If, after 10 installments, you still haven’t had enough of the latest Spider-Man-centric mega-event “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy,” then Clone Conspiracy: Omega by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, with art by Cory Smith, will likely scratch that itch for you. If you’re burned out from a storyline that’s been running for nearly half a year now (longer if you go all the way back to the Free Comic Book Day preview), well then I got some bad news for you …
Regardless of my hot takes, “Clone Conspiracy” has actually been one of the more positively received recent Spider-Man events from the illustrious punditry known as Dan Gvozden and myself. And yet, it’s completely undeniable that even with some of its merits, the story has just dragged out for far too long. Granted, this is a problem that is running rampant throughout all of mainstream comics at the moment — decompressed storytelling and arcs that are being tailor made for trade paperback and hardcover collections rather than focusing more on telling effective and efficient self-contained stories within the confines of a single issue. However, in our Spider-centric universe, the at times, punishing lengthiness of the “Clone Conspiracy” has felt even more problematic because of the way Marvel chose to structure and distribute its narrative across two primary titles (the Clone Conspiracy miniseries, and Amazing Spider-Man, which was treated more as a “B” book the past five months).
Now keep in mind, it’s only worth commenting critically on these magnum opus-sized storylines when their seemingly isn’t enough story to justify their length and duration. Omega would have been a totally cromulent epilogue issue to the larger event if readers didn’t already seemingly get that with last week’s Amazing Spider-Man #24 (can we also talk about how punishing it is to get a new installment of this story three weeks in a row after going nearly a month between the previous chapter?). Instead, Omega reads as a superfluous cash grab attempting to paint itself as a vital closing chapter to this story. Yes, stuff happens that, in theory, is new. But does it actually advance anyone’s story or feel important to one’s deeper understanding of the “Clone Conspiracy” event as a whole? Eh, not really.
Omega’s biggest problem is it’s stilted narrative comes across as if Slott and Gage were reviewing all of their dangling threads from the previous 10 installments and checking them off one-by-one. Remember all of those thought-to-be-dead folks that magically showed up at the end of Clone Conspiracy #5? Check. Spider-Gwen and Kaine? Check. Rhino and Oksana? Check. Lizard, Martha and Billy Connors? Check, check, check.
It’s something that’s become a regular occurrence in the Slott-era of Spider-Man: kick an event off with a bunch of characters and ideas, neglect the bulk of them over the duration of the event, and then revisit them in rapid succession towards the end in an attempt to plant seeds for future storylines. The only thing this approach effectively accomplishes is it creates more content, which surely thrills the powers that be at Marvel (while allowing Slott to continue to crow about how he loves to play the “long game” with his stories). But without any organic growth or evolution to these stories, the content just feels cheap and unnecessary.
For example, compare the arc of the Rhino over the course of the “Clone Conspiracy” to the laser-focused two-issue storyline found during the “Brand New Day” run in ASM. It’s apples and oranges. In the former case, Rhino’s heartache and anguish reads as obligatory and expected. Meanwhile, the tragedy found in the latter feels like a knife being twisted into your guts. During “Clone Conspiracy” what did Slott have the Rhino do at any point in the story to make readers even care about how he felt to see his beloved Oksana disintegrate and disappear again? The truth is, nothing. Instead, Slott and Co. hope you remember the much more elegantly-written story by Joe Kelly years earlier so you can experience that pathos.
Meanwhile, despite this being marketed as one of the “darkest” Spider-Man stories ever, it’s difficult to see how this whole experience has actually changed Peter in terms of how he is characterized. The text of the comic tells the reader repetively that Peter has experienced “loss,” and yet judging by how the character speaks and acts around others, he’s just back to being that guy who fluctuates between being a competent hero and someone who’s crippling sense of doubt and guilt makes him almost insufferable and exhausting to read about. It also doesn’t help the narrative of this story that during the one installment where we got some concentrated time focusing on Peter interacting with one of his loved ones, he spent the bulk of the issues doubting that character’s authenticity. To suddenly reverse course in Omega and depict Peter as feeling crestfallen sends a conflicting message about some of the larger themes and goals of this arc.
Smith’s artwork is clean and expressive, evoking some of Giuseppe Camuncolli’s work when he was forced into filling-in (admirably) for Olivier Coipel in “Spider-Verse.” But like those “Spider-Verse” stories, Smith doesn’t have a ton to work with here as the bulk of the issue is characters expositing about the transpirings of the past five months. There is potential for greatness with the Spider-Man/Rhino battle, but the sequence’s action is truncated by the story, so the reader never gets a chance to really see Smith shine.
Being that this was a $4.99 special, Omega also includes two “bonus” chapters, including a preview of sorts of the upcoming Ben Reilly-focused Scarlet Spider series, and a short lead-in to ASM #25 and the new Norman Osborn arc. As nice as it is to see Mark Bagley’s stellar artwork back in the “616” Spider-Man universe where he belongs (no offense to you Ultimate Spider-Man fans out there), this backup still fails to set the table and make me excited about the current Ben Reilly starring in his own book. Adding Peter David into the mix also does little to un-muddy Ben’s voice, so it’s still anybody’s guess which iteration of the character is slated to show up in Scarlet Spider.
As for the setup for the next Osborn story, again, while I appreciate that there’s been a few references to Norman’s whereabouts since ASM vol. 4 kicked off in 2015, this next event would carry far more clout if the reader had any reason to believe that Spidey has been obsessing about his arch-rival since the two last crossed paths. Instead, like a lot of this issue, the interaction just feels forced (regardless of how beautiful Stuart Immonen’s artwork looks).