Wednesday, March 5, 2008

An Introduction and Update

The Life of Reilly was a 35 part column written by myself and former Editor/Writer, Glenn Greenberg. A number of different websites hosted the column, beginning with Comic Book Galaxy and more recently, New Comic Reviews. In an effort to keep the original archives intact, I've relocated the entire column to this area.

There are no bells or whistles. Just me and Glenn and a few special guests along the way. The 35 chapters below are copied from the original files, complete with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

If you haven't heard yet, I'm in the process of updating those old columns (fixing those darn spelling mistakes) and adding even more content with the goal of turning it all into a book. A book that will be a complete look behind the scenes at one of the most controversial comic stories of all time.

Mark Bagley, Tom Brevoort, Bob Budiansky, Gerry Conway, JM DeMatteis, Todd Dezago, Eric Fein, Terry Kavanagh, Howard Mackie, and Fabian Nicieza are a few of the key players in this storyline that have come on board to help me produce the definitive version of The Life of Reilly.

You can find out the latest updates on the book at The Haven blog where every week or two I post 'The Hype of Reilly', a behind the scenes look at the road to getting the book put out.

Check it out and watch the adventure continue to unfold.

Part 1

The objectives of this 35 part (yes, 35 part) series:

First and foremost, I want to provide an accurate look back on an important moment in Spider-Man continuity that some newer fans may not be fully aware of.

I also want to do an analysis of the books detailing what might have gone wrong and how it possibly could have been prevented

We want to determine the popularity of Ben Reilly today and whether the character is viable in the current Marvel Universe. Does he deserve to come back to the books in some capacity?

We'll provide a solution to the problems left by the clone saga. No matter what side of the fence readers were on, half of them were disappointed at any given time and half of them are still disappointed today. We'll fix that by the time this is over.
Unlike a typical review, 'The Life of Reilly' is going to examine this storyline DVD style. We're going to review it. We're going to provide extras like media buzz, fan reaction (including coverage of Ben Reilly fan sites) and a running commentary by the people behind the front lines of this event. Along the way, we hope to get feedback from the people who wrote the stories and decided the fate of the clone. Former Marvel writer and editor extraordinaire Glenn Greenberg, will be joining me for each chapter to provide commentary on what was going on from the insider's perspective.

The Back Story

In The Amazing Spider-Man #149 (1975), The Jackal, one of Spider-Man's arch rivals, reveals that he has created a clone of Peter Parker. The clone, also outfitted in a Spider-Man costume, battles the real Spider-Man until the two decide they're on the same side. The partnership is short lived. An explosion seemingly kills one of the two and the other throws the body into a smokestack where no one will ever be able to find a body of Peter Parker. In the very next issue, the living Parker questions whether or not he is the real Parker.

Because he has feelings for Mary Jane, which began to develop during a period in which the clone had already been created, the living Parker decides that this is proof that he is the real Peter Parker. A clone wouldn't have the strong feelings for Mary Jane that the real one just developed. End of story? No.

The clone story was brought up again in a flighty issue of What If in 1981. In that issue (#30), the clone lives and eventually re-establishes himself into Peter Parker's life. See the latest 'Gray Area' for a review of this issue. The story was light hearted and fun. Apparently its point was to show that there wasn't room for two Peter Parkers in the world because the agreement they reach is downright silly. End of story? No.

In the early 90s, Spider-Man's world started to turn darker. His best friend (and son of his greatest enemy), Harry Osborn, had died after trying to kill Peter. Peter's long dead parents returned, and just as he began to accept them into his life again, they were revealed to be life model decoys created by the Chameleon and The Green Goblin (Harry Osborn). Harry had put this incredible plan in motion before his death and even left a posthumous 'gotcha' message for Peter. This latest revelation sent him over the edge with rage. Slowly, Peter Parker began to sink into his Spider-Man persona. He went so far as to start separating his personality from Peter Parker and thinking of himself as the Spider. People were losing interest in the character. Something needed to be done.

In early 1994, Aunt May suffered a major health setback and fell into a coma. Mary Jane and Peter's relationship has strained to the point where she needed time to get away. Peter was spending more time as Spider-Man and Spider-Man had become darker, more violent. And a few panels at a time, in each issue, a mysterious stranger was revealed to be heading back into Peter's life. As months went on, clues to the stranger's identity were revealed, and his objective defined. He had heard about May's health and needed to see her before she died.

The Return of the Clone

In The Spectacular Spider-Man #216 (Sept 1994), written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema, Spider-Man has been accused of attacking an innocent man during a fit of rage. He has a zero tolerance policy of criminals. When he notices Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) in the hospital where Aunt May is staying, Spider-Man tracks him to the sewers. He wants answers. He believes Gargan had Spider-Man framed for the attack on that 'innocent' man. He proceeds to beat the hell out of Gargan, almost killing him before some slime creature stops him.

Time passes and we cut across town to Peter Parker at the hospital, checking on his poor Aunt. As he's talking to her, a nurse points out the window. Peter looks and sees Spider-Man swinging by. He runs to the roof, not wanting to get into an altercation, but runs right into Spider-Man. Newer readers are left scratching their heads. Older readers know...the clone is back.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I wasn't as involved with the Spidey books at this point as I would later be. But, I can tell you this: The Spider-office was being very hush-hush about the whole thing, they wouldn't let ANYONE -- not even fellow Marvel editors -- know who the "mystery man" was who had been making appearances in the books for several months, and who had been calling Aunt May on the phone. Everyone connected to it was sworn to secrecy, and they took this code of silence very seriously. The only reason why I was privy to the mystery man's identity at that time was because I was really good friends with the Spider-Man assistant editor at the time, Mark Bernardo (who remains one of my closest friends to this day), and he trusted me enough to know that I wouldn't go around blabbing about it. I remember we were walking down the street one day in Manhattan, right near the Fashion Institute of Technology building, and, after pressing Mark for a while about the "big, secret plans" he was involved with, he finally broke down and revealed to me that the clone was coming back.

Well, my reaction, to be honest, was one of absolute dismay. I thought it was a terrible idea. My feeling was that the clone story was best left in the past. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those original stories and found the ending very touching and poignant, and I thought the Jackal was a hoot, but I felt that dredging up all that stuff again was a mistake. Mark calmly replied, "Give it a chance. You don't know all the plans we have lined up, and I think once you approach it with an open mind, you'll see that it can work." I was REALLY dubious, but I shrugged and told him that it would take a LOT to convince me. But I indeed kept my mouth shut, I didn't tell ANYONE, and I think it's safe to say that I was one of the first people outside of the Spider-Man office to know that this was going to happen. ]

The first major storyline dealing with the clone was the four-part "Power and Responsibility," which ran through all four core books during the month of October. The 4 comics were flip-books, with the other side detailing the 'Birth of a Spider-Man' written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Liam Sharp and Robin Riggs. It provided readers with a little more history about the genesis of the clone back from Amazing #149.

The birth of a Spider-Man not only reminded readers about the events of the original clone saga, but also expanded on the story and offered some explanation of what the clone was doing all these years. After the explosion, the clone woke up where Peter had left him, but walked away instead of being incinerated. He was scared. Confused. He wanted to go see Aunt May and be comforted. Loved. Like he remembered as a child. He decided to stop by his apartment to take a quick shower. As he got to the window he saw Mary Jane and Peter Parker in an embrace. He assumed the clone had tried to take over his life while he was unconscious, but soon realized it was a far more serious situation. An 'explosion' went off in his mind. He realized the truth. He was the clone. It's a powerful page. He threw a tantrum. He cried. He prayed. The rain poured down on the clone. He realized that he was just a copy. His friends. His family. He'd have to leave them all. He sank to his knees and mourned the loss of his very identity.

Power and Responsibility #1 ran in Web of Spider-Man #117 written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. It continues immediately after the events of Spec 216. The clone and Spider-Man face off. Spider-Man immediately thinks this is another trick by one of his enemies and goes into a rage again. The clone, not wanting to fight and rusty with his powers, is soundly beaten. While this is going on, Dr. Judas Traveller and his 'students' enter Ravencroft Hospital for the criminally insane. Traveller, a new character, is fascinated with the nature of evil, which the residents of the hospital hope to analyze. Traveller goes to the various rooms, meets with several villains and finds a similarity: they all have a serious hatred for Spider-Man. He decides to take control of Ravencroft for his own purposes.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Since I was not yet really involved with the Spider-Man books at that point, the only thing I can really add is that no one -- not the writers, not the editors -- seemed to know who or what the hell Judas Traveller was. He was seemingly this immensely powerful, quasi-mystical being with amazing abilities, but what was the real deal with him? As I recall, J.M. DeMatteis really enjoyed writing him and had future plans for him.

But to be honest, a character like Traveller didn't really fit into Spider-Man's world. I think most people would agree with me that Spider-Man should be in more realistic, down-to-earth stories, and a character like Traveller doesn't really work there unless it turns out that he's just casting illusions -- sort of like Mysterio. But at that time, I know that as far as the writers were concerned, Traveller was indeed as powerful and as quasi-mystical as he appeared to be. ]

The clone gets away during the fight with Spider-Man and before Spidey can go after him, a challenge is issued by Traveller. He will kill all the inmates of Ravencroft unless Spider-Man stops him, but if Traveller is defeated, the inmates will go free. It's a no win situation that Spider-Man must face and so he goes off to Ravencroft and enters.

P&R 2 takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #394, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. The issue opens with the clone on a roof, looking at the city he remembers as home. Back in Ravencroft, Spider-Man begins to face his old incarcerated enemies: Chameleon, Carnage; each of them confused, dealing with their own inner anger. It's a cracked mirror view of Spider-Man himself. He finally confronts Traveller face to face and it's a lopsided battle. The mysterious Traveller delves into Spider-Man's mind and as he rants about the truths that even Spider-Man himself is unaware of, Traveller begins to howl in laughter. This is the first clue that there may be something more to this story than just a fight between Spider-Man and his clone. Spider-Man strikes back, fighting with all his might, but succumbs to his own madness. He is broken, but Traveller informs his mysterious ally Scrier that there is another one.

The clone, after spending time in the hospital with May, is given a choice by Traveller. He can let Spider-Man die and have the life and identity he's always dreamed of, or he can risk his own life to try and save the one person whose death would free his own existence.

The issue is also notable for the fact that Mary Jane has decided to return home to try and make things right with Peter and the clone has a touching moment with Aunt May in the hospital. He may be a clone, but his feelings for May are very real.

P&R 3 takes place in Spider-Man #51, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna. The issue opens with the clone still in the hospital with May, trying to talk out the ultimatum laid before him by Traveller. He reveals that he has a name: Ben Reilly. Ben, after the memory of Uncle Ben and Reilly after Aunt May's maiden name. Ben realizes that there was never any choice. He is Peter Parker, clone or not. And he needs to try and save him. He leaves May with a final thought: 'the memories I have of you...have made my life seem real'. He puts on a spare mask, gloves and web shooters and swings towards Peter in a makeshift costume complete with jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket.

