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 two “anniversary” issues that also mark the debut of a “new” Green Goblin character, Web of Spider-Man #125 and Spectacular Spider-Man #225.
If you’re looking to perfectly capture what the comic book industry looked like in the mid-1990s, look no further than these two “anniversary” issues of Web of Spider-Man #125 and Spectacular Spider-Man #225. Both Spidey books mark the very momentous occasion that comes with a series reaching an integer of “25” by publishing double-sized books (with double-sized prices) with those oh-so-90s “holo-discs” on the cover. What’s a holo-disc you might ask? Well, the best way to describe it is saying it’s the hideous merging of a poorly-conceived hologram/lenticular image and a Pog. Don’t remember what a Pog is? Just Google it — they were considered collectible for all of five minutes in the 1990s.
In terms of how both these issues fit into the larger narrative of the “Clone Saga” — which was getting considerably larger and more decompressed by the day at this point — they really don’t. Or better yet, both issues proved to be completely superfluous and inconsequential for both the “Clone Saga” and overall Spider-Man history.
The comics do their best to remind readers that there is a larger story arc going on in the moment — hey do you remember that Peter Parker has been accused of murder and his thought-to-be-dead clone Ben Reilly is back and has switched places with Peter so he can be with his pregnant wife, Mary Jane? Good, because both Web of and Spectacular remind you of all that upfront and then proceed to deliver a story nobody was wondering about with the origin of the Gwen Stacy clone Joyce Delaney. And also, just because you never asked, a few years after killing off the second Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, who had taken the green and purple mantel from his father, Norman, these two “Clone Saga” issues bring the Peter/Ben/MJ saga to a grinding halt to introduce a NEW Green Goblin (you better get multiple copies of his first appearance because it’s guaranteed to be a collectible, hence the holo-disc cover) that turns out to be Ben Urich’s nephew, Phil (who know goes by the Goblin Knight or Goblin King, I’ve lost track). Oh 1990s, how can anyone even think to turn their backs on you?
If my prose is dripping in too much sarcasm for you, I do apologize, but these are the kinds of stories that make me question whether or not I have the patience and the endurance to do a full-scale retrospective of the “Clone Saga” that extends all the way until the very end of “Revelations” more than two years after the storyline first started. As both Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie have said in interviews, the “Clone Saga” was initially pitched as an otherwise tight narrative that would have a definitive beginning, middle and end (with Peter going off into the sunset with MJ and Ben taking over as the REAL Spider-Man) in about six months, but because of unexpectedly hot sales, it got stretched out beyond all reason and readability.
For example, the Gwen-clone centric story in Web of #125 is practically a beat-for-beat rehash of the earlier “Smoke and Mirrors” arc where Peter is forced to confront Gwen again in the flesh and despite being married to MJ with a child on the way, he feels conflicted by the sight of her. The one big difference is that this time around, Peter is flying solo and manages to get himself knocked out by Miles Warren/the Jackal, though in a plothole so large you could park my entire collection of Amazing Spider-Man in the middle of it, Peter does recover to the point that he puts a tracer on Miles and Gwen, tracking them down to that old haunted structure, the George Washington Bridge (though anyone familiar with New York architecture can tell you that the original Green Goblin threw Gwen off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I digress).
As if he was prompted by an editorial mandate, the new Green Goblin makes his full-fledged debut while Spidey battles Warren on the bridge. Though Steven Butler’s pencils are never entirely clear visually, this new Goblin is actually trying to help the Gwen clone (because the Phil-Goblin would eventually get his own series as a hero, you see), but accidentally knocks the woman off the bridge anyway. Spider-Man, learning from the mistake he made in Amazing Spider-Man #121, swoops in and saves Gwen, thereby finally ending decades of guilt and grieving for the original Gwen … not really, but since we’ve already had this exact same emotional beat involving Spidey, women and bridges 950 times since ASM #121, we might as well repeat it one more time here (and repeat 2,342 times afterwards).
Oh yeah, Miles Warren disintegrates, proving once again that the Jackal is an un-killable monster with 34,567 clones of himself out there — give or take.
We get to see a bit more of the Goblin in Spectacular #225 as this mysterious character who keeps referring to his Uncle “B” at the Daily Bugle (Ben Urich, duh), tries to convince Spider-Man that despite taking up the identity of his arch-nemesis, he’s fighting on the side of angels. Spider-Man is rightfully cynical, asking if he should just take this guy’s words at face value.
But the two do end up teaming up (sorta) to find a villain so blandly conceived that even the Freak from “Brand New Day” was like “wow, what a boring villain,” name Firefist. DeFalco and his 80s artistic counterpart Ron Frenz used to joke that they came up with some of their characters by looking at a deck of animal cards (Silver Sable, the Puma, etc.). Perhaps with Firstfist, DeFalco and Sal Buscema were looking at cards of elements and body parts (introducing, the wonderful Earth Eardrum)?
Just because I probably won’t get another opportunity to discuss this one point since the character ultimately doesn’t factor in the “Clone Saga” at all, it’s worth noting that as a concept, having Ben Urich’s nephew, Phil come in as a tweener hero/villain was pretty cool and could have set up some interesting parallels between Peter and Phil (just the Uncle Ben connection alone could foster some good material).
Alas, the actual execution of this character – making him a new variation of the Green Goblin — is a perfect demonstration of how much the Spider-office was struggling creatively at this point in time since they had killed off many of Spidey’s best/classic villains in Norman/Harry Osborn and Doc Ock, and had nothing left to throw at the Web Slinger besides clones and new men/women in old costumes (also see the female Doc Ock in a few months). To be fair, most Spider-Man creators who weren’t Stan Lee and Steve Ditko struggled in creating new villains, but the 90s were an especially bad time in terms of reinventing a wheel and transforming it into a square in the process.