The past several issues of both Amazing Spider-Man and Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy have done well to fill in the gaps, lay a framework for the ongoing Spider-event du jour, and to make the book new-reader friendly. Longtime readers had remained ahead of Peter Parker in the narrative, just waiting for the trap to be sprung after months of anticipation. Writer Dan Slott wisely used the first issue of this event to catch Peter up with the reader and prime everyone, even the characters, for the story to kick into high gear, get weird, and challenge Spider-Man in some unique way.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite happen in this second issue of Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy (now the official title). Yes, the curtains covering the plans of The Man in Red are somewhat pulled back, but at least a quarter of this short issue is spent catching the readers and Spider-Man up on what transpired in the issues immediately prior. No less than four pages are spent continuing to tell us how Doctor Octopus got back into his body (didn’t we just read that?) through an exposition dump tied into an abbreviated fight between him and Spider-Man. It robs any of the excitement of his return and immediately throws the brakes on the momentum of this series.
But even before the fight with Otto, Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #2 opens in a dream sequence/memory that sees the newly returned Kaine running away from a zombie army comprised of the employees and students of Horizon University. As great as it is to see Kaine return (again), the sequence is a bit confusing taken out of context even after it’s revealed to be a dream. The dialogue/visuals during the sequence are complicated by Kaine speaking off-screen while referring to a partner we’ve yet to learn about. It took rereading the scene several times before I could completely figure out who was talking to who about what. By the book’s end it became much more clear, so perhaps a reread of this particular issue is in order for its audience.
The majority of this issue is concentrated on the slow reveal of The Man in Red’s plans for Spider-Man/Peter Parker. After the fight with Otto, The Man in Red calls a ceasefire, suggesting to Spider-Man that his aim isn’t to fight but rather to extend him an invitation to join in on the goings-on at New U. In a grand fashion, sweeping his arm like a game show host, The Man in Red reveals to Spider-Man that not only has he brought back a number of his friends/colleagues but he’s also cloned all of his villains. Spider-Man is rightly upset about this, until The Man in Red insists that he’s reformed them through their need of his pill and his own version of clone parole officers.
The idea of bringing back Spider-Man’s villains as reformed citizens is an interesting extension of Peter’s own goals of reforming villians like Clash and Electro, but there are still a lot of questions to be asked regarding the why and what of it all. There’d be no conflict if we could trust The Man in Red at his word, so I suspect we’ll see these characters weaponized and up to their bad habits again soon. It’s here that I have to admit that both ideas just don’t really interest me all that much beyond thinking, “Great, all these random villains are back.” I’m also rather confused as to how The Man in Red cloned a Spider-Slayer… do they have DNA that I’m unaware of?
This reveal also operates as a twisted version of Spider-Man’s latest mantra of “No One Dies.” Instead, The Man in Red has brought literally every dead person from Spider-Man’s life back in a move that Spidey labels “obscene.” I suspect Peter might have a change of heart in regards to his feelings on this matter, as the prospect of ending death may become so enticing to him it could form his second deal with the devil (his first being Mephisto).
Unfortunately, all of this information is delivered in the most boring way possible: flat dialogue delivered like an infomercial about New U itself. Yes, there are some fine quips peppered throughout but when we’re already completing the second chapter of a five issue arc there needs to be more momentum than this, especially momentum created by our main protagonist. Instead, Spider-Man essentially sits back this entire issue and listens to others explain the situation to him.
Not to beat a dead horse, but one of my most frequent complaints about writer Dan Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man continues to be that Spider-Man takes the backseat too often in his own title. Not only is he The Man in Red’s patsy in this issue, Spider-Gwen and Kaine both know about the threat the villain poses and have a plan already in action prior to the beginning of these issues. Readers who are already tired of reading exposition meant to catch Spider-Man up are more likely than not to have to read more as he gets caught up on even more of the story he doesn’t yet know. All of this speak volumes to the idea that Dan Slott has spent so much time planning and scripting the plot beats of this arc that he forgot that his titular character should be the one guiding us through it. Oftentimes complicated event stories are far less interesting than ones based on pure character action and friction.
Penciller Jim Cheung’s art is appropriately matched to this title and his cool, calculating Man in Red is appropriately frightening and eccentric. However, the stiff, hyper-realistic artwork tends to render the other characters too cool and unemotional. This could be a personal taste confict, but I tend to like my Spider-Man stories with a hint of cartooniness and iconographic flair. Still, the book is cleanly presented with uncluttered imagery and a lot of breathing room for the dozens of easily identifiable villains and heroes contained within.
After a string of successful issues, The Clone Conspiracy #2 seems like a big step back for a series that seemed to be setting up a very personal, dramatic struggle for Spider-Man to overcome. By resorting to adding additional heroes and bringing in the multiverse, all elements that I’ve found distancing in modern Spider-Man stories, Dan Slott has moved the story away from what I was expecting back into what he’s been doing somewhat unsuccessfully for the past several years. I’m still holding out hope that he’s got a few cards up his sleeve that can redeem this story, but I can’t help but admit that the potential setup of alternate universe Peters and zombie hoards is not what I was looking for in a clone story.