Spider-Man sinks to the brink of madness, dealing with all the villains and problems of his life in his subconscious until once again, he realizes that with great power must come great responsibility. Ben realizes the same thing at the same time. It's a thought he hasn't had in some time. Ben and Peter fight their respective battles. Coincidentally, they both have their masks torn: Ben for real, Peter during his brush with madness. The symbolism of the removal of the mask and showing of the true face could prove to be another clue for readers. The issue ends with Ben coming to Peter's rescue before Traveller can do more damage.

The conclusion of Power and Responsibility happens in Spectacular Spider-Man #217, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema. Traveller is intrigued by Ben and Peter. He's fascinated that one has a life he wants to abandon; a life the other would jump at the chance to live. He puts the two Spider-Men in a new location, and waits for the outcome. Peter thinks Ben is another of Traveller's attempts to drive him crazy and they fight. Ben echoes the sentiments of Spider fans in saying 'you've changed, Parker. You used to have a sense of humor. What happened? Why are you so angry?' Peter tells him to not call him 'Parker', he is Spider-Man. Before they can continue the fight, the inmates of Ravencroft are released and the Spider-Men must put aside their differences to deal with the outbreak.

While Ben tries to contain the prisoners, Peter lashes out at them and punishes them with devastating blows. Ben can't take it and stops Peter before he goes completely over the edge. Slowly but surely, Peter begins to come to his senses and realize how close to losing himself he's getting. Ben and Peter team up again, this time against a villain that only Ben knows. Apparently, Ben has played hero on occasion during his time in exile. Their next test occurs when the deadly psychopath, Carnage attacks. Ben and Peter work as a perfect team, hitting Carnage with everything they have until he lies defeated.

Traveller and his team attempt to escape and Ben goes after them, following them into a limo that turns out to have nothing in it but a bomb that explodes. Traveller has gotten away and Ben is believed to be dead, but no body was discovered. Peter doesn't want to deal with it at that point and chooses to leave for now. Elsewhere, Ben Reilly walks the street, alone in thought, trying to determine whether to stay or return to exile.

Several important moments occur in this issue. Mary Jane gets sick during her flight back to NYC, which gives us a clue as to a possible major direction in her and Peter's life. We discover that Ben may have done some super-heroing while he wandered in search of himself for all those years. Partnering with Ben against Traveller and the inmates of Ravencroft, enables Peter to come back to reality, as it were. While Peter Parker has had several traumatic events causing him to go over the edge, Ben still has the carefree, snappy attitude that first attracted people to the character of Spider-Man. We're also given another clue regarding the possible purpose of the clone's return. Traveller tells his team 'the TRUE Spider-Man appears to be a decent and noble individual...and his genetic duplicate is also intriguing.' The wording is very important here.

The Power and Responsibility storyline achieved several objectives. The clone was re-introduced to the Spider-Man universe. Mary Jane was coming back to her husband. Several new mystery villains were introduced. Peter slowly started to come back from the edge. Now, the books would branch out into two separate identities. Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man would deal with Peter Parker. Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man would focus on Ben Reilly. Clearly, the clone wasn't going away. Clearly, with the clues provided in the past 4 issues, there was more to the story than just complicating Peter's life with a copy of himself. Things were about to get very, very interesting.

Part 2

Immediately following the conclusion of the 4 part 'Power and Responsibility' that reintroduced Spider-Man's clone, gave him a name (Ben Reilly), and alluded to his mysterious past, the spider books split. Web of Spider-Man and Spider-Man focused on the continuing adventures of Ben Reilly, while Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man focused on Peter Parker.

Since the focus of this feature is the evolution of Ben Reilly from clone to fully realized character, we're going to pay closer attention to the books he was featured in, but it would be unfair to ignore the books starring Peter Parker because they contained some important moments in Spider-Man lore.

The Peter Parker books began a 4 part story called 'Back From the Edge'. Amazing Spider-Man, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt, were chapters 1 and 3 (Issues #395 and 396). Spectacular Spider-Man, written by Tom DeFalco and Todd Dezago with Sal Buscema and Scott Hanna doing the art, were chapters 2 and 4 (Issues #218 and 219). This storyline wraps up Peter Parker's wrong turn into the darker side of super-heroics. Chapter one opens with Spider-Man paying a visit to the home he grew up in and confronting the ghosts of his past before claiming that it's Peter Parker's problem. Now, he is the mask. He is the Spider. If not for the fact that this was written by someone of DeMatteis' talent, these issues would have been a complete disaster. As it stands, it was just a bad idea.

After Spider-Man battles the Puma, an anti-hero with so much promise, but who never had the proper story to fit in with, he teams up with Daredevil, another character who went through changes at this time. Daredevil was given a cosmetic makeover in the form of one of the worst costumes of all time. Spider-Man seeks him out because they've built a friendship over the years and Peter is realizing that he needs to snap out of this darkness he's wrapped himself in. Since at this point, Daredevil has 'killed' his alter ego of Matt Murdock, they have the obligatory confrontation. Daredevil then offers this piece of advice for Spider-Man: 'kill Peter Parker. Now. Bury him deep in the ground and forget he ever existed.' Sort of how some people felt about Daredevil's new storyline and Ben Reilly. Spider-Man and Daredevil team up to battle the Owl and the de-aged Vulture (two of the less interesting villains in the Marvel U) and chapter 3 concludes with Spider-Man lying unconscious after being poisoned. In the conclusion of 'Back from the Edge', the two heroes search for the bad guys in the hopes that they'll be able to get an antidote to the poison coursing through Spider-Man's system. Coming so close to death snaps Peter back into reality, causing him to realize how much he does want to live. Unfortunately, we discover that the antidote they retrieve is a fake. Peter is dying.

Readers are left to wonder if this is the purpose of the clone's return? Is Peter going to die and be replaced by a fake? A copy? Comic readers are a cynical bunch and no one believed that this could possibly happen, but it was becoming apparent that something was happening.

Back in the Ben Reilly books, 'The Exile Returns' story begins and carries through Web of Spider-Man, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randly Emberlin. Web contains parts 1 and 3 of the story (Issues #118 and 119). Spider-Man, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna, are parts 2 and 4 (Issues # 52 and 53). Web of Spider-Man 118 opens with Ben still trying to decide whether to return to exile or stay in town. After witnessing a crime and seeing the police capture the suspect, Ben knows that he won't be able to deny his responsibilities for long. He tries to pay a visit to Aunt May in the hospital, but old flame Betty Brant is there, which makes Ben think about just how much he's missed all these years. The trip down memory lane continues with Ben going to the warehouse where Spider-Man was born. The warehouse where Spider-Man confronted the burglar who killed Uncle Ben after Spider-Man couldn't be bothered to catch the criminal when he had the chance. Ben next arrives at the Brooklyn Bridge, where the love of his and Peter's life died at the hands of the Green Goblin. He notices a woman ready to jump, so he snaps on the web-shooters and swings to rescue her.

After taking the woman to the hospital, Ben realizes that the city is a trap, filled with problems and victims that cry for a hero. He overhears an update about Venom and wonders why Peter never put a stop to him, unaware of the pact that Venom and Spider-Man made years ago. We return to the apartment where Ben's staying, and where he's putting on a costume. If he is to try and make a difference by taking up the role of vigilante again, he needs to protect Peter Parker's identity. He also can't keep away from the Spider-motif and puts a sleeveless sweatshirt emblazed with a spider on it over a red spandex suit.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I remember seeing the sketches of the Scarlet Spider, hearing the name, and just shaking my head and rolling my eyes. I thought it was really cheesy, and that the fans would feel the same way. I remember several of the other non-Spider-Man editors greeting the Scarlet Spider with scorn, as well. But Mark Bernardo explained to me that the costume was SUPPOSED to look cheesy, that it was something Ben Reilly pretty much threw together in a hurry, out of necessity. Hearing that, I figured that if it was intentionally cheesy, for story purposes, it might actually work. (Although why Ben continued to run around in a cheesy, thrown-together, makeshift outfit after he decided to become the Scarlet Spider on a regular basis remains a mystery to me.) ]

Although he wouldn't get his 'name' until the next issue, Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider was born here and Spider-Man's deadliest foe, Venom, would be his first target. Venom used to be one of the best villains in comics. Eventually, Spider-Man made a deal with him which basically was 'don't mess with me and I won't mess with you'. Not only did this take a weight off Peter Parker's back, but it allowed creators to turn Venom into a new anti-hero. It was a horrible idea. Thankfully, Ben Reilly's appearance enabled the creators to make Venom the bad guy once again. Ben didn't understand how Peter could let this maniac walk free and was determined to take him down.

Their battle lasted throughout the 'Exile Returns' story. At first, Venom took out the Scarlet Spider rather easily, giving him a slice to the gut, which took our hero out of commission for awhile. This caused Ben to go back to the drawing board and use his intelligence to develop some new weapons in his arsenal. For all of Peter Parker's brilliance, the biggest and most recent update in his costume to this point was developing an indicator light warning him when he was running low on web fluid. Ben Reilly created impact webbing, which would expand and envelop the target immediately and stingers, which were dart like objects to disable the opponent.

The Scarlet Spider faced off against Venom again in Spider-Man #53. It was a hard fought battle in which Scarlet Spider pulled out all the stops. And though he ended up collapsing himself, Scarlet Spider ended up victorious over Venom. After his battle, with Venom now captured, Scarlet Spider took to the rooftops to enjoy his victory and began to contemplate starting a life for himself with the belief that nothing could stand in his way.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The story of Ben's victory over Venom was very important. It was specifically designed to show how cool a character Ben is, to get the readers to be impressed with him and really root for him. The point had to be made that he could go toe to toe with one of Peter's most dangerous enemies and not only hold his own, but also have a decisive victory. This was crucial, absolutely necessary to the development of his character, especially in light of the direction in which he was ultimately going to go.

