The Clone Saga is still a touchy issue within the Spider-Man fan community. Most view it as the worst thing that ever happened, while others appreciate the awful nostalgia of the 90s comics. I view it as a necessity towards taking Spider-Man into a larger world. The Saga started when Gwen and Peter first started taking biology classes with Dr. Miles Warren at Empire State University. Warren was a creepy little academic that had a desire for Gwen Stacy. This continued unabated until Gwen died.
Warren became unhinged and took on the guise of The Jackal. He started to test Spidey by hiring The Punisher and staging a few related setups to foil the webslinger. Eventually, he dabbled into cloning and created two viable clones. One of Peter Parker and one of Gwen Stacy. This lead to some identity issues as Gwen clone freaked out and wanted to live independently. Nevertheless, Spidey clone was tricked into fighting Spidey while Ned Leeds’ life hanged in the balance. The day was saved and the dead clone was throw into a smokestack to burn.
For years after the incident, Peter fought to prove that he was the true Spider-Man. This came apart when Ben Reilly paid him a visit and the proper Clone Saga began. It turns out that the clone survived and took on the name Ben Reilly. When it appeared that Aunt May was dying, Ben returned to New York City to make his peace. That’s when Ben and Peter duke it out and Dr. Miles Warren returns. Since the whole clone incident began, Dr. Warren has been producing more clones. These range from the degenerative disease carrying Carrion to the disfigured Spider-Man clone named Kaine and Spidercide. So on and so forth until we get the temporary reveal that Ben Reilly is the real Spider-Man.
A year goes by and Norman Osborn returns as the big mastermind behind Dr. Warren’s plan. Ben and Peter fight Green Goblin, the end result being that Ben gets killed and dissolves. It turns out that Peter was the real Spider-Man all along. This sets the stage for Norman’s return and the first grand effort to reset the Spider-Man universe. I was a big fan of this at the time, but I now see that there needed to be a few changes to make this work. Ben Reilly wasn’t a bad character, he was just unneeded. Slott and Company have gone out of their way to work in some of the lateral characters like Kaine into the new Spider-Man comics.
To understand the full ramifications of The Clone Saga is to understand where Marvel existed in the mid 1990s. Marvel was somewhere between bankruptcy, stunts with Image and desperately trying to keep a dying fanbase. DC was having moderate success forcing their legacy characters to switch out to newer characters that represented a new readership. So, Marvel took a shot. However, they took a shot with a clone based on a character that was aging out of the average readership. That is exactly where the Clone Saga failed. If most people thought nothing was wrong with Peter Parker, then why change him for an identical copy without the charm?
Hell, most writers wrote Ben Reilly like they were writing Peter Parker. The guy got new villains and different setups, but that was it. He still had to go through the same motions and deal with the same bullshit. Ben Reilly was New Coke sans the whimsy. I’d blame it on the nature of comics, but periodical entertainment shares it across a wide spectrum. Soap operas, dime store novels and even comics are guilty of overthinking what their audience wants. This is no different and I don’t believe The Clone Saga should be maligned for that fact. However, it should be a continued reminder of what it takes to tank a popular series.
Finally, what else is there to be said about clones? They work in small doses, but they’re always going to be a dirty word for the Spider-Man books. Too much weight has been put on them, however there are things left to be said about Dr. Miles Warren and his crazy endeavors. Hell, I didn’t even take the time to bring up Spider-Island. That’s not to mention the other Gwen clones, the Spider-Man clone army or even the clones of Alpha. People still like Alpha, right? Nope. Good, I’m not going to take the time to bring him up. It’s a complicated matter, but it’s one I’m going to have to leave here.