There are few things in the world of Spider-Man comics that give readers as much pause as clones. The 90s clone saga devolved into endless tension over which one was the clone and which was the original. In the case of “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy”, I think another problem has arisen. One of the unfortunate side effects of cloning, cloning stories at least, is a disregard for the lives of the characters. With duplicate characters and the possibility of reanimating characters, the death of clones does not carry as much weight as it should. Throughout this story and, to a lesser degree, the event as a whole, the death of clones has been treated with relative flippancy. One minute, the reader is meant to understand a character as a reanimated version of a beloved character, the next minute that character is disregarded as not the “real” version of the character.
Unfortunately, not only is the life of the clone-Prowler treated as expendable, even more than the average comic character, but Prowler #5 had its thunder stolen by The Clone Conspiracy #5. Its two major plot beats – the death of the clone Hobie and the discovery of the original – happened in an entirely different comic. We do get to see how the story plays out from each Hobie’s perspective, but I can’t help but wonder why they could not just have let Prowler’s story play out in the pages of his own book when neither character really played much of a role in Clone Conspiracy #5. The drama feels completely undermined as a result.
Even worse, the character of Prowler’s clone, the character we have followed for the entire series thus far, gets cast aside the moment the original Prowler comes back in play. The “real” Prowler has returned and now the Prowler we have read for four issues now is gone. Whatever way we are to understand who the clone Prowler is to the original Prowler, whether as the same person or as a different character altogether, from this issue on we will follow a Prowler who did not experience the events of this series. I can’t help but feel as a conclusion that the story this series has told doesn’t matter for the character of Prowler. Prowler was always a difficult character to get a bead on and now all of the work Sean Ryan has put into the Prowler has technically happened to a different character than the original. Alas, poor clone-Hobie, you died as you lived: a bit player in someone else’s story.
Some effort is made to give clone-Hobie’s death some emotional resonance, but I’m not sure how successful it is. Unfortunately, the past few issues had not yet made Prowler into a character worth feeling invested in. We barely knew who this character was and knowing the original Prowler somehow survived getting electrocuted by Electro undercuts any sense of loss at the clone’s death. Sean Ryan does give the clone Prowler a few good character moments as he heads into his final confrontation with Electro. He recovers from his questionable judgment in the last issue to bravely fight for the other reanimates and is finally eulogized as a good person by Julia Carpenter.
The artwork, as always, is fantastic. The full page scene where Prowler opens a door and looks out at the chaos of the Carrion Virus looks properly chaotic and frightening. The creative team as a whole has begun to really click, so it’s too bad that we only get one more issue with them to explore what they can do with the character. Also, while Sean Ryan’s dialog is great, his internal monolog can come across as generic or even banal (”All I need is myself!”). He does much better in character interactions and the problems I have with this series in general or this issue in particular do not, for the most part, reflect my estimation of Sean Ryan, Jamal Campbell, or Javier Saltares.
The creative team does the best they can with what they have, but it is hard to do much when their protagonist is killed off in the pages of another book. Only one more issue of this volume of Prowler remains and it will pick up with a Prowler who did not experience the events of the previous issues. This might have served as an interesting twist if it had not already played out on the pages of another book. Instead, the creative team is left to wring whatever emotional resonance they can by expanding the story of the two Prowlers. I would like to see this creative team reunited, whether on Prowler or on another character. Until then, we have the next issue to get a small glimpse at what they can do when not telling someone else’s story.