I thought it was a nice touch to have Ben harshly criticize Peter's pact with Venom. It showed that Ben was more like the Peter Parker we knew, loved and remembered than Peter was being at that time. This was actually intended to be a foreshadowing of the direction in which things were going to go. I always hated the pact between Peter and Venom, I thought it was so out of character for Peter to make such a deal with a villain as obviously crazy and dangerous as Venom, and it was especially interesting to hear Ben voicing my own opinion. It was good to see this used as a way to show a major difference between Peter and Ben, and to perhaps imply that all was not right with Peter, that maybe Ben was the preferable choice between the two. It was clever to use Peter's pact with Venom in this way. ]

This storyline was important for many reasons. It was the first time Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider was in action and he took out a villain that even Spider-Man had problems beating. He showed the determination and drive of a true hero and he used his head to come up with some very cool new offensive devices to help him in his battle against Venom.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The thing that should be pointed out, though, is that when Peter first made the pact with Venom (I believe it was in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #375), the clone saga had not yet even been conceived, so it's not like this pact was an intentional part of a future story plan, or to drop a hint that maybe all was not right with Peter. The truth of the matter is that Peter was simply written way out of character in that Venom story, and the clone saga writers were able to later pick up on it, acknowledge it, and use it to their advantage. ]

In Web of Spider-Man #119, readers are given their first glimpse of the man called Kaine, who would come to play an extremely important role in this storyline. He is shown as a very capable assassin with a particular interest in Scarlet Spider. He disposes of his enemies by a strange method, which results in the scarring of their faces.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I also remember that there were big plans in store for Kaine. The Spider-Man team was really excited about the prospects for this character. I didn't know who he really was at this point - even Mark wouldn't tell me at first. I think he wanted me to read the stories as they came out so that he could see my natural, unprepared reaction when Kaine's identity was finally revealed. Although, if memory serves, I finally dragged the secret out of ol' Bernardo one night after work, probably over drinks. ]

Spider-Man #53 gives us some more clues regarding Kaine as he watches the Scarlet Spider/Venom battle from the shadows. He appears to know Ben Reilly very well, but believes that he must be patient before making his next move. This issue also introduces readers to Detective Jacob Raven of Salt Lake City, Utah, who is on the hunt for a killer that's eluded him for 2 years, a killer who has recently shown up in New York City leaving his victims with strange markings on their faces.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : There were a LOT of "shadowy mystery men" coming to the fore in the Spider-Man books at this point. First was Ben, then Kaine, then Jacob Raven. And, of course, Traveller and his followers can be included, too. It would grow to become sort of monotonous after a while, but at that point, I liked the tantalizing clues about what happened during Ben's time in exile. It showed that the character had his own history, and was really off DOING stuff over those long years. ]


And now a few words with current magazine Editor and former Assistant Spider-Man Editor at the time the Clone Saga was conceived, Mark Bernardo.

Andrew: Who proposed bringing the clone back and how long did it take to agree on this? Any dissenting opinion?

Mark: Now the truth can be told: the first person to bring up the idea of bringing back the Spider-clone, and having him be revealed as the original, was former WEB OF SPIDER-MAN writer Terry Kavanagh. The subject was broached at my first Spider-Man story conference back in '93. I was the new assistant editor, and we'd just finished the somewhat unsatisfying "Return of the Parents" storyline, and the marching orders we were given by upper management was to come up with something similar in scope to DC's "Death of Superman" storyline, which at the time was breaking sales records left and right. Thus, no outrageous idea was out of bounds. Terry was cajoled into blurting out his clone idea, which first met with groans and indifference, until someone (to my recollection, J.M. DeMatteis) suddenly realized the radical possibilities of such a storyline. Soon, all of our freelance writers were getting excited about the idea, while the editorial staff (myself, Danny Fingeroth, Eric Fein, Mark Powers) were still not quite convinced. The whole idea was almost instantly shot down the next day by Tom DeFalco, then Editor in Chief, until he too started getting excited about it from a writer's standpoint. That's how Tom ended up writing SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and Tom is also the man who sealed the deal on the Clone Saga. The whole storyline was planned to end in AMAZING #400. As we all know, it didn't quite work out that way.

Andrew: Were there any creators who absolutely loved the idea or was it just another assignment?

Mark: All the creators were into the idea initially, especially the writers. Later on, after the storyline had outlived its original planned length, it was different. But that's a story for future chapters...

Andrew: Who developed the Scarlet Spider alter ego/costume?

Mark: It's funny - the Scarlet Spider name was initially meant to be a running joke. I forget who actually came up with the name, but the point was that Ben Reilly, a serious guy who had no use for super-heroics, was tagged with this moniker by Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis, and he HATED it. Every time he saw his name in the Daily Bugle as the Scarlet Spider, he'd cringe. We certainly never thought the name would catch on, or that we'd need a logo for it, or anything like that! The costume (the one out of dozens that we ended up going with) was designed by Tom Lyle, who was then SPIDER-MAN penciler. The "Ben Reilly" alias came out of an editorial meeting. I'm not sure who's directly to credit.

Andrew: Was the story intended to last as long as it did?

Mark: Emphatically, no. The whole arc was supposed to end in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400, and leave "Ben Reilly" as the one and only "original Peter Parker" and forge a new beginning. Ironically, the whole storyline, which was supposed to simplify Spider-Man's mythos and ultimately bring him "back to basics" ended up complicating everything beyond what anyone imagined!

Part 3

This is where it gets even better. While the Spider-Titles are still split into the Ben Reilly books and the Peter Parker books, the mysterious Kaine plays a major role in all 4 titles, bringing a stronger sense of continuity between the books. Spider-Man is dying and his only hope is Doctor Octopus. Meanwhile, his wife Mary Jane has a stunning announcement that will change their lives forever. The Scarlet Spider/Ben Reilly is just starting to get used to having a life again. Picking up the pieces of his shattered existence, Ben begins to date, settle down and re-acclimate himself to the role of being a hero.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Around the time of "Web of Life" and "Web of Death," Marvel was split into five groups by the "geniuses" who were running the company (into the ground) at that point. Tom DeFalco was suddenly out as Editor in Chief (a status quo change that many of us at the company would greatly regret in the months and years to come). There were now five EICs, each heading up their own line of books. There was the X-Men Group (EIC: Bob Harras), the Marvel Heroes Group (EIC: Mark Gruenwald), the Marvel Edge Group (EIC: Bobbie Chase), the Licensed Titles/Marvel Alterniverse Group (EIC: Carl Potts), and the Spider-Man Group, now overseen by Bob Budiansky. Longtime Spider-Man editor Danny Fingeroth was still on board as Spider-Man Group Editor, and the clone saga was already well underway. As a result of these departmental changes, Tom Brevoort and I were phased in to the Spider-Man Group. Tom was a full editor, and I had been his assistant for about a year or two by this point. We were to produce special Spider-Man projects in addition to monthly titles like NEW WARRIORS, which we had just inherited from another editor. ]

We'll take the Spider-Man titles first, which ran the "Web of Death" story in these titles: Amazing Spider-Man #397 and 398, chapters 1 and 3 of Web of Death, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Spectacular Spider-Man #220 and 221, chapters 2 and 4 of Web of Death, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz.

"Web of Death" begins with Kaine observing Spider-Man out on patrol. It seems as if Kaine has as much of an interest in Spider-Man as he does the Scarlet Spider. Spidey is still feeling the effects of his poisoning by the Vulture during the "Back from the Edge" storyline. He's dying and he doesn't know what to do. If that weren't enough to deal with, he's starting to have memory flashes of himself in a containment chamber similar to what the clone was in as he was created. Before he can compose himself, Doc Ock appears, and after noticing that something is wrong with Spider-Man (mentally and physically), leaves him for the time being. The issue ends with Ock and Spider-Man facing off again, only to have Spider-Man unmasked.

Spectacular Spider-Man #220 is a monumental issue. As Doctor Octopus struggles to save the life of Spider-Man (Ock wants Spider-Man to die at his hands, not through a poisioning), Kaine continues his observation of those whose lives revolve around Spider-Man. While watching Mary Jane he thinks, "I truly wish I could guarantee your survival, alas I cannot." Peter and Mary Jane are reunited, finally. Peter realizes that Ock's cure didn't work and before he can let his wife know, she informs him that they're going to have a baby.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mary Jane's pregnancy was Tom DeFalco's idea, and it came early in the planning stages for the clone saga. As Editor in Chief, Tom had approved the clone storyline in the first place, and shortly thereafter, at Spider-Man editor Danny Fingeroth's urging, he ended up as one of the regular Spider-Man writers. In this capacity, Tom proposed that a major, dramatic event that would help set up the saga's ultimate resolution would be Mary Jane becoming pregnant. It was a ballsy idea, and everyone was excited by it. And since Tom was still the ultimate authority at Marvel at that time, it was safe to say that the somewhat controversial idea would go through without a hitch. ]

"Web of Death" part 3 picks up with Peter still feeling ill, but going to dinner with Mary Jane, and they have a chance encounter with Detective Raven. The dinner is interrupted again when Peter spots Doc Ock watching them. They battle until the Doc reveals that he found a cure for the poison. Peter takes the serum and starts to feel a little better, but then collapses and heads for the light. "Web of Death" part 4 promises that "one shall die." Normally, we wouldn't even think it could be Peter, but with the events of the past few months, anything was possible. After meeting deceased friends and relatives, Peter fights back, the serum kicks in and he is alive! As he tries to understand why Ock saved him, the police arrive. Stunner called them as per Ock's instructions so that Peter wouldn't feel pressured to bring him in. He wants Spider-Man in peak condition the next time they battle.

Peter returns home to Mary Jane, where they share some quiet, tender moments together. Meanwhile, Kaine attacks Ock en route to prison and they battle it out. Kaine explains that he harbors no antagonism or malice towards Doc Ock, but for reasons of his own, he must die. With that, Kaine kills Doctor Octopus.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I remember being in a meeting with Bob Budiansky, and it was explained to Tom and me that Doctor Octopus was going to be killed to show just how bad-ass Kaine was. This was going to be a really big deal, a dramatic high point, and Kaine was going to be a major player. (Make no mistake - Doc Ock's death was intended to be permanent. We clearly saw his dead body, remember?) Upon hearing about it, I was pretty skeptical. I'm not a big fan of killing off major villains, especially classic ones like Doctor Octopus, and I had serious doubts that a character of his stature and history could ever be suitably replaced by a new villain.

I clearly remember reading the issue where Doc Ock died. Tom DeFalco wrote the issue, but I got the feeling that he did it somewhat reluctantly. I don't think he particularly liked the idea of killing off Doc Ock, especially in the way that Ock was to be killed, and while the story was certainly very well-written, I just don't get the sense that Tom's heart was really in it. The fact that Tom later resurrected Doctor Octopus at the first opportunity would seem to back me up on this. ]

The "Web of Death" storyline was loaded with excitement and intrigue. Mary Jane announces that she's pregnant while Peter fights for his life and is aided by his greatest enemy. Kaine starts to show that he has more than a passing interest in the life of Peter Parker and Ben Reilly and he also appears to be clairvoyant, warning of impending tragedy. I enjoyed this storyline because every issue compelled you to pick up the next. Part 1 ends with Spider-Man unmasked, part 2 reveals that Mary Jane and Peter will be having a baby, Part 3 shows Peter apparently dying and Part 4 ends with one of Spider-Man's oldest foes being killed by the mysterious Kaine.

Now onto Ben Reilly's books and the "Web of Life" story, which ran in these titles: Web of Spider-Man #120 and 121, chapters 1 and 3 of Web of Life, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. Spider-Man #54 and 55, chapters 2 and 4 of "Web of Life," written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna.

"Web of Life" picks up with the Scarlet Spider settling into the role of hero, finishing up a battle with Tombstone. Elsewhere, the newly introduced Grim Hunter (son of the late Kraven) is planning his revenge on Spider-Man. Kaine continues to study Scarlet Spider and we learn a lot more about what drives him. He notes that the Spiders will never be far from each other. It's written that all Kaine knows is tragedy "...of what has been...and what is to come," and we're shown a vision of Mary Jane running from something before being killed. Scarlet Spider pays a visit to his (or rather, Peter's) former love, Betty Brant. He wants to set the record straight with the press, and although both of them try to stay objective and focused, Ben can't help notice sparks between them. Shortly after Scarlet Spider leaves Betty, the Grim Hunter arrives, trailing his scent.

