From start to finish, the The Clone Conspiracy series has been an up and down ride marked by what has become the typical inconsistencies that have accompanied many of the “big” Spider-Man events in recent years. And perhaps the biggest of those issues as it relates to mega-storylines like “Spider-Verse,” “Ends of the Earth” and “Goblin Nation” is how they are often tepidly concluded without a satisfying, true-to-character resolution. If you disagree with this claim, then perhaps such endings as “the Green Goblin is Norman Osborn with a face transplant” and “Spider-Man and Silk enjoy each other’s battered bodies lying by candlelight” will jog your memory as to how the last few years of Spidey events have gone.
Fortunately, The Clone Conspiracy #5, by Dan Slott, with art from Jim Cheung, bucks this recent trend and offers a mostly satisfying ending to Marvel’s latest Spider-event. It’s not perfect and there are still a number of questions needing answers that will go a long way in determining whether or not The Clone Conspiracy truly stuck the landing (though there is also Amazing Spider-Man #24 and The Clone Conspiracy: Omega due out over the next few weeks that could address those questions), but this comic also felt like the most well-executed closing chapter of the Slott-era since the epic ending of “Spider-Island” in 2011.
What may be most impressive about CC #5 is how it manages to service a number of different dangling subplots with both a relentlessly tense narrative and true-to-form character moments. Arguably what has often unraveled the Slott-scripted Spider-event is its overemphasis on only one of these elements (and let’s face it, that element is usually the story rather than its characters). However, there is something discernibly different about Slott’s approach to his script this time around. And while I realize there is nothing in the rumor mill suggesting that this is actually the case, CC #5 reads as if its writer (and the primary voice on Spider-Man comics for the past six years), is starting to wind things down and set up entirely new chapters that no longer harken back to stories like “Big Time” and Superior Spider-Man.
(With that said, please don’t e-mail the show asking us when we think Slott is leaving the Spider-books and who should replace him.)
Ahem. Back to CC #5. In terms of the high stakes narrative, as we learned last issue, Spider-Man is faced with overcoming a threat that could potentially doom the entire planet when the Jackal/Ben Reilly releases his Carrion Virus onto the world. Faced with the apocalypse, Spidey has to be both decisive and selfless in developing a solution that saves as many people as possible (while also acknowledging that saving every life is impossible).
Cheung’s dynamic artwork proves to be a real asset throughout this issue as each page offers a totally different scenario that needs to be rendered: people decaying into zombie-like creatures, Spider-Man punching bad guys (lots and lots of bad guys on some spreads), characters solemnly declaring their undying love for other characters … The net result was one of the most visually stimulating issues of Spider-Man we’ve seen in years, making the recruitment of a talent like Cheung for the event a worthwhile investment for the Spider-office.
But what elevates CC #5 even beyond a fun thrill-ride is how it the script captures tangible growth for so many of its characters. Peter’s plan for overcoming the Carrion Virus is sensible while coming at a potentially great sacrifice for his personal well-being. Meanwhile, a host of other characters who were brought back from the grave specifically for this event — Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy and Doctor Octopus, among others — all get some fantastic moments to shine that pay homage to many great stories from the past while also showing how these characters may have learned from their past mistakes. After contemplating whether or not the Stacys and Doc Ock were brought back for sheer gimmickry, CC #5 presents a very strong counter-argument to any such claims.
Sadly, Ben Reilly and the arc of his character cannot be lumped in such positive company. The character remains an absolute mess in terms of who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. And with the way his story abruptly ends in CC #5, I’m at a complete loss in speculating what his character can possibly do to make reading about him in monthly installments as we’re allegedly being asked to later this year, a worthwhile use of time and money.
In the same vain, CC #5 is also quite arbitrary in how it determines who lives and who dies at the end of this comic. It’s not that one should expect it to read like Hamlet in terms of its body count, but the creative team goes as far as to establish a certain set of rules only to completely upend them a few pages later in a very bald-faced attempt to keep certain individuals’ stories going for another day. Hopefully, some of these items get tidied up over the next few months, but it’s a little cheap to tell such a high stakes story only to reverse course at the very end and keep some characters around since they’re needed for other books and series being pumped out by Marvel.