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The Clone Saga (or Spider-Clone Saga) is the name of two Spider-Man story arcs, one from the 1970s and another running from 1994 to 1996, both involving Spider-Man and clones. The second story, which is pretty much a sequel for all intents and purposes, is better remembered due to being considered to be one of the more controversial Spider-Man stories. Intended to wrap up in less than a year, the comics sold well enough that the writers were encouraged to prolong the series as long as possible. This led to some changes to the storyline that ultimately proved very unpopular.
The first 1970s Clone Saga was primarily written by Gerry Conway. The second Clone Saga is most commonly associated with Terry Kavanagh, though many other writers were involved in the project, among them: Joey Cavalieri, Todd Dezago, J. M. Dematteis, and Tom Defalco.
The original 1970s Clone Saga follows up on the death of Gwen Stacy, and is summarized with panels here. It begins with the introduction of a new villain, the Jackal, and what seems to be Gwen Stacy, Back From the Dead. As you might guess, she's a clone. Eventually, the Jackal reveals himself to be Miles Warren, Peter Parker's biology professor, who blames him for Gwen Stacy's death. In the climax of the story, a clone of Spider-Man is created, and the two of them have to fight it out to see who is the real Spider-Man, as only the real Spider-Man can defuse a bomb. In the end, the Jackal undergoes a Heel Realization and stops the bomb himself at the cost of his own life. Additionally, one of the Spider-Men clones are killed. The surviving one gets tested to see if he's the original or not, but decides he has to be the original and doesn't read the results. This comes back to bite him.
The second Clone Saga follows the reappearance of the Spider-Man clone who was apparently Not Quite Dead during the original Clone Saga and has taken up the name Ben Reilly. It's also pretty long. The details of this story, including behind the scenes information can be found in the site The Life of Reilly, which may be a book someday.
A brief summary: The Jackal comes back and starts playing mind-games with both Peter and Ben. A new villain, Kaine is introduced that is eventually revealed to be another clone of Spider-Man, the first one made; he eventually becomes an Anti-Hero in an attempt to make him a Breakout Character. Mary Jane gets pregnant. Aunt May and Doctor Octopus die. New villains are introduced such as Spidercide, Judas Traveller, Scrier, and the second Dr. Octopus. The Jackal also dies, but not before it is "proved" that Peter Parker was the clone and that Ben Reilly was the original Spider-Man. After a Freak-Out, Peter decides to give the mantle of Spider-Man to Ben Reilly so he can start a family. Then the fans and writers complained. So an Author's Saving Throw was developed (there were a few built in there originally, but were never used as intended), and it is revealed that Peter really was the original Spider-Man and the whole thing was manipulated by Norman Osborn, also Back From the Dead. In the end, Ben Reilly died in a manner that explicitly showed he was a clone, the Green Goblin returns to being Spider-Man's archenemy, and Aunt May and Dr. Octopus also come Back From the Dead. Oh, and Mary Jane miscarries (or does she? Read Spider Girl for more details). In the end, for the most part, Status Quo Is God.
A version of the Clone Saga for the Marvel's Ultimate line, the Ultimate Clone Saga was also created. This one takes elements of the previous two, mostly the former.
In 2009, Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie--two people involved in the second Saga--reunited for a mini-series called Spider-Man: The Clone Saga, a "director's cut" and streamlined version of the story, with the supposed intent of telling the story as "originally intended". Some are complaining Lying Creators, or at least, not entirely accurate creators since Life of Reilly indicates that many people intended the Clone Saga to be different things. The miniseries ends with Peter and MJ still married, and Ben, baby May, and Aunt May alive and well, though it does also use some ideas proposed for the ending of the Saga, such as Harry Osborn being the mastermind, albeit in an altered form than proposed.
Tropes associated with the original Clone Saga:
- Always Need What You Gave Up: In hindsight, Spidey throwing away the test results that said if he was a clone or not.
- Ambiguous Clone Ending: That would be revisited years down the line.
- Breakout Character: Surprisingly enough, the The Punisher's first appearance was a part of the storyline, being manipulated by the Jackal into thinking Spider-Man killed a minor character.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Shown by the Jackal. In fairness, he's kinda nuts.