Part 2 opens with the Scarlet Spider breaking into the Daily Bugle to look for reporter Ken Ellis, the one who saddled him with the Scarlet Spider name in the first place. The cheesy name has been a running joke in the Ben Reilly titles so far, as the name aggravates Ben to no end. Scarlet Spider doesn't find Ellis, but he does have an encounter with J. Jonah Jameson for the first time. Ben is starting to get very comfortable with his place here, and the reunions with Betty and Jonah have left him wanting more.

The crucial scene in this issue occurs in the middle of the book. Spider-Man is shown lying unconscious from the Vulture's poisoning. Ben is asleep in his Bed and Kaine just watches. Ben and Peter share a similar dream. A dream of a laboratory and a birth, with glimpses of Professor Miles Warren and the Jackal. Kaine doubles over in pain. When Ben wakes up from the dream, he immediately calls an old friend, Seward Trainer, who apparently is Ben's only confidant. Ben worries that degeneration is starting and Seward tells him that he's on his way to New York.

The Scarlet Spider pays another visit to Betty Brant and they share an embrace but are interrupted by the Grim Hunter before it can lead to anything else. The Grim Hunter realizes that Scarlet Spider is not the same man he holds responsible for the death of his father and leaves. Detective Raven also teams up with members of the NYPD, announcing that the person he's looking for that left scars on his victims was responsible for the death of his partner.

Todd Dezago guest writes "Web of Life" part 3 in Web of Spider-Man #121, illustrated by Phil Gosier. We're shown Kaine busting up a robbery, but treating the victim just as badly as the crooks. Detective Raven also finds a match for the fingerprints they found on the scene of the crime and decides, with the help of New York Detective Connor Trevane, to pay a visit to the person with the matching prints.

Meanwhile, the Scarlet Spider rushes to Peter Parker's home, hoping to arrive before the Grim Hunter can harm him. He runs straight into Kaine. The battle is over before it begins. Scarlet Spider manages to get a shot in, but Kaine overpowers him. It's only a last minute chop to the sides of Kaine's head that prevents Scarlet Spider from having his neck broken.

Part 4 opens with Scarlet Spider trying to regain his strength as Kaine and the Grim Hunter face off. During the battle, Kaine's thoughts reveal that the Grim Hunter cannot be allowed to interfere with what he's tried to accomplish. "He must die. As must they all." Scarlet Spider returns home after not being able to find Peter or Mary Jane and he runs into Seward Trainer, his old friend.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Dr. Seward (pronounced SEA-ward) Trainer was named after Howard Mackie's father-in-law, and he was a pretty intriguing character. I liked Seward, I thought there was a lot of potential for characterization with him. Looking back, it's pretty ironic that I ended up writing the last word on him when the clone saga finally ended. ]

Seward wants Ben to come to his lab and finish the tests they started some time back, but Ben warns that Kaine is back and he needs to go after him before he kills again. The Scarlet Spider tracks Kaine and Grim Hunter to Central Park, but in the midst of the scuffle, they get separated again. Kaine and Grim Hunter face off, but the battle is short lived, as is the Grim Hunter. Kaine "marks" him and he dies.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Kaine was slated to kill off some other Spider-Man villains, as well, to clear the decks a bit, make room for some new villains, and show Kaine really strutting his stuff. My understanding is that Howard Mackie offered up the Grim Hunter as Kaine's next victim. Howard had introduced the Grim Hunter only a short time earlier, with much accompanying hype and fireworks, but I presume that Howard realized fairly quickly that he really had no idea where to go with the character. So, he offered the Grim Hunter up as a sacrifice to the larger storyline, and the character was pretty much forgotten after that. ]

The mysteries keep growing. What is the degeneration that Ben and Seward seem so worried about? Why is Kaine so protective of Spider-Man but intent on killing Ben Reilly? And how accurate are Kaine's visions of Mary Jane's death? Who killed Detective Raven's partner? The obvious answer would be Kaine, but if that were true, why make it a mystery? It appears that there's more to the story than is being told. Most importantly, why are Peter and Ben having the same dreams of being in a laboratory? What does it all mean? The Spider-titles are kicking into high gear for sure, making each issue a must read for any fan.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned before, there was a lot of talk about Kaine at this point, his future potential as a franchise character. There were discussions about possibly spinning him off eventually into his own title, the way Venom had been. But Tom Brevoort and I privately agreed that a character as brutal and murderous as Kaine had been portrayed up to that point could not easily be "rehabilitated" and suddenly made into a protagonist. Despite the initial sales success of Venom's solo book, it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths that Venom was now being portrayed as something of a "good guy." Another irony - Tom and I would later end up editing the Venom series! ]

You may wonder why "Web of Death" is the story for Spider-Man and "Web of Life" is the Scarlet Spider storyline, when each features the deaths of main characters. My opinion was that while the Spider-Books closed the story with the death of one of the legendary villains in the Spider-Man history, the Scarlet Spider books focused on Ben Reilly coming into his own as a hero and as a character. He reunited with Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson and started to feel the romance bug bite him. Readers were introduced to a good friend from Ben's past and the "Life" in the title refers to the character of Ben Reilly beginning starting to flesh out and become a separate person from Peter, not just a clone.

In the letters' column of the Spider-Books this month, fans start speculating on whether Ben Reilly could be the real Peter Parker. Marvel remains tight-lipped on the subject but offers a cryptic "anything can happen" answer. Time will tell.

Part 4

"Smoke and Mirrors" is the 3-part epic that brings up even more questions regarding Ben Reilly, Kaine and Peter Parker, and marks the return to the unity of the books as the Scarlet Spider and Spider-Man meet for the first time.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : "Smoke and Mirrors" was an intriguing story, and I liked most of it, but it was this story that kicked off what would become an increasingly tiresome stream of clones, lies upon lies, fake-outs, and convoluted twists and turns. ]

Web of Spider-Man #122, written by JM DeMatteis and Todd Dezago and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin, opens up the story with Ben and Peter both getting visions of the Jackal, the alter ego of Professor Miles Warren, who created the clone in the first place. The difference with Ben's vision is that the Jackal refers to him as "Peter."

The visions lead the Scarlet Spider on a chase deep into the woods, where he's confronted by a Jackal impersonator who claims that all the answers are behind a secret door that's being guarded by a monster called the Guardian, who bears a resemblance to Kaine. Scarlet Spider and the Guardian battle, leaving Scarlet Spider knocked unconscious while Kaine watches, waiting to make his move. Peter, meanwhile, is working on getting insurance for the baby and doesn't notice Detective Raven having a meeting with J. Jonah Jameson. He does notice the strong memory flashes again of awakening from a cryo-chamber. He puts on the webs and heads out in search of answers, trying to make sense of the memories he's having. While swinging between buildings, Spider-Man thinks "I should have no knowledge of those memories. No memory of it...unless...oh, god, please don't let it be 'unless.'" He then gets a vision of the Scarlet Spider, lying unconscious in the snow-covered mountains and knows he must try to save him.

Amazing Spider-Man #399, written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt, is Part 2 of "Smoke and Mirrors." Kaine moves in closer to the unconscious Scarlet Spider and is confronted by Scrier, the mysterious figure from the "Power and Responsibility" storyline. Kaine is visibly shaken by his appearance and it appears that he has good reason. Scrier seems to know all about Kaine's relationship to Ben Reilly and lets him know that no one has anything to fear from him... yet.

When Spider-Man reaches Scarlet Spider (who's just waking up), it's a great moment. The banter between the two of them is refreshing and lighthearted, which is a far cry from the mood of Spider-Man in the last few years. The Scarlet Spider tells Spider-Man, "Thought I was dead, so you came to make sure?," to which Spider-Man replies, "Cheap shot...but not as cheap as that costume. How could my clone have such a lousy design scheme?" The pleasantries are cut short when the Jackal impersonator returns to taunt the Spiders. He leads them through the passage that was previously guarded and they enter a huge lab. The Guardian reappears, but is in immense pain. He blames the real Jackal for his problems before collapsing. The Jackal impersonator takes off his mask to reveal himself, and the Guardian, as failed clones as Peter Parker. A voice calls out that the impersonator shouldn't compare himself to Scarlet and Spidey because they are "the Jackal's greatest triumphs." With that, the Jackal steps out of a regeneration chamber, more powerful than ever. He reveals that the Jackal that died years ago was also a clone.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Bringing back the Jackal made sense to me. Since we were essentially doing a sequel to the original clone saga, and the Jackal set the whole thing in motion in the first place, why not bring him back? And it was certainly beneficial to have him around, so that he could explain the real deal about his clones. I mean, during "The Evolutionary War," Gerry Conway (who wrote the original clone saga and created the Jackal) came back to Marvel and went to great lengths to undo his own stories from years before, now establishing that Miles Warren had not really created clones after all. By the time Gerry was done, the High Evolutionary had gotten involved and explained what Warren was really up to - it was a clone virus that turned people into genetic duplicates of other people (don't ask). The whole shebang ended with the Gwen Stacy clone essentially gone from the continuity, having never been a genuine clone in the first place. The Jackal remained dead. Gerry even did a follow-up story to explain who the super-villain Carrion really was, since Carrion tied in to the original clone saga, as well. (The first Carrion claimed to be an imperfect clone of Miles Warren.) Jeez - are all of you still with me? Because I'm starting to get lost, and I was part of all this madness!
Anyway, Mark Bernardo and I were really pushing the writers and the editors to acknowledge - and find a way around - the "Evolutionary War" stuff. Mark and I felt that since "Evolutionary War" was only a few years old at that point, it would still be pretty fresh in the memories of the readers, and it couldn't just be ignored. None of the writers really wanted to deal with it because, admittedly, it was going to take a lot of time, work and energy to figure out a way around all of it. It would mean undoing a story that was specifically designed to undo another story. Who wants to get bogged down with all of that continuity minutiae when you've got other stuff you want to write about? But those stories were in print, and Mark and I firmly believed that they had to be addressed.

It ultimately fell to Howard Mackie to address the subject in his chapter of "Smoke and Mirrors." This was unfortunate for anyone who was looking for a satisfying explanation. With no offense intended to Howard, my observation is that he simply isn't much of a continuity person, he doesn't like to get bogged down in it. As a Spider-Man writer, whenever Howard has had to address past continuity in one of his stories, his approach has been to simply (and grudgingly) acknowledge the past event and then sweep it under the carpet as quickly as possible. It happened in "Smoke and Mirrors," and would happen again in later stories, as well. An entire annual, by another writer, would later have to be devoted to explaining away the "Evolutionary War" stuff, but that is another story (and one we'll get to in the coming weeks). ]

The Jackal proceeds to taunt both Spider-Man and the Scarlet Spider. He tells them about the degeneration that affects all clones at one point or another, some sooner than later. When Spider-Man asks if it means that Ben will die soon, Jackal informs him that he was referring to the both of them and asks what they would do if he were to inform them that they were both clones? Spider-Man snaps and when Scarlet Spider tries to calm him down, he becomes the target. Spider-Man then tells the Jackal to prove it, and Jackal complies by opening another containment chamber. Before it opens, the Jackal tells the Spiders he made a mistake and accidentally opened the wrong chamber. He opened the one containing the real Gwen Stacy.

