth, thanks largely to Keith Aiken’s dark, moody inks.  I don’t know why Aiken didn’t do more Spider-Man work during this era, since he seems able to capture the best elements of McFarlane’s inking without going overboard.

My only real complaint about the issue would be Robertson and Lawlis’ eye design.  Spider-Man’s eyes are way too large for the entire story.  They’re stuck on the exaggerated “shocked!” expression Mark Bagley always used, which doesn’t work at all if they’re that big in every single panel.  I’m all for giving artists some leeway when drawing Spider-Man’s costume, but I wish there was more of an effort to keep things from going outrageously off-model.


cyke68 said...

I'm now realizing that Marvel pumped out a TON of Spider-Man product in the post-Clone Saga, pre-Reboot era that just blew right past me. This period is a huge blind spot for me that I find all the more fascinating, so I'm really glad you're covering it. It's like... they weren't so much trying to repair the damage done coming out of the Clone Saga as they were trying to sweep it all under the rug (or perhaps bury it under mountains and mountains of new comics). When that failed, we got the reboot. Which, looking back, comes across almost like an admission of defeat. "No one cares about Spider-Man anymore; hell, WE don't even care about Spider-Man anymore. Fuck it, we broke him, just cancel half the books and give Mackie the two that are left so this character isn't tying up so many resources every month." It's not so much desperate as it is dispiriting.

Anyhow. The whole time I'm reading this summary, I'm thinking "wasn't there a Gerry Conway story from the '80s where the first page is Peter sitting in class at ESU literally thinking 'Wait if Gwen Stacy wasn't a real clone... THEN WHAT ABOUT CARRION?!'" And then you mention it, reassuring me that I'm not imagining things, but I still forgot that whatever the original Carrion retcon was, it likely wouldn't work with the re-retcon. Some things I am left wondering though...

-Malcolm McBride was the second Carrion, though genetically altered in the same fashion as the original. But... did they ever decide WHO that original Carrion was supposed to be, in light of the retcon? Anyone that mattered? I know it's moot, with the Miles Warren clone explanation being reinstated following the re-retcon (guhhh), but for a while there, that wasn't possible. So yeah, WHAT ABOUT CARRION?! indeed. (And for that matter, wouldn't Peter be curious to know who his first clone was originally, before the genetic modification? I mean, during the window when he doubted that was a true clone before discovering that, yes, he was a true clone after all. Christ on a crutch.)

-I guess this goes back to the Evolutionary War, but why, exactly did the High Evolutionary even care that Miles Warren could or could not create clones? (Or Marvel, for that matter. Just some of Jim Shooter's occasional moral relativism?) And to the extent that he physically altered Warren's journals? (I know, "because we undid the retcon so it became necessary," but any in-story attempts to smooth this sloppy bit of business over?)

And yet... despite all that, is it safe to say the Spider office did a better job of tying up lose ends (often poorly) than the X-office (not at all)?

cyke68 said...

And while I'm thinking about it, this is why re-retcons are the dirt worst. To cite the most egregious examples that come to mind:

-Miles Warren perfected the process of human cloning, but he also created a virus that could duplicate a person through genetic modification of a host, and the High Evolutionary wants the world (or just the cast of Spider-Man?) to think that's all he did because real cloning doesn't sit well with him (effectively executing a person by replacing his identity with that of another individual and granting self-awareness along with human intelligence to wild animals is still A-OK).
-Magma really WAS from Nova Roma, but for a second there she thought it was all an illusion.
-The Scarlet Witch had children, but they turned out to be fragments of Mephisto's soul, has her memories of the kids erased and suffers a nervous breakdown, remembers the kids and gets her shit together, forgets about them again at some indeterminate point, spontaneously remembers the dead kids and wipes out all the mutants. (Also, a deceased Agatha Harkness was resurrected but not really.)
-Jean Grey was exposed to radiation that substantially boosted her powers, dies, but is later revived from suspended animation, learning that she was instead replaced by a cosmic entity, but then again, maybe it just possessed her and laid an egg that she hatched out of when it blew itself up, leaving her a bit out of sorts.
-Spider-Woman's entire origin.
-Xorn was pretending to be Magneto pretending to be Xorn (not technically a re-retcon I guess since the original reveal was what Morrison intended all along, but wow was it bonkers the way Marvel immediately walked it back).

These things stick out like a sore thumb in reading character bios and it's rather hilarious the way the author tries to gloss over them or blend them into the big info dump as seamlessly as possible. The frustration is palpable. Any personal favorites to offer up?

Matt said...

Cyke -- As I recall, the original Carrion was Miles Warren's lab assistant. Anthony something?

