Spider-Clone Halloween 25 years later

The 1990s Spider-Man “Clone Saga” went on, and on. Too long by many estimates, and I won’t disagree. I enjoyed it (I admit here publicly) but I certainly didn’t buy/read all of it. That would have been quite a lot by any estimate, given that the “Clone Saga” (de facto more than by intent) ultimately encompassed nearly every Spider-Man comic book published for years. Which was five or more per month at the time.

It’s a little odd, then, that—while one can point to this or that as an extension or coda or suchlike—the Spider-Man Clone Saga eventually had one endpoint which stood out from the whole mess very clearly as when it ended. Naturally, this was still a crossover with multiple comic books and one or two tie-ins.

Yet Halloween 1996 was when The Spider-Man Clone Saga ended, and 25 years later it still feels like an Event to me, as far as fictional developments go.

I don’t remember every detail. But there’s a vividness and intensity to the memory of that Autumn Wednesday, my freshman year in college, which has only a small number of comparisons in all my years reading comic books.

It was an interesting time for me, and for comic book fandom.

I was only a couple of months past being left on my own at Iowa State University to start college (and some preliminary to adult life). In some ways I certainly was on my own, too, despite classmates and dorm neighbors and, you know, a student body of 25,000. I hadn’t really formed friendships by that point, at least not in person. Online, however, was something else. Make of it what one will, but during those first months of college, I was probably more socially interactive with people hundreds of miles away—via the pokey 1996 internet of computer lab and message board and chat—than with the people physically around me day and night.

I don’t know if it’s defense or explanation, or if either is needed, but it seems worth noting that this was at least something relatively new, as well as something which isn’t around any more. Without arguing that the clunky, junky early Web was great, it was a kind of frontier which is very different from the settled, standardized and centrally administered walled gardens of today.

Obviously the Web began to intersect with many and probably most fields of human activity, relatively quickly, but it might have made itself relevant to the young-ish and very nerdy readership of comics sooner than some.

Comic book fandom was initially my own primary interest in the Web, I think. I grew up in a small town, it’s worth noting, and my high school graduating class was about 70. Some of the other kids read comic books, certainly, but with a small total number and the considerable amount of product published in the 1990s, any kind of frequent interaction with other people interested in the same series and stories as me was really something I discovered online. Even remotely frequent access to the internet, in turn, was something I only obtained at college. About two months before the big Halloween finale for The Clone Saga, which I had been following during much of the past few years (a lengthy period of time when you’re only 18).

So it felt like a big deal for a variety of reasons, some of which I couldn’t even appreciate yet.

Looking back, 25 years later, I can appreciate more of those things. I can also say that in all fairness, “Revelations” was a well crafted effort, especially the big finale in Peter Parker: Spider-Man* #75.

I’m reminded a bit, once again, of Stokesbury and his description of the World War I Allies’ concluding drives: for once, a straightforward no-nonsense coordinated attack without any frantic scurrying back-and-forth. This was a strength of “Revelations,” as well. Four issues, one month, a tight story (with only a few lead-up and clean-up stories at either end) which also packed in quite a lot.

(No foil, holograms, die-cuts, embossing, or other gimmick covers, either.)

I can’t say that I was exactly happy about yet another “everything you thought was going on for years was actually an illusion orchestrated by a hidden mastermind,” but Marvel not only stuck with this one, they made it a relatively quick, concentrated story for a change.

Nothing could satisfactorily tie up all the many many many loose ends and discrepancies from the sprawling, often improvised and repeatedly re-conceived Clone Saga, and the writers wisely did not attempt that. They had a firm and well-defined goal, that being to reset the Spider-Man comics and be done with clone stuff. They focused on concluding the major and recent Clone Saga business: get rid of the clone, reestablish Peter as the original Spider-Man, get rid of the baby about which they didn’t want to write, explain the mystery man Gaunt, and move on.

“Revelations” did all of this adequately, and made it into a fast, exciting story. Setting it all on Halloween—which was right around when the issues appeared on stands—contributed more immediacy to the story, I think. The artwork was all decent and mostly rather good, something by no means always the case during the endless Clone Saga, even in some previous key moments. The finale artwork from John Romita, Jr. feels big and epic.

Revealing the original Green Goblin as the mastermind behind all of it was also, I think, one of the only solutions which really would have met the writers’ goals adequately. Gobby 1 had been dead for, very possibly, more than half of Spider-Man’s existence by 1996. It was, then, a pretty big deal to bring him back. Few others could have brought that kind of gravitas to the role of secret mastermind behind all the other masterminds. The revival was also, like it or not, an apt complement to the reality that the writers were taking the Spider-Man comics past the Clone Saga by going backward; the story in which Gobby 1 died had preceded and set up the first Spider-Man clone story in the 1970s, so who else’s reappearance could so firmly establish the whole thing as a long detour at last ended?

Of course, aside from that very thematic fit, in terms of plot details it was madness to attempt cleaning up the already messy Clone Saga by revealing that Spider-Man’s long-dead archenemy had been alive and invisibly present behind countless stories, for decades. But maybe it was the kind of bold, dramatic madness which, alone, could address the situation at all effectively.

Oddly enough, The Osborn Journal published a few of months later attempted to convert this sledgehammer retcon into a brain-surgery detailed version, and did a remarkably good job. Here again, splendid artwork (by Kyle Hotz) helped. But Glenn Greenberg deserves some kind of nerd-artistry award for writing The Osborn Journal, which just about convinces you that Norman Osborn being alive the whole time does make sense, and makes 32 pages of continuity-ironing entertaining to read as well.

If Marvel had to touch the Clone Saga directly, again, soon after the story meant to be done with it for good, The Osborn Journal justified that questionable idea. That isn’t really the case for Spectacular Spider-Man #241, the first issue of the franchise’s multiple regular series published after “Revelations.”

“A New Day Dawning” doesn’t actually touch on the Clone Saga in any direct way, and was instead clearly meant as a kind of prologue to the post-Clone restart. Yet the slow, quiet, transitional issue was not a great approach, I think, and the actual story… ugh.

I can say of “Revelations” that I certainly complained of or bemoaned this element, or that. (I was pulling for poor old Ben Reilly, whom the final issue not only killed off but killed four or five times over.) But mostly it was a thrilling story which commanded a reader’s respect. “A New Day Dawning” was crap. The whole concept, again, was probably misguided; after going to so much trouble to move on, the writers probably should have just started a new post-Clone story properly and not bothered with any kind of pause for transition. Let alone a dull, sappy one like this. Yet I have to say that the detail of the wild, unbelievable rewrite of what happened to the Parkers’ lost baby just one month before still seems outrageous 25 years later. This was not bold, or artistic, this was just a casual statement that “oh, yeah, anything you read one month can be voided the next in the most casual fashion.” I recall pretty well online fandom being offended by this issue, myself included.

But, then, “didn’t know when to leave well enough alone” was the story of the whole Clone Saga, and despite tremendously good effort, it ended up being there even at the end.

* If I recall correctly, this name debuted with issue #75, a change from just Spider-Man which emphasized that the whole era of clone-who-was-actually-the-original-but-then-not Ben Reilly was done. It was also probably a good move after five or six years of fans trying to differentiate Amazing Spider-Man which everyone had mostly just called Spider-Man for decades from “adjectiveless” Spider-Man. Not that Marvel didn’t have, and go on employing, all kinds of other ways to make things confusing.

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