- Cloning Blues
- The Gwen Stacy: Except not.
- Heel Realization: Miles Warren.
- Hot For Student: Miles Warren.
- Mirror Match: Featured prominently on cover artwork, and eventually happens at the end.
- Never Found the Body: Subverted with the clone Spider-Man, whose body was thrown down a chimney.
- Redemption Equals Death: Granted, it was a problem the Jackal started, but..
- Retcon: Even before the second Clone Saga, there were retcons of this story, partially because of an author-perceived Science Marches On. It was revealed that Miles Warren didn't make any clones, but infected people with a genetic virus that made them into copies. Then this retcon itself was retconned in the second Clone Saga when they decided to bring back the clone.
- Replacement Goldfish: Cloned Gwen Stacy.
- The Reveal: Gwen is a clone, the Jackal's identity, Peter Parker is a clone, Peter Parker wasn't a clone after all.
- Revenge: The Jackal's motivation; he blames Spidey for not saving Gwen Stacy. Nevermind that it was the Green Goblin's fault...
- The Un-Reveal: At the very end, Spider-Man isn't sure if he's the clone or not and gets tested. However, he finds that his feelings for Mary Jane couldn't have been had by the clone, and so he decides to throw the test results away without reading it. This proves to be a bad decision.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Clone Gwen Stacy survives the story, appears for the "genetic virus" retcon, and then vanishes. Probably for the best.
Tropes associated with the Second Clone Saga
- Affectionate Parody: Spider Man: 101 Ways To End The Clone Saga, a comic about Marvel writers and editors trying to find a way to pull off an Author's Saving Throw in increasingly humorous ways...and it's written by Marvel's writers and editors.
- The Atoner: It was this era of Spider-Man's career that introduced Phil Urich, who attempted to re-purpose the Green Goblin costume and alias for justice.
- Back for the Dead: Mendel Stromm, the Robot Master.
- Breakout Character: Averted at first but eventually played straight. The Clone Saga was filled with attempts to create Breakout Characters. None of them took off. On the other hand, a What If story released regarding the Clone Saga gave us Spider-Girl.
- Broken Bird/The Woobie: Janine Godbe/Elizabeth Tyne from Lost Years and Redemption minis. Big time. At least she won and had a "keepsake" in Spider Girl! (Sort of).
- Bold Inflation: Femme Fatale Delilah, introduced in this arc, has a bad habit of this mixed in with weird fonts.
- Conservation of Ninjitsu: Averted with the evil Spider-Man clone army. Ben Reilly barely escapes them with his life and in the end, they end up dissolving and are never fully defeated by the heroes.
- Civvie Spandex: Ben Reilly's Scarlet Spider costume involved a blue sleeveless hoodie on top of a standard spider-costume.
- Clear My Name: Thank to Kaine screwing with Ben, Peter ends up getting blamed for Kaine's crimes (and has no alibi that could work without blowing his secret identity) and has to clear his name. Ben takes his place in jail while he does so. Kaine eventually relents and turns himself in after Peter threatens to reveal his identity in court to save Ben.
- Clone Degeneration: This seems to happen to a lot of the clones in this story. Kaine, according to Word of God, has a life support system in his costume just to stop this from killing him. Ben Reilly also degenerated when he died, mostly to preemptively kill any Epileptic Trees that would say he wasn't the clone.
- Cloning Blues: Hits its peak during Maximum Clonage, or as one reviewer has put it, Night of a Million Jillion Spider-Clones.
- Convenient Miscarriage: During the Clone Saga, Mary Jane was pregnant with Baby May. Baby May was originally supposed to tie into the storyline of Peter Parker not being the real Peter Parker. Since Peter wasn't the real Peter anymore, Marvel would have been able to get around the problem where having a baby would age Peter too much. But after the fan revolt, Marvel decided to make Peter the real Peter after all and the pregnancy storyline was dropped. It should be mentioned the writers implied Norman may have taken the baby somewhere; this was Left Hanging in the comics proper and is probably now Canon Dis Continuity as of One More Day, but the Alternate Continuity comic Spider-Girl took the thread and ran with it.
- Courtroom Episode: "The Trial of Peter Parker" Story Arc, with a Kangaroo Court sequence thrown in for good measure.