Anyway, my understanding is that Marvel didn't really care either way that Warren could or could not create clones. Conway had learned more about the science of cloning in the years since the first clone storyline, and decided it was not as simple as he'd originally thought, so he took it upon himself to ret-con his original story. Which is absolutely ridiculous. In a world where Reed Richards has a portal to the Negative Zone in his lab and Dr. Doom has a time machine, why is cloning (even by a college professor) so far-fetched??

Also, while I agree with yout that Marvel's Spider-reboot comes across as an admission of defeat, I can't understand why that is. I loved Spider-Man at this time. I was enjoying the four titles more than I had in years. I didn't think they were doing anything wrong. I guess maybe I was in the minority.

cyke68 said...

Ah. His assistant. Good enough, then.

But what the crap, Gerry Conway?? That's... commitment... if nothing else, to retcon your own story. And Marvel hilariously restores the author's original intent, before he changed his mind.

I have gotten a sense over the years that there's a bit of enthusiasm for this era among those who were reading it at the time. Nobody seems to outright hate it -- the prevailing opinion seems to be indifference (which in its own way, can be worse than vitriol). Editorial might have been grasping at straws, but it seems like the creators at least tried to make the best of what they were handed. DeMatteis was back and could always be relied upon to produce something interesting and introspective, if nothing else. Howard Mackie and JRJr made for a good team on Peter Parker. DeZago and Ringo did some bread-and-butter superhero stuff on Sensational, in keeping with Marvel's bizarre bronze age throwback in 1997. I don't think anyone was clamoring for more Tom DeFalco comics, but he always stepped his game up on Spider-Man. And look, no Kavanaugh!

There's a distinct identity in each of the four books, and more importantly, CONSISTENCY! I'm realizing now that all these creative teams had pretty lengthy, uninterrupted runs. They rarely collaborated, but when they did, it resulted in "Spider-Hunt" and "Identity Crisis." I read those at the time, and while they didn't blow me away, they certainly weren't anything offensive. Ultimately, I guess the books just weren't generating enough sales or buzz to justify so many titles.

G. Kendall said...

"And for that matter, wouldn't Peter be curious to know who his first clone was originally, before the genetic modification?"

Conway covered that, establishing Anthony Serba, the lab assistant, as the first spider-clone. That's actually not a bad use of continuity, since Serba was in the original storyline back in the '70s. I still think fans would've been more accepting of Ben Reilly had he been Anthony Serba, just modified to *look* like Peter Parker, but who knows.

As for who the original Carrion was supposed to be, I just looked back at SSM #149, and while Spider-Man asks the question, he gets no answer. The second Carrion claims to have memory gaps (which sets a nice precedent for Stern this issue, re: Carrion and Spidey's secret ID.)

As for my favorite series of retcons that make little sense when read together, Cable's origin has got to rank fairly high.

wwk5d said...

Based on Wikipedia, since the first Carrion has gone back to being a clone of Miles Warren, I guess it's irrelevant now as to who the original Carrion was.

So Ben Reilly (before he reappeared in the Clone story line) was originally retconned into being Anthony Serba, then rectconned back into being an original clone? Oy oy.

Anonymous said...

A quick question re: Spidey's mask.

Have the big eyes style ever been referenced in-comics? Or is it strictly a part of artist's leeway?


G. Kendall said...

In one chapter of "Inferno" back in 1988, Spider-Man has to "kill" the Spider-Man Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon. He remarks that they got the eyes wrong, which is the only acknowledgment in the actual stories that I can recall that Spider-Man's eyes are now larger.

cyke68 said...

That's pretty funny. In-joke or canonical acknowledgment of the different styles? I'm sure it inspired all sorts of debates at the time, which I sure hope are preserved for future generations on Usenet archives (which I only mention because I've been perusing old posts on Google Groups. And realizing I really shouldn't have been talking to people on the Internet in 1996).

I've always been partial to the huge eyes. Personal preference for Mark Bagley. I know it goes back to MacFarlane, but I thought Bagley was a better practitioner of the style than the man who created it.

Matt said...

Oh yeah, I forgot that Anthony Serba was the Spider-clone. Interesting that Conway's entire "What About Carrion?" story never answered the title question.

Also -- I distinctly remember a Spider-Man story in the nineties where Mary Jane tells Peter that she likes the big eyes better because they make him look cuddly (or something to that effect). I have no recollection of what story it featured in, though.

cyke68 said...

Yeah, that gave me a, "Hey wait" moment too. Oh well. I suppose it was more important to reveal the method of Carrion's origin as per the "no clones" retcon rather than his specific identity.

Say... wasn't Carrion planned by Bill Mantlo to be the dessicated, partially-reanimated corpse of Norman Osborn? Even before the original Miles Warren clone explanation and all the subsequent retcons? Or perhaps that was one of those fan rumors the brass kind of ran with and cultivated over the years. Might be good fodder for Comic Book Legends Revealed!

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