For months, fans had been asking, "Where's Kaine!?!" That question was answered in the 4-part story running through all the Spider-titles, "The Return of Kaine."
The story begins in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #231, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Al Milgrom. Kaine wakes up only to be attacked by a group of thugs. Though disoriented, Kaine is able to handle his attackers with ease. After dealing with them, he tries to figure out where he is and how he got there, only to be confronted by Shannon Fitzpatrick, who calls herself The Muse.
The story then cuts to an island in the Tropics, which is home to James Johnsmeyer, a multi-billionaire and one of the sponsors behind the "Great Game." James is talking to another sponsor who recently won a bet against him. After finishing up his call and taking care of business, James gets a call from Shannon, who tells him that their new "recruit" is doing well. James reveals a little more about the history of the Game. Years ago, several wealthy businessmen, bored with their far out lifestyles, sought to do something to amuse themselves. They decided to become sponsors of super-powered individuals who would compete with each other, and wager on their "players." James's best player was Muse, who was recently injured. This necessitated James seeking Kaine as a replacement.
Shannon tells Kaine everything he wants to know. James had Shannon follow Jacob Raven, who was following Kaine, hoping that Raven would lead them to their prize. They found Kaine next to the regeneration pod in the Jackal's lab, lying unconscious, and took him with them to nurse him back to health.
James and Shannon make Kaine the offer he can't refuse: sign onto a contract with him and have everything he could ever want. Kaine refuses and tries to battle his way out. He is then aided by Shannon, who uses her powers to persuade Kaine to take her with him.
The story ends with a wrecking crew demolishing a familiar factory's smokestack. In the rubble they find a skeleton with the remains of a Spider-Man costume on it.
Here now, with a special thought on this particular skeletal turn of events, is Clone King, former Marvel EIC, and writer of SPIDER-GIRL (Marvel Comics), RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE M@N and MR. RIGHT (both from Image Comics), Tom DeFalco...
TOM: I don't remember those days with any degree of fondness. The original master plan for the clone saga was a simple three-stage story: Ben returns, is declared the original and becomes the new Spider-Man, until the story's final arc which would show Peter returning to reclaim his identity and his life.
After I was fired as Editor in Chief, it was decided that Ben really was the original, and a new master plan was conceived. This plan was soon discarded. New plans seemed to appear on an almost daily basis, and they were replaced just as quickly. As the pressures to find a "solution" increased, so did the phone calls from the Spider-Editors.
On most mornings the phone would ring about ten after nine, and I'd be in a conference call until around one o'clock. I'd get a half hour to forty-five minutes for lunch (but I usually just gobbled aspirins and tried to reclaim my temper) and then the conference call would continue to around six o'clock. (Although I recall one night when it ended around nine-thirty.) And that's when I was supposed to start writing!
Since I wasn't getting much work done, I eventually put my foot down and informed the powers-that-were that I wasn't going to answer my phone before one o'clock. I don't think they were pleased, but they also didn't want me to miss my deadlines, either.
Every plot was discussed to the point of absurdity. Individual panels were subjected to excruciating debate, and you were expected to do a few rewrites on every story.
If I remember correctly, we had discussed my next plot, gone over it panel by panel, and had finally agreed to what was supposed to happen in it. I typed it up that night and faxed it in the following morning. Everyone managed to read it before the one o'clock conference call.
I seem to remember that Bob Budiansky was pretty happy with the plot. He had only one question, "What about the skeleton in the smokestack?"
"The WHAT?!" I asked. That's when I learned that somewhere between the time my plot was finalized and I delivered it - a period that couldn't have been longer than twenty-four hours - someone had proposed the "skeleton in the smokestack" subplot, Bob agreed to it, and decided that it should begin in the issue that preceded mine.
"Let me get this straight," I asked in what I'm sure was a less than civil tone, "The issue before mine ends with the discovery of the original clone's skeleton in a smokestack and you want to know how I intend to address this cliffhanger in my story."
"That's right," he responded. "What are you going to do?"
"Do we know if this skeleton actually is the original clone?"
"Do we know if it's fake?"
"Do we know ANYTHING about it?"
"Do we have the slightest idea WHERE WE ARE GOING WITH THIS #%^@& SUBPLOT?"