- Covers Always Lie: Many covers had blurbs teasing that new twists would be revealed, only for the issue to present no new developments. Also, during Maximum Clonage, almost every cover featured an army of Spider-Clones. They ended up only appearing for one full issue and a few pages, then dying with little relevance to the plot.
- Creator Backlash/Writer Revolt: A lot of people involved weren't happy with how the story was going and this resulted in quite a few changes in direction.
- Fan-favorite writer Tom DeFalco was often said to be particularly displeased with killing off Doc Ock, and he unfortunately wound up being required to write that issue. First chance he got after the saga, however, he brought Ock back.
- Cursed with Awesome: According to Word of God, Kaine's Clone Degeneration gives him his precognition - amplifying his Spider Sense.
- The Mark of Kaine was also said to be an amplified wall-crawling trait.
- Specifically, using his wall-crawling/clinging powers to stick his hand to someone, and then rip it off, leaving a perfect hand-shaped mark. Of course, Peter Parker's "stick-em" powers are powerful enough to do the same, but most of his opponents only have their face exposed, so the results could be very gruesome.
- The Mark of Kaine was also said to be an amplified wall-crawling trait.
- Death Is Cheap: The story sees Norman Osborn come back from the dead. Two people killed during the Clone Saga--Aunt May and Doctor Octopus--come back after the story's over.
- Well, to be fair to Norman, he had actually been dead for more than 20 years in Real Life, so he arguably counts as a mild subversion.
- Discriminate and Switch/Mistaken for Racist: Ben Reilly as Spider-Man gets accused of being racist by an African-American man who turned out to be an undercover police detective, but the real reason Ben was suspicious of the man was because Ben's boss at the coffee bar he works at is the cop's ex-wife, merely said he was bad news and undependable, and was worried about their son being near him.
- Does Not Like Women / Politically-Incorrect Villain: One of the guests who stands up to Norman is his daughter-in-law Liz Allan. It earns her a hard backhand and a "Silence, cow!", along with a rant about how she ruined his son's life and made him a weakling.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Quite a few examples.
- Dr. Octopus was killed early on in order to make way for a new Dr. Octopus (it obviously didn't last long).
- When the saga was reaching one of its intended wrap-up points, both the Jackal and Kaine, two major figures, were quickly killed off unceremoniously. Kaine got better, though, very quickly afterwards.
- Once Peter was set to come back, several of Ben Reilly's villains were killed off in rapid succession.
- Surprisingly averted with Ben Reilly, the source for a lot of hatred amongst fans. He was given a fairly respectful death at the hands of the Green Goblin.
- Evil Knockoff: Kaine, and when they started to make him an Anti-Hero, Spidercide.
- Executive Meddling: The series was prolonged due to sales, causing the quality to take a dive.
- Not to mention, like One More Day, it was an attempt to get a single Spider-Man.
- The famous Life of Reilly details what went on behind the scenes, but long story short, what prolonged it was greed (despite the criticisms and mocking it gets, it was making Marvel money), attempts to recreate the success of another storyline from the same time (hence the "Maximum Clonage: Alpha and Omega" one-shots and the Scarlet Spider titles for a few months), trouble behind the scenes over where to go with the story, and not wanting the finale to compete with the Onslaught storyline.
- Face Palm of Doom: The preferred killing method of Kaine.
- Fan Nickname: Spider-Ben for Ben Reilly when he takes over as Spider-Man.
- First Girl Wins: Janine/Elizabeth Tyne, who is Ben's babymama in Spider-Girl.
- Freak-Out: Peter, when he starts thinking he's the clone.
- Follow the Leader: The Clone Saga follows the wave of "replace-the-hero" comics started by The Death of Superman. On a more market-related note, the "Maximum Clonage: Alpha and Omega" one-shots and the Scarlet Spider titles were inspired by similar gimmicks in Age of Apocalypse.
- Heroic BSOD: Spider-Man suffered two. The first one he's already in the middle of when the storyline opens because of his Aunt being in the hospital and his "parents" being revealed to be robots. The second is after Seward Trainer "reveals" that Ben in the real Peter and he's the clone.
- Hijacked By Norman Osborn
- Kudzu Plot: A lot of it was because even the writers weren't sure where they were going with this.