Spider-Man #56, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna, wraps up 'Smoke and Mirrors'. In the past two issues, readers discovered that there have been other clones out there at one point or another, that the real Jackal is back, that neither Ben nor Peter may be the original Peter Parker, and that now Gwen Stacy could be alive. As Spider-Man goes off to talk with Gwen and figure out what's going on, Scarlet confronts the Jackal, who tells him that he is the real one. Jackal tells Ben to kill the "genetic mistake" and reclaim his life. An interesting scene occurs showing Kaine watching the action from above, with Scrier watching above him. Regardless of what the Jackal is telling Ben and Peter, it appears that Kaine and Scrier play a bigger part in this story.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The return of Scrier - with Judas Traveller nowhere to be seen - was the first sign that there was much more to this character than met the eye. Mark Bernardo had told me that J.M. DeMatteis was planning to explore the notion that Scrier was actually the real power behind Traveller, and that Traveller was so deluded and obsessed with his pursuits that even he didn't know it.]

As Jackal and his impersonator attack the Scarlet Spider, Spider-Man comes to his aid and is told by Jackal that he is the real one and Ben is the clone. He tells the Spiders that he was lying to Ben moments earlier for the fun of it. A potential continuity error is resolved (albeit weakly) when Spider-Man calls the Jackal a liar because he read his journal and spoke with the High Evolutionary. Years ago, Marvel's Annuals did an event called the "Evolutionary War." In one of the Spider-Man annuals that year, it was revealed the Professor Warren never really cloned anyone. The Jackal responds by asking Spider-Man what purpose the High Evolutionary would have in telling him the truth. He goads Peter on more, telling him to go to Gwen, his true love. As Gwen embraces Spider-Man and tries to convince him she's real, she degenerates as the Jackal looks on in laughter. As Scarlet Spider and Spider-Man move in, the Jackal makes his way through an escape door, telling them that the entire building is going to explode and says that neither of them is the real one. He says the real Peter Parker is in a chamber somewhere in the building. Scarlet Spider and Spider-Man make their escape before the building explodes. Peter wants to know the truth while Ben says it's easiest just to go on living. As the smoke and rubble clears, a lone pod rests. But what is inside it?

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS: Since fandom was already starting to wonder if Ben Reilly could actually be the original Peter Parker, it only made sense, from a dramatic standpoint, to throw the readers a curve ball and raise the possibility that neither Ben nor Peter was the original - that the original has actually been tucked away in a pod for all these years. That would certainly be a tantalizing notion, wouldn't it? And it was that spirit in which "Smoke and Mirrors" was produced.]

Part 5

With the events of the last few issues, both Peter and Ben are questioning their origins after the newly "reborn" Jackal played mind games with them, telling both of them first that they were the real Peter Parker, and then saying that neither of them was. Before his lab went up in an explosion and the Jackal made his escape, he hints that the real Peter Parker is somewhere in the lab. Paying no mind to the Jackal's threats, Ben and Peter leave the area.

"Players and Pawns" is the next storyline in the Clone Saga, beginning in Spectacular Spider-Man #222, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz. Kaine is exploring the wreckage of the Jackal's labs, curious to find the truth regarding the clones in Jackal's files. Kaine believes that he has always known the truth of who the real Parker was, but copies the Jackal's files to make sure. Upon doing so, another containment chamber opens to reveal Peter Parker. Before Kaine has time to react to the shocking discovery, the Jackal and his little apprentice confront him. It's revealed that the Jackal knows all about Kaine, perhaps more than anyone else. Before the two can have it out, Scrier appears and the 3rd Parker disappears during the confusion. Scrier goes back into the shadows as quickly as he appears, but not before the Jackal explains how he and Scrier share a history, as well.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I have to say, I really loved Jack, the Jackal's little apprentice. Don't ask me why. I just latched on to him and really got a kick out of him. He was witty, he had a lot of energy and spirit, and he brought a certain lightness to an otherwise very serious story line. I remember being at a Spider-Man writers' conference and just going on about how much I enjoyed Jack's presence in the stories. My exact comment was: "He's a midget Jackal - how can you go wrong with that?!" ]

The rest of the issue focuses on the particulars of the (now) three Parkers. Ben Reilly is watching Flash Thompson, the man who made his life hell in high school, coach a basketball game, seemingly having his life in order. Ben's enjoying the reunion with yet another old friend until the Jackal crashes into the building, looking for a fight. Ben changes into the Scarlet Spider and takes on Jackal.

Peter is informed by Jonah that the police want to talk to him about Ben Reilly, which causes Peter to question what Ben has been up to during the last five years. While walking along the street, Kaine appears and gives Peter the data he stole from the Jackal, proving that Peter is the real deal. While Peter always believed that to be the case, the idea of another mysterious stranger screwing with him rubs him the wrong way. He changes into Spider-Man and goes after Kaine for answers.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Parker, recently released from a cryo tube is heading... somewhere, still dazed from being in the pod and trying to remember who he is and what he should be doing.

The second part of "Players and Pawns" takes place in Web of Spider-Man #123, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. This issue contains two big fight scenes: Spider-Man vs Kaine and The Scarlet Spider vs The Jackal, with neither of the products of Parker DNA faring too well against their opponents. The Scarlet Spider eventually overpowers the Jackal and has him taken into custody. The Jackal's being sent to Ravencroft, and under his threats to Scarlet we read his thoughts. He wants to go to Ravencroft. Something is there that belongs to him and it's easier to be sent there than to break in. The little Jackal impersonator offers Scarlet Spider information. He gives him a disk that is supposed to contain proof that Ben is the real Peter Parker. When the Jackal sees his assistant do this, he snaps his fingers, causing the impersonator to deteriorate. "Your future," the melting apprentice tells Scarlet Spider. "In your hands now."

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Yeah, as you can probably guess, I was sorry to see Jack go. Again, I just loved the notion of the Jackal palling around with a wacky, miniature version of himself - and remember, this was years before Mini-Me! ]

Spider-Man has his hands full with Kaine. He wants answers and he won't take no for an answer, which leads to a knockdown, drag-out fight. We saw how Kaine handled the Scarlet Spider effortlessly in a previous issue, but was that because Kaine was so powerful or because Ben was out of practice? The way he pummels Spider-Man with a barrage of devastating hits ends that debate. Kaine is one tough cookie.

The interlude of the story shows the other Peter Parker arriving in New York City, still dazed and confused, wanting to rest before he confronts his inevitable-but-unsure destiny. Most importantly, Aunt May comes out of her coma. She's regained consciousness, but isn't responding to any of the doctors. Her thoughts reveal that she needs Peter to see her and soon. The issue ends with the Scarlet Spider atop the smokestack, where the first confrontation between Spider-Man and his clone ended. Ben wonders whether the disk will hold the key to the secrets plaguing him and Peter or offer only more questions. He wonders what Peter would have done, in an homage to Amazing Spider-Man #150, where Peter throws the test results away, believing himself to be the real deal and not needing tests to verify what he feels. Ben throws the disk into the river, claiming he is not Peter Parker, or at least not that Peter Parker. "Ben Reilly no longer needs validation from anybody...but me," he says and swings off into the distance, knowing that truly "life is in the living."

Amazing Spider-Man #400 is a milestone in many ways. The main story in the issue, "The Gift," is written by JM DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. It's one of the most emotional Spider-Man stories ever told, and one of my favorite Spider-Man stories ever. While the Jackal makes a cameo appearance in Ravencroft and the third Peter Parker and Dr. Judas Traveller show up in a few panels, as well, this is really Aunt May's story. After regaining consciousness in the previous issue, May returns home to Peter and Mary Jane. Upon seeing MJ, Aunt May shows her intuition by telling Mary Jane that she's pregnant. Holding both Peter and Mary Jane by the hand, she tells them "there's no greater responsibility in the world than raising a child...shaping a young soul. No greater responsibility."

The Scarlet Spider pays a visit to Peter and they have a heart-to-heart in the yard. Ben recalls memories of climbing the old tree with the help of his/Peter's uncle. He then tells Peter that he's leaving New York. With May feeling better and Peter and MJ expecting, they have their first shot at real happiness and he doesn't want to ruin it. There is also an important revelation after Ben has left the house. He reminisces about a woman named Janine, who seems to have meant a great deal to him.

The most pivotal moment comes a week later atop the Empire State Building. Aunt May, feeling cooped up, wants to get out of the house, so Peter takes her there. As they look out the observatory, May asks Peter how it feels to swing over the city, being so free. A shocked Peter tries to brush it off, but May continues, telling Peter that she'd have to be an idiot to not know, after living under the same roof for so many years. She says that after Ben's death, she couldn't accept the fact that Peter was risking his life every day as Spider-Man. May tells Peter that she's proud of him and that if Ben were still around, he would say the same thing. After the surprising revelation, May collapses. Peter takes her home. After a few poignant words and goodbyes in front of Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt Anna, Aunt May dies.

This wasn't a dream or imaginary story. Aunt May, Peter's lifeline for so long, had passed. It was the most memorable death scene I've read in comics. From her revelation that she knew Peter's secret all along (which made complete sense) to Ben Reilly having to go through this emotional moment completely alone on the roof of the Parker home, it was just a beautifully written segment. As much as you can feel for Peter, at least he had Mary Jane and Anna to fall back on. Although he shares all of Peter's memories and feelings, Ben must deal with his pain alone, because he's just a clone. An imitation. His feelings don't count.

The shock endings we've come to expect continue in even this emotionally charged issue. After May's funeral, Detective Trevane and Lieutenant Raven come to the Parker house and arrest Peter for first-degree murder. Mary Jane tries to figure out what to do next. She wants to call Pete's friend Matt Murdock, but believes Murdock to be dead. As she gets ready to go to the police station, the Scarlet Spider arrives at the house. He removes his mask, introduces himself as Ben Reilly and tells Mary Jane that it's time they met "face to face."

DeMatteis has written one of the single greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, if not the greatest. Shocking revelations, a cliffhanger ending and the death of one of comics' most beloved and well-known characters in a mature and respectful way make this an instant classic.

There's also a very good back up feature, again written by DeMatteis (with a script by Stan Lee) and illustrated by Tom Grummett and Al Milgrom detailing the morning after Spider-Man caught the burglar who killed Uncle Ben.

