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 “Exiled,” which consists of Web of Spider-Man #128, Amazing Spider-Man #405, Spider-Man #62 and Spider-Man: Unlimited #10.
People who have been following my “Clone Saga Callback” series from the beginning will most certainly have read this statement before, but Marvel really did a disservice to the storyline and the Spider-books in general by dragging this thing out as long as it did.
The four-part “Exiled,” which is sorta the “penultimate” storyline in the original “Clone Saga” (if you don’t count the shudder-worthy two-part “Time Bomb”), is a wonderful example of the overly decompressed nature of this arc’s narrative. Throughout each of the four issues, there are snippets of new and useful information that, in their own, loosey-goosey way, advance the plot and set the stage for the “Power and Responsibility” finale. But “Exiled” is ultimately so poorly constructed that it probably would have made more sense for Marvel to have done away with it entirely and to just integrate those useful parts into earlier storylines.
“Exiled” addresses the immediate fallout from “Maximum Clonage,” which featured Peter losing his damn mind over the fact that he discovered he was actually a clone (and Ben Reilly was the “real,” original Spider-Man). Namely, Peter and Ben discuss in the first chapter, Web of Spider-Man #128, who should be Spider-Man going forward, which is obviously a pretty important decision for the future of the Spider-Man franchise. Except this decision is made anti-climatically at the end of Web of signaling two frustrating things as a reader: a bait and switch is imminent AND the next three chapters are fairly inconsequential until that bait and switch is executed.
Seriously, why market an entire storyline around the question: “who will wear the webs?” only to make that decision over the span of 20-something pages and then making the reader wade through a bunch of flashback stories involving Ben and his doctor-friend Seward Trainer (and then “Time Bomb” on top of that), only to *spoiler alert* pull the rug out from underneath everyone and reverse course in “Power and Responsibility?” These are the kinds of editorial decisions that have made the “Clone Saga” such a punchline in the minds of comic book fans. As I’ve noted over the past 12 months, the arc has a number of very satisfying individual storylines, but taken as a whole, the “Clone Saga” lacks grace and congruity in its execution. There’s no natural, organic flow from one storyline to the next because the powers that be demanded that this thing stretch on for as long as there was money to be made. That’s like construction a skyscraper and then deciding well after the foundation had been poured and the initial frame of the building has been erected to start adding some more floors to the top because MAYBE some additional tenants could be attracted.
Meanwhile, the Ben/Seward subplot comes out of nowhere with little context or build-up. It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to developing that relationship somewhat, but the opportunity to show how tight-knit Ben and Seward were with each other was well BEFORE the “Trial of Peter Parker” arc where Trainer ended up delivering the shocking news that Peter was a clone. Not to Monday morning quarterback here, but considering how Marvel ended up reversing course in major fashion when they negated the entire “Clone Saga” during “Revelations” and decided that Ben was the clone the WHOLE TIME, in retrospect the Spider-office wouldn’t have painted itself so clumsily into the corner if they had established the Ben/Seward relationship early on, thereby casting potential doubt and aspersions on the big reveal about Peter being a clone.
Additionally, “Exiled” also contains some floating fragments of stories that go nowhere. Part one incorporates a never-to-be-revisited-again subplot involving Black Cat hiring a private investigator to trail Ben (after learning from Mary Jane what was going on with the whole clone nonsense). Perhaps Marvel was looking to reach a Black Cat quota for the storyline (it’s no secret that a significant portion of the fan base loves Felicia and artist Steven Butler certainly plays up some of her “assets” that certain readers love about her). Regardless, outside of Felicia making peace with Peter regarding a relationship that transpired nearly 10 years earlier (in real time), there was no point in her getting involved at this stage in the “Clone Saga.”
In similar fashion, “Exiled’s” fourth chapter in Spider-Man Unlimited #10 reintroduces Adrian Toomes, aka, the Vulture, who was last featured prominently about a year earlier after he had stolen Peter’s “lifeforce” during the “Lifetheft” arc and became young (looking) again. Classic villains like the Vulture are always a good time, but the character had played such a miniscule role in the overall “Clone Saga” that it felt somewhat odd to all of a sudden focus an entire issue around the character. And that’s not even addressing the actual subplot.
You see, Vulture shows up because he’s getting old-looking again and he needs to steal some more lifeforce. So he attacks a new character, Jimmy, who is introduced to the world as the son of some random guy who shows up at Uncle Ben’s grave while Ben Reilly is marking the anniversary of his death. And why does this guy show up at Uncle Ben’s grave? Because years ago he had some money trouble providing an education for his son, Jimmy, and Uncle Ben helped him out. Jimmy had fallen in with a bad crowd and was now making Ben’s sacrifice moot.
It’s a storyline that’s as patently absurd to read as it was to just write about over the course of one paragraph. And as far as I remember, it’s something that would never ever be addressed by Marvel or the Spider-books again and accomplishes nothing but to loosely incorporate Saint Uncle Ben during the 11th hour of the “Clone Saga” — as if his lack of involvement at this stage would somehow nullify all the events that followed.
So just two more storylines to go (plus the excellent Lost Years miniseries, which was running concurrently) before we reach the very end of “Clone Saga Callback.” Are you crying tears of joy or sadness?