- The most obvious example of this was the climax of the saga which featured an evil army of Spider-Man clones. This part of the story was written aross different titles by different writers. One issue introduced the army in a Cliff Hanger panel. Another comic followed that up by having Kaine appear to help out, but being told not to kill any of the clones. The followup issue by yet another creative team depicted Kaine slaughtering several clones with no one objecting. The writer also didn't seem to know what to do with the army so he just had them randomly dissolve into dust with a brief line of dialogue about them being "unstable". In the end, the clone army had no real importance to the plot despite much hype to the contrary.
- Legacy Character: The people in charge were indecisive if Ben Reilly would become this or not. Ultimately he didn't.
- A few were introduced for Kraven (The Grim Hunter), Doctor Octopus (Lady Octopus), and the Rose. The Grim Hunter got killed by Kaine, Lady Octopus only lasted a few years before the classic Doc Ock returned, and The new Rose only lasted shortly longer than Lady Octopus. Also Phil Urich as the Green Goblin, but he was trying to be a hero.
- Milestone Celebration: The saga was originally planned to end at Amazing Spider-Man #400, with Peter Put on a Bus and Ben becoming the new Spider-Man. Thanks to Executive Meddling, however...
- Mirror Match: Yup.
- Motive Rant: The final issue of the saga has Osborn giving a series of these. He had a lot to explain, after all.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Peter's reaction immediately after smacking a very pregnant Mary Jane into a wall.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Punisher ended up suffering one from Spidey moments after showing up in Maximum Clonage and was forgotten about for the rest of the story.
- Old Shame: Quite a few people involved aren't fond of the saga themselves.
- Outside Context Villain: Judas Traveller and Scrier. Apparently no-one really knew what was going on with them, and while ideas were proposed, such as Traveller being a Fallen Angel and Scrier being Mephisto, ultimately Traveller was a Master of Illusion who was convinced he was a Reality Warper, and Scrier was really a group of individuals in a cult that Norman took over (thus subverted with the lead Scrier, who was Norman himself).
- Padding: See Executive Meddling. It led to complaints of Arc Fatigue, which was one of the bigger complaints of the Clone Saga. On the other hand, this was an unfortunate trend in the Spider-Man comics already.
- Post-Mortem Comeback: After the Jackal died, a post-mortem compulsion activates within Spider-Man's brain, causing him to try to kill whoever he loves most under temporary conscious mind control.
- Pulling Themselves Together: Spidercide.
- Put on a Bus: Many of Spidey's old foes and supporting cast retired or otherwise let the titles to make way for Ben Reilly's foes and supporting characters, including Peter Parker himself. When Parker came back, so did everyone else. Meanwhile, Reilly's side characters vanished in a similar manner.
- Reset Button: And many fans view it as an outright Ass Pull.
- Scenery Censor: Both Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane at different points.
- Shout-Out: When the Saga returned in the 90's, the Punisher was brought in for the Maximum Clonage tie-in miniseries as a Shout Out to his first appearance (Maximum Clonage itself being a shot out to the Maximum Carnage arc from a few year previous).
- Status Quo Is God: The ultimate result, more or less.
- The key exception is Norman Osborn, who got promoted to The Chessmaster and Villain with Good Publicity (as opposed to a mere Ax Crazy Mad Bomber), as well as cementing his place as the Arch Enemy of Spider-Man. Over the next decade or so his threat hangs over Peter and his supporting cast and he ends up ruining many of their lives, or doing his damnest to at least.
- Step Three: Profit: From Topless Robot:
At this point in the Clone Saga the reborn Jackal is still alive and hatching his fucking incoherent plan to somehow turn every person in the world into a Peter Parker clone, so… uh… profit?
- Super Prototype: Sort of. Kane was the first Spider-Man clone made, but quickly suffered clone degeneration. However, this increased his spider-sense to the point where it gives him precognition.
- The Reveal: Norman Osborn is behind everything. Again, some consider it an Ass Pull, especially since even the writers didn't know who the mastermind would be, or even if there was a mastermind at first.
- Seers: Kaine was one; according to Word of God, this ability was an amped-up version of Spider-Man's Spider-Sense.