Another backup story is in this extra-sized #400, but I'll review it in the next installment, since it is a 3-part Ben Reilly story that brings fan favorite John Romita Jr. back to Spider-Man.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I could go on and on about AMAZING #400, but I'll try to focus on what I feel are the most salient points
First, after reading the issue, Tom Brevoort and I both figured that Aunt May probably figured out that Peter was Spider-Man as a result of the events of AMAZING #200, published back in 1978. In that story, by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard, Spider-Man rescued Aunt May and she finally overcame her fear and hatred of the web-slinger. Once she got past that, she was able to put two and two together and finally realize that the heroic young masked man who saved her was her own beloved nephew. But she decided to keep it to herself for a while, until she could fully reconcile herself to that knowledge. I suspect that as far as J.M. DeMatteis was concerned, Aunt May knew all along, from the days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but I just couldn't buy that. Not from the way she was written in those old stories. We had access to her thoughts, and there's simply no way she knew - not that early. Also, it would have retroactively made May look pretty manipulative and conniving, to have let Peter go on for all that time thinking she didn't know, to have let him work so hard to protect her from that knowledge. She could have eased so much of his burden by just telling him that she knew, and that she was very proud of him. But I could accept her knowing after ASM #200, and in my mind, that was the case. The good thing was that it was never stated definitively in ASM #400 exactly when May found out, so it was pretty open to interpretation.

Now, on to Aunt May's death. I had mixed emotions about it. As I've said before, I'm not really big on killing off characters, especially ones who were as important to the series as Aunt May had been. I disagreed with the writers that Aunt May had outlived her usefulness, that there was nothing left to do with her, that she should just be killed off already. I felt that was very shortsighted. Sure, these particular writers felt that way about her, but the fact was, they weren't going to be writing the books forever. Therefore, why make such a drastic, permanent change that could hamper the series in the future? If the writers didn't have any more ideas for Aunt May, then why not just send her off to Florida for an extended period of time? She'd be out of sight and out of mind, and if some later Spider-Man writer came in with a great story idea for her, he or she would have the option to bring her back to New York. Would it be as dramatic as her death? No. But it would get her off the stage until she was needed again, if and when that time ever came.

That said, I have to say that I thought the story itself was absolutely magnificent. Probably Marc DeMatteis's best work on Spider-Man. It was a total page-turner, completely engrossing. A gripping tale. I was in my mid-twenties when that comic came out, and I will admit this: I was pretty damned choked up when May finally passed on, with Peter embracing her and speaking that classic line from Peter Pan: "Second star to the right... and straight on till morning." That hasn't happened very often with me while reading a comic book. It's safe to say that no Spider-Man story published since ASM #400 has even come close to matching the quality, the power, the drama, and the heartfelt emotion of this story. A true classic.

Maybe I didn't like the idea of Aunt May dying from a creative standpoint, but it was so beautifully done in the actual story that it totally worked for me. So much so that I felt very strongly that this death should remain permanent, that it should not be undone in some future story. That it should stand as one of the most powerful moments in Spider-Man's history. Alas, we all know what happened later on, and I'll try to get into all of that in a later column.

Okay, now for some behind-the-scenes stuff. Bob Budiansky had been in place as Spider-Man Editor in Chief for a short while by the time ASM #400 was being put together. As a courtesy, Bob placed a call to Stan Lee, to let him know that we were planning to kill off Aunt May and to ask for Stan's blessing. Stan, gentleman that he is, was very gracious about the whole thing, and certainly gave his blessing. He offered his best wishes to Bob and the Spider-gang.

Of course, when May's death was greeted with dismay and contempt by a contingent of very vocal fans, Stan publicly denied any knowledge of or involvement with the story, and said that he would never want to see Aunt May die. We had a good laugh over it in the office, because it was so typical of Stan - he hates to have any fan angry at him. But the absolute truth is that Bob Budiansky did indeed call Stan in advance to let him know and to ask for his blessing. And if Stan had not given his blessing, would we have done the story anyway? Probably. But like I said, Stan is a true gentleman and would not have wanted to put Bob and the writers in that uncomfortable position. So no matter how he may have really felt about it, he was very cooperative.

Now, remember that gimmick cover for ASM #400? It was supposed to be a tombstone, featuring both the familiar ASM logo and a small Spider-Man figure engraved upon the face of the stone. I remember that this was the first gimmick cover that Bob had to oversee as Spider-Man EIC, and he was a little overwhelmed by it. I'm not sure if it was his idea to do this gimmick cover, of if it was an idea that was foisted upon him by our marketing department. I suspect it was the latter, because the marketing guys were obsessed with gimmick covers and used any excuse to do one, as often as possible. Well, the cover looked pretty good at the final stage, everything was readable and the engravings looked good. But when it finally saw print, the cover's engraving was so shallow and so faint that the cover was essentially unreadable. It looked like a dull gray, blank cover of... something. Not a success, to put it mildly. Thank goodness the story inside made up for it, proving the old adage that you can't judge a book by looking at the cover.

Final thought: I was really jazzed that Peter wouldn't get a moment's rest after Aunt May's funeral, that there was not a clean ending to the issue. I thought it was a great way to handle it. I felt that the cliffhanger ending would prevent readers from looking at ASM #400 as a jumping-off point, a good way to stop following the series. I believed Peter's arrest for murder would get the readers very intrigued about what was going to happen next, so that they would stick with us. At that moment in time, it was a really good feeling to be part of the Spider-Man Group. ]


Part Five-B

This special edition of "Life of Reilly" will focus on the backupstory that ran in Amazing Spider-Man #400, Spider-Man #57 and SpectacularSpider-Man #223. "The Parker Legacy" was written by J.M. DeMatteis andillustrated by John Romita Jr. with inks from John Romita Sr and Al Milgrom.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I recall that early into Bob Budiansky's tenure as Spider-ManEditor-in-Chief, one of his desires was to get John Romita Jr. back on toSpider-Man in some capacity. At that time, I believe, John was the regularpenciler of THE UNCANNY X-MEN, and while he was doing terrific work on thatbook, I think he was kind of longing to do Spider-Man again. And certainly theSpider-Man editors would have been thrilled to have him back. But the reality ofthe situation was that he was one of Bob Harras's X-Men artists, and it wouldnot have been very prudent to try to steal an artist from, arguably, the mostpowerful editor at the company. ]

The story takes place five years ago, immediately after the clone Spider-Mandiscovers that he is not the real Peter Parker. He is slumped over in an alleyin the pouring rain, mourning the loss of a life he has just come to realize wasnot really his own. He picks himself up and walks along the streets of New YorkCity, oblivious to everything going on around him. Since he never was trulyalive, he wonders if it would make a difference if he died.

When a truck nearly runs him over, the clone lashes out, destroying theentire front section of the vehicle. The thing is, he's not mad because he wasalmost run over, he's mad because the driver didn't kill him. He goes back offinto the night skies, hating himself for the memories he has, the programmingthat he is under. He sleeps like a homeless man, underneath debris in an alley,and when he wakes up he sneaks into Parker's apartment, realizing the irony init all. The clone wonders briefly if he should just confront and kill Parker,and reclaim the life which is all he knows, but he is no murderer. Rememberingwhere he/Peter kept his old clothes and emergency money, he takes them all. Healso keeps the costume.

After paying a quick visit to the home of Aunt May and quickly leaving beforehe's discovered, the clone purchases a bus ticket bound towards the West. Hedoesn't really know where he's going, but he does realize he needs to leave NewYork. A friendly guy seated next to him tries to engage the clone inconversation but is told to shut up about his life. The clone immediately sensesa twinge of guilt for being so rude but decides against apologizing to the man.Being decent is what Peter Parker would do, and he's not Peter Parker. He fallsasleep and dreams of fighting his enemies as Spider-Man, until the Jackalappears and tells the villains that they're wasting their time. This Spider-Manis just a fake, a puppet of the Jackal's creation, unworthy of their time. Afailed experiment. He awakens to his fellow passengers screaming as the bus hasblown a tire and skids into the oncoming lane. Spider-Man would do something tosave them all, but the clone wonders if maybe he should just let the end comeonce and for all.

As he comes to the realization that clone or not, he still is a good man, thedriver regains control of the bus. The passengers are sent to a motel, and thestranger (Clifford Gross) that was sitting next to the clone invites the cloneto have a drink with him. After Clifford reveals that his life has gone to hellwith his wife leaving and his business going under, the clone tells him that heshould disappear... that no one would care. Later, as he walks through the motelhalls, his Spider-sense goes off and the clone breaks into one of the roomswhere Clifford is sitting with a gun barrel in his mouth. He is stopped fromkilling himself and asks why the clone stopped him, when he's the one who toldhim that he should disappear because he was worthless.

The clone tells Clifford that he was wrong. Essentially describing his ownsituation, he tells Clifford that losing it all can be a blessing. It's a chanceto build something even better than before. It's the beginning of a new life,not the end of one. Clifford decides to turn back and visit his kids instead ofcontinuing Westward. He asks the clone what he's going to do and the responseis: "Going back is out of the question, but going forward? Now that mayjust have some possibilities." As the bus pulls away, Clifford asks whatthe clone's name is. Ben Reilly. His uncle's first name. His aunt's maiden name.It's told that Ben fell deeper into darkness before seeing the light anddiscovering himself. But even in those dark times, he would never give up thelessons he learned from his aunt and uncle. Clone or no, he would live up towhat they taught him and never "surrender the Parker legacy."

DeMatties told the definitive Aunt May story that same month in AmazingSpider-Man #400 and in this 3 part backup feature, he tells us the origin of"Ben Reilly." Whereas Aunt May's story was the final chapter of a longlife, the Ben Reilly story was more about hope and the optimism for an unknownfuture.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Of all the Spider-Man writers at that time, J.M. DeMatteis was thebest suited to tell this tale. He seemed to really "get" the characterof Ben Reilly, to really understand how he thought and felt and what he wentthrough in those early days. Marc also seemed to be the writer most enthusiasticabout Ben, the one who understood all the story possibilities inherent in thecharacter. He did his usual wonderful job on "The Parker Legacy," andI think that story did a lot to make Ben a character that the Spider-Man fanscould like and respect. ]

The art was absolutely incredible on the book, with 3 great artists known fortheir work on Spider-Man coming together for this important story, but it wasthe story that left an impact.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : John's work had changed considerably from the last time he haddone any major work on Spider-Man - his style had gotten a lot grittier, a lotmore dramatic, but still very recognizable as John Romita Jr. Clearly, John hadgrown considerably as an artist and as a storyteller over the years, and to havehim as the artist of "The Parker Legacy" made it a truly specialevent. And, of course, it was so cool to have JR Senior inking him again. Theydidn't work together nearly enough, in my opinion, and their combined efforts on"The Parker Legacy" were pretty exciting to this longtime Spider-Manreader. Alas, John Senior didn't ink all three chapters, but Al Milgrom turnedin a great inking job, too. Al is one of the best - and, unfortunately, one ofthe most underrated - inkers in the business, and it was always nice to see himget the chance to strut his stuff over high-quality work. That's why I felt sostrongly about hiring Al to ink the pencils of Steve Rude, no slouch himself, onthe INCREDIBLE HULK VS. SUPERMAN one-shot that I edited. Take a look at thatbook, if you haven't already, and you'll see what I mean. ]

Regardless of the ultimate fate of Ben Reilly in the Spider-Man books, thisshort story established him as a real character. He wasn't just a clone or agimmick. His personality was different from Peter's. His experiences weredifferent. The past five years in exile, wandering the country, gave Bencompletely different life lessons: good and bad. During that time on his own, hehad become complete. "The Parker Legacy" was just the first glimpseinto that life.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Of course, this 3-parter served as a precursor to the SPIDER-MAN:THE LOST YEARS limited series, which we'll be getting to in the coming weeks. ]

Part 6

The two part "Aftershocks" begins in Spider-Man #57, written by Howard Mackie and guest illustrated by John Romita Jr and Joe Rubinstein. This issue has several different stories going on simultaneously, and the effect is a fast-paced page-turner. Aunt May has recently passed away and Peter Parker has been arrested for murder. Upon discovering this, Ben decides against going back into exile and goes to comfort Mary Jane instead. It was a good idea in theory, I suppose. Mary Jane Parker is none to pleased to see Mr. Reilly and greets him with a slap in the face, accusing him of causing more problems than helping. He leaves, but promises to help anyway. Peter is held without bail and Jacob Raven pays him a visit, informing him that he won't get away with killing Raven's former partner.

