Clone Saga Callback is a feature that looks back on the 20th anniversary of one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories in the character’s history — the “Clone Saga.” Every month, we will sequentially remember a different “Clone Saga” storyline until we reach the very end of the arc (or go crazy, whichever comes first).
In this installment, we will spotlight “The Mark of Kaine,” which was published in May 1995 and consists of Web of Spider-Man #124, Amazing Spider-Man #401, Spider-Man #58, Spectacular Spider-Man #224 and Spider-Man Unlimited #9.
While Ben Reilly has his fans, arguably the most interesting character introduced by Marvel during the “Clone Saga” was the mysterious Kaine — later revealed to be the “demented” clone of Peter Parker who was ultimately rejected by his creator, Miles Warren, aka the Jackal.
Contemporary fans are probably more familiar with Kaine after his significant role in such recent Spidey arcs as “Grim Hunt” and “Spider-Island,” and the character, of course, was the titular star of his own series, Scarlet Spider, that surprisingly ran for two years between 2012 and 2014. But without the “Clone Saga,” Kaine, as a concept, likely never sees the light of day. The character is truly one of the few things the “Clone Saga” got right from start to finish (too bad everything around Kaine was so mediocre-to-bad).
After making some cryptic cameos — including murdering Doctor Octopus during the “Web of Death” arc — Kaine transitions into a more featured role during “Mark of Kaine.” There’s still an aura of profound mystery surrounding this character and his motivations. But this is the storyline where the “Clone Saga” braintrust starts to back off on making everything this guy says and does come across as some kind of menacing riddle.
It’s a good thing the creative team does start peeling off some layers on Kaine because it saves “Mark of Kaine” from devolving into being too derivative and silly. It’s still arguable as to whether or not “Mark of Kaine” should be deemed a “good” story, or even an “okay” one, but Kaine’s portrayal as a conflicted monster that appears to be working as an advocate for the original Peter Parker gives the character far more depth and nuance when compared to his earlier characterization as a murderous nomad.
In terms of what’s so silly about this storyline, the creative team advances and then ultimately pays off the arc of a third Peter clone (who first appeared during “Smoke and Mirrors”). Considering how Kaine would later be revealed as a clone of Peter himself, it still makes very little sense that Marvel would introduce a Peter copy that evolved from some kind of damaged stew of Parker DNA when that was essentially Kaine’s backstory (and Kaine was far more compelling at that). The only purpose this third (or fourth depending on how you calculate these things) Parker served was to create more confusion for Peter’s supporting cast, namely Mary Jane, who was carrying their child at that point.
Dating back to MJ’s very first doctor’s appointment during the “Clone Saga,” the creative team demonstrated a fascination in the idea of something not being “right” about the child. While it’s true that Peter and MJ’s baby would not live happily ever after, that wasn’t because of some kind of genetic defect caused by Peter’s radioactive blood, nor was the child’s death/disappearance caused by MJ’s stress level skyrocketing. That still doesn’t stop the creative trust from using “Mark of Kaine” and some of the other preceding and succeeding stories from portraying a pregnant MJ as the quintessential damsel in distress, whose health is teetering so close to the edge, that all of this clone nonsense was certain to cause a miscarriage or worse. It was a tacky storyline choice then that feels even worse via the power of hindsight and the direction Marvel ultimately went with Peter/MJ’s child.
The storyline also introduces what should be a very dramatic narrative development — Peter’s imprisonment on murder chargers — and then goes on to undo this status quo by showing Peter breaking out of prison whenever he feels like it by bending the bars (and then casually bending them back once he returns to his cell). I know I’ll often complain that Peter is made to look like a chump by some of today’s writers, but I don’t think having the proportionate strength of a spider gives him the ability to masterfully bend thick metal every which way so he can come and go as he pleases without arousing suspicion.
Ridiculous or not, the plethora of Peters does lead to a natural conclusion for a superhero comic — they all inevitably have to fight each other, with the newest Parker clone ultimately being exposed as another one of Jackal’s defects. Naturally, this being the 90s and all, every Parker has to don a different costume with Spider-Ben maintaining his Scarlet Spider attire, Peter 3 wearing the traditional red and blues, and (real) Peter taking on elements of the black suit (whenever that thing resurfaced I always wondered why Peter still had a spare lying around after promising MJ he would never wear it again in the landmark Amazing Spider-Man #300).
From an artistic standpoint, Marvel timed the sequencing of these issues well, as the big showdown with the mutating, devolving clone (Peter 3) shows up in Spectacular #224, which was Sal Buscema’s time to shine on pencils. Buscema’s artistic style changed dramatically during the early 90s, as he was clearly trying to adapt his aesthetic to be more in line with some of the Image Revolution guys like Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen. It didn’t always translate, but with Peter 3, the exaggerated expressions and sharp facial features added to the story’s mania.
The big development that comes out of this storyline — which gets a rare fifth chapter since it was published during a month that coincided with Spider-Man Unlimited’s quarterly schedule — is that Ben agrees to “switch” places with Peter and takes his spot in prison so Peter could attend to his pregnant wife. Considering how Ben would eventually take over for Peter as the “real” Spider-Man (before Marvel changed its mind and made him the clone again), the switcheroo was a smart move by the creative team since it added a layer of sympathy and like-ability to Ben’s character. Prior to “Mark of Kaine,” Ben was still coming across as an interloper and a threat to the character readers deemed to be the actual Spider-Man in Peter. But via this act of nobility and sacrifice, Ben got to show his understanding of “with great power …” thereby ingratiating himself to skeptical readers.