- Series Continuity Error: Spectacular Spider-Man saw Ben go after the Lizard during the events of Onslaught. However, Sensational, Amazing, and "Adjectiveless" Spider-Man saw Spider-Man get involved in the events of Onslaught, making them a Red Skies Crossover. Of course, this is not counting the retcons of the retcons of the first Clone Saga.
- It should be noted that in the main Onslaught crossover miniseries, none of the two Spider-Men were ever present.
- Also note that Spectacular was in the midst of a multi-part arc (centering on the Lizard). The first part was dated a month before the Onslaught crossover issues. Since said events are not referred to, the arc can simply be placed before those events.
- Took a Level In Jerkass: Norman, as exemplified by the mere fact that its him behind the whole thing in the first place, and not The Green Goblin. Years of Mind Rape against both Ben Reilly and Peter Parker are to be iced off with Osborn bombing every one of Peter's closest non-super friends, partly just for being that and partly because they pissed him off in various ways (regardless of whether they realised that or not), not to mention murdering(?) Peter and Mary Jane's unborn baby and presumably intending to take custody of his grandson Normie (his mum being one of his intended victims) and raising him in his own evil image after everything is over. He wasn't above killing anyone who got in his way in the process either.
- Trailers Always Spoil: While the saga didn't have trailers per se, they did have a ton of advertisements and interviews with the creators, letting the public know the clone was coming back. During this time, there was a subplot involving a "mysterious drifter" with a connection to Peter Parker coming to New York who was obviously the clone. When the face of this character was revealed to be Peter Parker, there was a "tune in next time"-style blurb at the end of the issue as if it was supposed to be a big surprise.
- What Could Have Been: A lot. They can all be read on the Life Of Reilly article. A few notable ones:
- At one point no-one was the clone, and in fact Peter and Ben were the same person caught in a Stable Time Loop. When this went against Marvel time travel rules, it was decided that someone was needed who could plausibly ignore said rules. So Scrier was going to be Mephisto, and he was going to trick Peter Parker into going back in time and becoming Ben Reilly in order to gain the soul of Judas Traveller, who was going to be a Fallen Angel. This was nixed for many of the same complaints against One More Day.
- Another was that the character Gaunt would be the mastermind, with the idea being that the real mastermind was coming back from the dead inside Gaunt's costume, although they weren't initially sure who Gaunt would be. Eventually they decided Gaunt's identity would've been Harry Osborn, but this was felt to be too much like a previous story where Harry posthumously made robotic duplicates of Peter's parents. This led to them going back to the drawing board and making the mastermind not be Gaunt, which drew out the story even more. The mastermind became Norman Osborn, while Gaunt eventually turned out to be Mendel Stromm.
- The recent "director's cut" mini-series used the idea of Harry as the mastermind, albeit having Harry faked his death rather than actually dying and coming back.
- Word of God: The Life Of Reilly article features commentary from people involved in the Clone Saga, including revealing bits that didn't make it into the story such as Kaine's costume featuring a Life-support system and as a result of of the defects in him, his Psychic Powers and Mark of Kaine were just amped up versions of Spidey's Spider-Sense and Wall-clinging abilities.
- The Worf Effect: Doctor Octopus got killed by Kaine to enforce the idea of Kaine being a Badass. Death in comics being what it is, Doctor Octopus recovers.
- Earlier Venom was beaten by Ben to establish Ben as a superhero in his own right. (In fairness to Ben, it look him considerable more effort to take down Venom than the few moments it took Kaine to snap the neck of a captive Doc Ock.)
- Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Looking behind-the-scenes, it becomes clear that no-one really knew what was going to happen with the story. Or that someone did, but didn't let the others know; a "too many cooks spoiled the soup" argument is easy to make.
Tropes associated with the Ultimate Clone Saga
- Adaptation Distillation: It manages to wrap in most of the elements of the original in some form, as well as nods to other classic Spider-Man characters or stories along the way like the Scorpion and the idea that Peter's parents were alive, but it takes less than 10 issues and leaves very little hanging.
- All There in the Manual: The identity of the disfigured clone that kidnaps MJ was confirmed to be Kaine in the Ultimate Secrets one-shot. The same one-shot confirms the six-armed clone to be Tarantula. Bendis on his message board stated the MJ-Goblin was Ultimate Demogoblin.
