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 “Time Bomb,” which consists of Spectacular Spider-Man #228 and Web of Spider-Man #129.
For the past year, I’ve been anxiously anticipating the moment when “Time Bomb” was going to come up in “Clone Saga Callback.” It’s not that it’s the worst Spider-Man story ever, or even the worst installment of the “Clone Saga,” but it’s also one of those arcs that embodies the silly-bordering-on-cringe-worthy side of superhero comics.
I know it’s hard to make these distinctions when you’re talking about a medium where random people develop strange powers and dress up in tight costumes with masks, but “Time Bomb’s” premise is just so groan-worthy. In it, Peter – who recently learned that he was actually a clone – has a dream where he murders his pregnant wife Mary Jane. As it turns out, his “creator,” the Jackal, actually installed some kind of micro-chip or psychic block (or whatever macguffin you want to propose) that triggered after his death, giving Peter the uncontrollable urge/need to kill MJ.
From there, the story evolves into a corny, two-part chase where Peter plays the part of Jason Voorhies and MJ is the scantily clad teenager (not actually scantily clad and also very pregnant, so get your mind out of the gutter) running from Crystal Lake. The Scarlet Spider, aka Spider-Ben and the New Warriors show up as well to help/stop Peter but they all actually have very little impact on the resolution of this story. Instead, it’s all about a supposedly mentally-controlled Peter, having to search himself and grab hold of the love he and MJ share in order for him to overcome this terrible, terrible thing the Jackal did to him (and is only coming to fruition a couple of storylines after the villain allegedly died).
“Time Bomb” doesn’t work for a few reasons. Beyond the out-of-nowhere qualities of its actual drama (one must stop to consider how over-long and bloated the “Clone Saga” was at this point) we never get much of a tease of the idea that something has been “installed” in Peter’s brain that would make him go crazy, other than Kaine’s strange memories at the beginning of the story. The character naturally started to go a bit nutty when he learned he was a clone at the end of the “Trial of Peter Parker” arc (complete with him whacking MJ across the room), but then seemingly worked through his insanity to arrive at a point of complacency alongside MJ. There’s no reason to revisit Peter’s instability outside of the fact that Marvel very clearly had plans to move forward with replacing the character with Ben and launching a whole new era of Spider-comics.
Even the end of Web of Spider-Man #129 suggests as much, as it teases readers with a brand new series coming out in 30 days, Web of Scarlet Spider. Of course the Scarlet Spider line of replacement series were incredibly short-lived due to poor fan response and the original Spider-Man series were all restored within a few months except for Web of, which stayed cancelled. So not only did “Time Bomb” fail to adequately build fan anticipation for the Spider-Ben era, but it also marks a rater anti-climatic end to one of the longest running “B” series in Spider-Man history.
In effect, “Time Bomb’s” creators, which include Tom DeFalco and Sal Buscema on Spectacular Spider-Man #228 and DeFalco/Todd DeZago and Steven Butler on Web of, are attempting to recreate another “Peter overcomes the odds” story. The problem with this approach is that “hypnosis from an annoying villain” just pales in drama to other similarly-constructed stories like “Juggernaut running amok in New York City,” or “the herald of Galactus wants you dead.”
Additionally, the Spider-books had become so unfocused at this point in history – with a concerted effort being put into building up Ben as the heir apparent during the “Exiled” arc – that the sudden shift back to Peter and Mary Jane feels sudden. That in turn makes Peter overcoming the Jackal and reconciling with MJ come across as unearned, despite the creative team using every emotionally manipulative trick in the book (including the recent death of Aunt May) to sell this moment as being something bigger than it actually is.
Then there are just little things that contribute to “Time Bomb’s” cringe-worthiness. I believe I’ve said this in a few other “Clone Saga Callback” posts, but I really do believe the era marks the low point of Buscema’s career as an artist; perhaps having to compete alongside edgier, more stylized artists like Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen influenced his pencil-work. Either way, Spectacular #228 in particular is not one of my favorite Buscema issues, especially the cover, which shows a raging Peter snarling over his terrified wife.
I remember attending a small comic book show a few years back where I “won” some free comics at the end and the guy laughed when he saw the issue in the pile (of course, he mistakenly referred to it being the “issue where Peter hits MJ” which, sadly, is another moment that Buscema illustrated).