At the Bugle, Joe Robertson asks Jonah Jameson what they're going to do regarding the Parker story and if the Bugle will help the Parkers at all. Jonah is his usual gruff self and quickly dismisses Joe. We later discover that Jonah is privately footing all of Peter's legal bills. As the third Parker wanders the streets in search of answers, the jailed Peter seeks the same with his wife. He doesn't understand how he could be arrested for a crime he knows he didn't commit. Elsewhere, Jacob Raven is beginning to have doubts himself, while Kaine continues to have visions of Mary Jane's death.

Peter #3 is attacked by a street thug and rediscovers his powers, as he also comes to remember an old saying: "with power comes responsibility." As the Scarlet Spider follows Mary Jane to watch over her from above, he sees that she is confronted by Judas Traveller. Judas wants to understand Spider-Man through the woman who loves him, and although he is anxious to meet Ben again, it's an inconvenient time to do so. With a snap of his fingers, Traveller gets the street to explode, preoccupying the Scarlet Spider, who wonders how Traveller has seemingly gotten even more powerful. He also thinks back to how the villains have gotten a lot more powerful since the days of Mysterio and the Shocker. Traveller causes buildings to collapse, and even more explosions as the Scarlet Spider fights to keep Mary Jane from being abducted. In the end, a battered Scarlet Spider grabs Traveller's wrist before he can leave. Judas knows that Ben will not give up, and releases Mary Jane. He leaves, telling Ben, "Soon, very, Peter and I will sit down together and get to know all about one another." The Scarlet Spider apologizes to Mary Jane for intruding, but before he can leave she says that she's willing to try and talk to him.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And so Judas Traveller returns once again. As Ben Reilly points out in this story, Traveller seems even more powerful than before, and how the current crop of super-baddies are a far cry from guys like Mysterio and the Shocker. In my opinion, this wasn't necessarily a good thing. I always preferred a more street-level, realistic Spider-Man, as depicted in the stories by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. I had been feeling for quite a while - before I even started working at Marvel - that Spider-Man was being pushed in a direction that took him away from his simple roots, and I was hoping that would change in the new regime. For example, I knew how popular characters like Venom and Carnage were , but I didn't really like them from the start, because I felt that they were too "far out" for Spider-Man. With rare exceptions , Spider-Man shouldn't really be dealing with alien life forms or supernatural weirdness or epic "save the entire world" scenarios. I felt that Spider-Man stories, above all else, have to be aboutpeople, and that was getting lost amidst all the stuff that was going on with the character.
The biggest problem with Judas Traveller was that he was just too much of an enigma. What were the scope and nature of his powers? No one seemed to have an answer. What was his primary motivation? The answer from the Spider-Man writers was always, "Well, he's trying to understand the true nature of evil." Uhhhm, okay, but that's a bit... vague, you know? What does Traveller hope to gain from understanding evil? What's his ultimate goal? That always remained shrouded in mystery - even to us!

With the best Spider-Man villains, you understand who they are and what they want. For example, they're master criminals seeking to become the absolute crimelord of New York . Or they're high-tech thieves out for wealth and glory . Or they're power-mad lunatics . Or they're simply career criminals with super-powers . You get the idea. Even Venom has an understandable motivation, as contrived as it is. But with Traveller... there just wasn't anything that you could really put your finger on, and it was difficult to get interested in him, at least from my point of view.

This kind of thing was going on in the X-Men books all the time back then - these new villains would show up with a lot of flash and hype, with a lot of mystery and veiled references surrounding them. And in the end, nothing would come of it. None of them ended up having any real staying power, because they were so half-baked, ill-defined, and poorly developed. As a budding writer at the time, I learned a very important lesson from watching this happen at Marvel: try to know who your characters are before you introduce them. Maybe not every last detail of their lives and histories, but at least know who they are, what they want, their connections to the other characters in the story, their powers and abilities, and their weaknesses. It's kind of like Method acting for writing.

Looking back, I think Traveller may have been an attempt to introduce an X-Men-like villain into the Spider-Man universe, with the thinking that what was working for the X-Men books at that time would also work for Spider-Man. I don't know for sure, but that's my theory.

At any rate, I eventually got to say the last word on Judas Traveller, and correct the situation as I saw fit. More on that when we get to it. ]

Kaine pays a visit to Jacob Raven, telling him that he's arrested the wrong man. When Raven explains that the evidence indicates otherwise, Kaine puts his hand to Raven's face and gives him a non-lethal mark similar to that found on his other victims. He then tells Raven to look in the mirror and think about the "evidence" some more. Meanwhile, at Ravencroft, the Jackal contemplates the latest developments and thinks that "I couldn't have planned it better. Or did I?"

The second part of this story takes place in Spectacular Spider-Man #223, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Busema and Bill Sienkiewicz. It begins with the Jackal being interviewed by Doctor Kafka and making threats about genetically reengineering the entire human race. Ben and Mary Jane are having a quiet moment at the Parker home, but Mary Jane still can't face him without his mask, so he remains in costume the entire time. At the hospital, Detective Trevane talks with Jacob Raven, who removes his bandages and proclaims that he arrested the wrong man. On the streets on NYC, the third Parker sees a newspaper article with Peter Parker's photo along with the article about his arrest, which prompts him to act.

In prison, Peter Parker wonders if Ben Reilly is responsible for the murder for which he's been arrested. He debates breaking out of prison and taking down Reilly, but that would lead to the revelation of all their identities and hell for Mary Jane and their future child. He decides to stay put for now. Back at his home, Mary Jane and Ben are discussing why he is determined to help Peter. Ben tells Mary Jane that he has a degeneration factor, like all clones, and that it's only a matter of time before it catches up to him. He wants to help Peter so that at least one of them can have a happy life. With the revelation comes trust from Mary Jane, and she removes his mask.

Another old storyline comes in as the Jackal looks through Ravencroft's private files, specifically those of Malcom MacBride, a.k.a. the second Carrion. MacBride was a former associate of Professor Miles Warren who became Carrion. The Carrion virus was recently absorbed into Shriek, an enemy of Spider-Man's. The Jackal goes after Shriek because he wants the virus. Describing it as a weapon that makes real organic matter suffer the same effect as clone degeneration, the Jackal says that since he created it years ago, it belongs to him. Afterwards, the Jackal walks out of the institution with no one any wiser.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I believe the Carrion aspect of the story was added because Mark Bernardo and I kept pointing out to everybody that we'd have to address the matter of Carrion, since he was linked to the original clone stories and was later explained away by Gerry Conway following "The Evolutionary War." We'd have to make sense of it all, or they're still be dangling plot threads that didn't jibe with what we were doing. In the end, none of the regular Spider-Man writers got around to clearing it up, so Tom Brevoort and I ended up having to produce a special one-shot to settle the matter of Carrion once and for all. ]

The 3rd Parker passes the infamous warehouse where Spider-Man captured the burglar who killed Uncle Ben and comes to understand who he is. He rushes to the cemetery, to the graves of May and Ben and remembers the life he had. Falling to his knees, hands raised high, he screams, "I am Peter Parker."

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I wasn't thrilled with the Jackal's threats of genetically reengineering the entire human race. I felt it was a bit too "global" for a Spider-Man story. If you go back and read the original clone stories , you see that, when all is said and done, Miles Warren was a pathetic, lovesick, screwball scientist obsessed with the memory of Gwen Stacy, and he was desperate to bring her back to life any way possible. He was also a split personality, and his "Jackal" personality led to him becoming a major crime figure. From a character standpoint, nowhere in any of this does a desire to reengineer the human race really come into play. For that matter, I never really understood why he spent all those intervening years in a pod, genetically reengineering himself into a mutated version of his Jackal persona, but I guess that's more productive than sitting around in your underwear watching Godzilla movies. ]

Part 7

Another epic storyline begins this time around with "The Mark of Kaine," a five-parter that sheds a little more light on Kaine and more specifically, the third Peter Parker that's been running around for the past couple of weeks.

Part 1 begins in Web of Spider-Man #124, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. The story begins with a press conference announcing a high-powered defense attorney for Peter Parker, while Ben Reilly takes Mary Jane to his friend, Dr. Seward Trainer. They're running tests on the unborn child MJ is carrying to make sure that everything is okay with the baby. Everyone is a little worried that Peter's irradiated blood may have consequences for the fetus and they want to find out for certain that the child will be all right. Kaine observes from afar, as usual, growing concerned that the walls between Reilly and Parker are crumbling. He also sees that Mary Jane will die... with child. Meanwhile, the third Peter Parker wanders around his old home and wonders how long he's been away and how it came to this. At the same time, Joe Robertson and Jonah Jameson are having a dispute over the integrity of the paper. Jonah wants them to bury any stories about Peter's trial.

In prison, a fire breaks out and Peter comes to the rescue of some of the prisoners, using his super powers to get them out of their cells before the smoke can overcome them. He returns, safely to his cell with no one the wiser.

Jacob Raven is confronted by Doctor Octopus's old partner in crime (and former lover), Stunner. She tells him that she's heard Raven has doubts about Peter's guilt and asks him to team up with her to find the real killer, who also killed her beloved Ock.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I recall, Stunner was created by Tom DeFalco. She was an interesting character, since she obviously had very strong ties to Doctor Octopus, even though we had never seen her before this. There was clearly a lot of back-story to her, and I was curious to see how Tom D. was going to retroactively work her in to Ock's history. Tom D. definitely had a lot of ideas for Stunner, which he would reveal over time. In fact, an entire storyline would later be done that would be the culmination of all the groundwork laid down for her throughout the clone saga and beyond. ]

As Mary Jane leaves Dr. Trainer's labs, Kaine takes her into the sewers. He warns her that her life is near an end and before he can say anymore, she turns a drain on, forcing the water to topple Kaine. Making her escape to the streets again, MJ comes face to face with...Peter Parker.