- Alternate Continuity: It's set in the Ultimate Universe.
- Civvie Spandex: Peter spends most of the story in street clothes.
- Censor Steam: Applied to both MJ/Demogoblin and Gwen-Canrage at various points.
- Clone Degeneration: The Richard clone dies basically he starts aging rapidly.
- Cloning Blues
- Composite Character: Ultimate Spider-Woman was given the name Jessica Drew ala the original version, her costume is based on the one wore by Julia Carpenter/Spider-Woman II/Arachne, and the red highlight stem from Ben Reilly's Scarlet Spider costume The latter is kinda fitting as this incarnation is basically a Gender Flipped version of Ben Reilly. Ultimate Kaine is wearing a messed-up version of Ben's Spider-Man costume. The MJ-Goblin creature is Ultimate Demogoblin.
- While one of the clones is identified as Tarantula, his spider-like features and six arms bring to mind the "sort of" Spidey clone Doppelganger.
- Mythology Gag:
- Ultimate Kaine wears a tattered version of Ben Reilly's Spider-Man costume.
- Tarantula is has six arms ala the classic six-armed Spider-Man story.
- Richard Parker resembles 616-Peter as drawn by John Romita, right down to his distinctive hairstyle.
- The Gwen Stacy: This time, via Carnage..
- Solicitations Always Spoil: One of the solicitations featured a cover revealing Doctor Octopus as the Big Bad.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Nick Fury gets this, courtesy from Mary Jane and the Fantastic Four. Peter gets this from Aunt May when she finds out he’s Spider-Man.
- Younger Than They Look: The Richard Parker that appears in this story in another Peter clone.
Tropes associated with the 2009-2010 Miniseries
- Adaptation Distillation: It tries to be, anyway. It removed a lot of the clutter and unnecessary (and unpopular) characters like Seward Trainor, Spidercide, Judas Traveller, Grim Hunter, and the Scriers at least.
- Alternate Continuity: Norman Osborn's still dead; Harry faked his death and is the mastermind; Dr. Octopus doesn't die, there's no Seward Trainer, Gaunt, or Spidercide; Ben Reilly meets his supporting cast during his Spidey tenure while he's still the Scarlet Spider; and outside of Harry getting locked up and the Norman clone dying, everyone lives happily ever after. Even the backstory was altered, having Aunt May's hospitalization changed from being a stroke to a virus and Peter not suffering a breakdown.
- Came Back Wrong: The Norman clone wants to spare the baby and end the feud. Harry's believed the clone's defective himself, anyway.
- Civvie Spandex: The Scarlet Spider again.
- Clone Degeneration: Kaine again, though Jackal does try to find a serum to cure it and Dr. Octopus later completes it.
- Cloning Blues: Notice a theme here?
- Compressed Adaptation: To the point where it feels rushed. Yes, the original version was supposed to last six months, but it was also going to span four titles.
- Death by Adaptation: Norman Osborn is still dead in this version.
- Evil Knockoff: Guess.
- Faking the Dead: Harry before the story.
- The Gwen Stacy: Subverted. The Jackal tries to make a new clone, but he doesn't succeed and we don't see the original clone.
- Heel Realization: Kaine realizes what Harry wants is wrong and delivers the baby back to MJ. Though probably defective, the Norman clone realizes Harry's mad and decided to end the feud and encourages Kaine's returning the baby.
- Lying Creator: Some fans think so; it's hard to write a story as "originally intended" when you had a bunch of separate people having different intentions.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Ben Reilly and baby May survive the story. Granted, Doctor Octopus did come Back From the Dead and Aunt May was retconned into having been replaced and never having actually died, but they could count, too, since their returns were after "The Clone Saga" ended.
- Take That: The Trade Paperback of the mini-series is called "The REAL Clone Saga"
- What Could Have Been: Uses a few of the second story in this version.
- Writer Revolt: In the Life of Reilly article, it's suggested that Tom DeFalco, one of the writers involved with the second Saga didn't like Gaunt or killing off Doctor Octopus. The fact that he has Ock survive his fight with Kaine and Harry comes back without the original intent of Gaunt being him in the mini seems to support this.