Part 2 takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #401, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Mary Jane doesn't know whether this Peter Parker is her husband or Ben, but he tells her that he's neither; that while he's been locked away for five years an imposter stole his life from him. Kaine appears to warn Mary Jane about this new Parker and he and the 3rd Parker fight it out. Kaine wins again, but his fight takes long enough for Mary Jane to get away.

Moments later, Ben Reilly gets a call from Mary Jane, who informs him about the latest developments. At the same time, Peter is visited in prison by one of Traveller's associates, who warns Peter of the danger his wife is in. He decides to take control and come to Mary Jane's aid, even if it means damaging his own reputation should he be caught escaping. As he stands outside the prison walls, Traveller visits him and offers his help. He has put an illusion of Peter Parker in the cell, to remain until Peter can return from his task. Scrier appears after Peter moves on and questions Judas's fascination with the man. Again, a strong connection is hinted at between the two men.

Back at the Parker home, Mary Jane holds a gun in her hand. With all of the villains who've known Peter's secret, she felt safer about having a weapon for protection. She is surprised to find Spider-Man in the house, as well, but it's the 3rd Parker. Mary Jane warns him to stay away as he comes closer and closer. She fires the gun, missing, but the shock is enough to make her lose control. Before anything else can happen, Kaine appears to take out the 3rd Parker and grab Mary Jane. Kaine contemplates killing Parker, but hears something upstairs so he takes MJ and quickly leaves, heading toward his underground hideaway. It turns out that the noise Kaine heard was the Scarlet Spider coming inside. He wonders what Peter is doing home, but before the other Parker can answer, the Peter who just left prison enters the home.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Okay, at this point, the Spider-Man books were in danger of becoming like that old Marx Brothers movie where everyone was running around dressed like Groucho. Now that the three Peters were in the same place at the same time, there needed to be some sense of resolution to all of this. The clone saga was still very engaging and compelling, but from a story point of view, things really should have been headed for the ultimate conclusion.

As an aside, it should be noted that sales on the Spider-Man books at this time were phenomenal. I feel the need to point at that, despite popular belief, the clone saga significantly boosted sales on the Spider-Man books. At a time when the comics industry was starting to head downward, with sales dropping across the board on every title, the Spider-Man line was bucking the trend, with sales holding steady and even increasing each month. Of course, the downside to it was that everyone on the business side of Marvel was pushing us to keep the clone saga going for as long as possible, to milk it for all it was worth. Looking back, I can understand their position - the clone saga was one of the very few things that was actually working in the comics industry at the time, and there was a great deal of fear that the sales would drop like an anvil once the storyline was over. But of course, unnaturally prolonging what was at its essence a very finite storyline was extremely short-term thinking, and the kind of approach that could hurt the entire franchise. We (the editors and the writers) knew this, but the sales and marketing departments wielded a lot of power and influence at that time, and we had little choice but to follow their lead. Which is why Marvel was doing so many gimmick covers and "Alpha" issues and "Omega" issues and multi-part crossover storylines and... well, you get the idea. ]

Spider-Man #58, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna, continues "The Mark of Kaine" with part 3. The three Spider-Men try and make sense of all the confusion. Ben makes the comment that the only thing he's sure of is that he isn't Peter Parker. Scarlet Spider confronts the newest Parker and asks what has happened. The man passes out from the trauma incurred by his battle with Kaine. Scarlet then goes to the Peter who was in prison to find out what he's doing, and Peter reveals that he's going to look for his wife. He takes pieces from his old black costume: the gloves, the mask and web-shooters and creates a non-costume costume. He goes off, telling Scarlet to take care of the newest addition and when Ben goes to do so, he finds that the 3rd Parker in the Spider costume has disappeared.

Out on the rooftops of New York, Peter Parker (black suit) waits for a sign from Mary Jane and is accompanied by Ben, who tells him that he'll need his help to battle Kaine. While Mary Jane tries to get answers from Kaine, she pulls out a device from her pocket, a spider-tracer specially designed with a more powerful frequency to be used in emergencies. Peter gets the signal and goes in search of his wife, telling Ben to stay out of it. Meanwhile, Spider-Man (Peter Parker #3), insists that he won't let the two fakes get the better of him.

Peter in black and Scarlet find the source of the signal and head into the sewers. Scarlet tells Peter that he should go in first and deal with the dangerous Kaine while Peter concentrates on rescuing Mary Jane. As they move on, Peter 3 in the Spider-Man suit tells them that he'll find MJ and kill whoever took her and that the two other Spiders should just leave them alone.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : That pretty much killed any speculation that Peter #3 could be the real guy - Peter Parker would never condone killing. So from that moment on, Peter #3 was essentially nothing more than another plot point that needed to be wrapped up. ]

Mary Jane is on the run from Kaine, who appears to want to fulfill his visions of Mary Jane's death himself when the 3 Spider-Men appear. They pounce on Kaine as MJ tries to get away, not sure that any of them are the real Peter Parker. Scarlet leads the assault on Kaine while Peter in black goes after Mary Jane, who has Peter 3 following her. Peter 3 starts to go crazy, insisting that he's the real Parker and needs to kill everyone else. Before Peter in black and MJ can turn around to escape, they find Kaine blocking the other exit.

The ultra-confusing storyline reaches Part 4 in Spectacular Spider-Man #224, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz. The 3rd Parker now stands revealed as nothing more than a genetically engineered killing machine whose purpose was to destroy. As Peter and Mary Jane make their escape, Kaine and Scarlet Spider take on the monster Parker, who now has the ability to recode his DNA and morph his body at will.

Peter and Mary Jane make their way out of the sewers and onto safety, but they both know that Ben Reilly needs help or he'll never survive. Mary Jane gives her blessing, and Peter grabs the black mask and goes back to save his "brother." The attack comes up onto the surface and the assassin Parker is seemingly killed when a propane truck explodes. Kaine survives and moves on, leaving Reilly be. Peter and Ben confront each other outside, where Peter accuses Ben of the murders he's been arrested for. Ben proclaims his innocence but knows that words can only do so much, so he offers to switch places with Peter. He'll go to prison and let Peter return home to his wife. As Ben Reilly sneaks back to prison as Peter Parker, Scrier and Traveller make their observations.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I liked the fact that the third Peter Parker went down absolutely convinced that he was the real one, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Tom DeFalco did a nice job with this issue, injecting Peter #3 with a real sense of tragedy. He wasn't just a run-of-the-mill, morphing, wisecracking bad guy. Incidentally, Peter #3 was referred to as "Freakface" throughout the issue, and I remember that Tom D. was pushing for that to become the character's regular name in the future. It certainly was no worse than the name that was actually used later on - more on that when we get to it. Overall, though, my belief was that once Peter #3 was revealed to be just another clone, he should have been disposed of as quickly and as permanently as possible. He'd already served his purpose as a red herring, and there were already too many variations of Peter Parker running around. We never should have seen him again, in my opinion. ]

The story reached its conclusion in Spider-Man Unlimited #9, written by Tom Lyle and illustrated by Ron Lim, Ron Garney, Tod Smith, Tom Palmer, Tim Tuohy, Al Milgrom, Jimmy Palmiotti and Randy Emberlin. The main focus of this issue concerns some of Spider-Man's greatest enemies: Vulture, Hobgoblin, Mysterio, Lady Scorpia, Beetle, Shocker and Electro, who gather to decide what to do about Kaine. Since the mysterious vigilante has already killed two of Spider-Man's enemies, they feel that any one of them can be next and should strike proactively.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom Lyle was promised the opportunity to write when he came over to Marvel to draw Spider-Man. To fulfill that promise, Spider-Man Group Editor Danny Fingeroth gave Lyle the SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED title as a regular writing assignment. For those of you who don't remember, SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED was a double-sized comic that was published quarterly, sort of like an annual that's published every three months. I could certainly relate to Tom Lyle's desire to write, and he was very enthusiastic about being a part of the creative process. But to be honest, he really wasn't ready for such a big writing assignment. Certainly not in the middle of the clone saga, during which every chapter needed to be a total winner - and in that regard, even experienced, seasoned writers occasionally stumbled. But Danny felt he had an obligation to Tom L. and wanted to keep his promise, which is certainly very admirable.

When Bob Budiansky became Editor in Chief of the Spider-Man Group, Danny was still in place as Group Editor, and Bob didn't want to upset the apple cart too much at the beginning. Nor did Bob want to undermine Danny's authority as Group Editor. Despite his own doubts about Tom Lyle's writing, Bob chose not to overturn Danny's decision. Again, this was admirable. Creatively, however, this would prove to be not the best move. ]

Peter Parker, in Scarlet Spider guise, is heading home to Mary Jane but gets pre-occupied with the Beetle. During their fight, he loses his web pack, which contains the black costume. The pack is found by the police and reporter Ken Ellis, who recognizes the suit and wonders how the Scarlet Spider came into its possession. Peter finally makes it home and reunites with his wife, while Ben tries to adapt to prison life. A visitor is announced and Ben meets with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, who Ben doesn't recognize. Felicia realizes that something strange is going on and wonders what happened to Peter. Meanwhile, Jacob Raven and Stunner continue their questioning of the underworld in an effort to find out more about Kaine. Stunner's methods of interrogation are a little harsher than his, but Raven wants Parker exonerated by any means.

Across town, Kaine attacks the Hobgoblin, who is soon rescued by his fellow super-villains. None of them seem to be able to take Kaine on, but Scarlet (Peter) Spider arrives on the scene to makes sure that no one dies during the extraordinary battle. Eventually it ends with everyone getting away relatively unscathed, and Peter reaching a decision that he must help Ben no matter what. He also needs to find Kaine before he can become a threat to him and Mary Jane again. Speaking of Mary Jane, she's received a call from Dr. Trainer, requesting that she visit his lab to go over the tests they took earlier. After meeting with him, something prompts MJ to run away, worried about whatever news she just received.

Later that evening, Scrier appears at the scene of the battle that occurred between Peter, Ben, Kaine and the assassin Parker. He finds a pile of goo with shreds of the Spider costume and takes it, believing that it may be of some use down the line. The story ends with Mary Jane appearing at Felicia Hardy's. Though they aren't the best of friends, MJ needs someone to talk to that she can confide in.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : All the identity switching, multiple versions of costumes... it was reaching fairly ludicrous proportions. As mentioned earlier, this was an ultra-confusing storyline, but there was at least some forward momentum. The trouble with Mary Jane's pregnancy was obviously the most compelling subplot. Bringing in the Black Cat and having her interact with Ben, who was pretending to be Peter, was a nice idea. And we saw more of Scrier's mysterious solo activities. But considering the fact that the story was called "The Mark of Kaine," we really didn't learn all that much about him, did we? Oh, well, it's not like there wouldn't be plenty of other opportunities for that along the way... ]