"And you want to know HOW I'm going to address it?"
(If memory serves, the conversation went downhill from there!)
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The "skeleton in the smokestack" idea was suggested by Kurt Busiek, who at the time was writing UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN for Tom Brevoort and me. In fact, I believe Kurt ran it by Tom and me first, before bringing it to Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky. It was recognized immediately as a great idea; a terrific, surprising, mind-blowing moment, one that would really shake things up and create major buzz. Budiansky jumped right on it and wanted it incorporated into the books right away, even though he - and everyone else, including Kurt - had no idea what it meant, or where it would go. I'm sure that's not what Kurt had in mind when he made the suggestion. And it wasn't Kurt's responsibility to figure the whole thing out, since he wasn't writing any of the core books. He just wanted to provide a suggestion, a possible starting point, for something that would really get people talking, and it would be left to the core writers and editors to figure out where it all led. Obviously, the right thing to do would have been to take the idea and develop it, figure out in advance where it would lead, what would come of it, and how it would be used to resolve the clone saga, and then introduce it into the books. But none of that was done. Bob just seized on the idea, recognizing it as the great suggestion that it was, and went full speed ahead on it without having a road map in place. As a result, the skeleton in the smokestack ended up causing more problems than it solved, and as a mystery, it completely fizzled out. It wasn't even resolved in the core Spider-Man books! I ended up taking care of it in my SPIDER-MAN: THE OSBORN JOURNAL one-shot published in December 1996. And while it was personally gratifying for me to be the one who finally brought the matter to a close, I couldn't help feeling - even as I wrote it - that this was a great idea that deserved more attention and a far more dramatic resolution than what I was able to give it.
To illustrate the problem: No one knew if the skeleton in the smokestack was going to be the remains of the original clone of Peter Parker from the 1970s Jackal stories, or something else entirely. The intention was to raise this question in the readers' minds: if the skeleton is the original clone, and Ben is the original Peter Parker, then who is the Peter Parker that's married to Mary Jane?
That question would then lead to: is Peter Parker the real guy after all, and Ben the clone? And if the smokestack skeleton is actually the original clone, then what exactly is Ben?
During one of my many conversations with Tom DeFalco during this period, he said to me: "The simplest solution is always the best one. You can make a story complex, but you shouldn't make it complicated." Tom D. was absolutely right, and from then on, I always kept that adage in mind whenever I wrote a story. And the problem with the skeleton was that it made the story more complicated, not more complex. If the ultimate goal now was to simply reestablish Peter Parker as the real guy and Ben as the clone, then introducing this new element only muddied the waters and served as an unnecessary distraction - unless there was some kind of dramatic payoff in the end. And that, as I discussed above, we did not have.
At one point, there was serious talk about having the skeleton really be the original clone that Peter Parker tossed down the smokestack. Which meant we would then have to figure out what Ben Reilly really was. Bob Budiansky insisted, if we were to go in this direction, that Ben had to remain unique and distinctive, and that his history and his character had to remain valid in the minds of the readers. Therefore, Ben could not be simply explained away as "just another Peter Parker clone that the Jackal had lying around." For days, we all struggled to figure out what Ben could be if he wasn't the original clone. I believe that a "Superman Red, Superman Blue"-type solution was even suggested at one point (no, I'm not kidding). I remember throwing up my hands in frustration and saying, "Wouldn't it be easier to just keep Ben as the original clone and establish the skeleton as some sort of mind-fuck?" Prophetic words indeed! ]
"The Return of Kaine" continues in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #2, written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens with finishes by Klaus Janson. Ben heads to work, where he sees Jessica, already waiting. He gets her a latte and sits down with her when he notices a Daily Bugle front page headline saying, "Spider-Man: Dead?" complete with a photo of the skeleton found in the smokestack. Questions begin to plague Reilly. He was the one who was thrown into the smokestack by Peter Parker, after being believed dead. He also was the one who crawled out of the same smokestack, so how could there be a skeleton?
At the same time, J. Jonah Jameson is wondering why he wasn't brought into this story earlier, since he's always had a vested interest in all things Spider-related. While Robbie Robertson tries to calm him, Jameson decides he's going to investigate on his own, beginning at the morgue. Spider-Man beats him to the scene, though. Believing that he'd be able to identify a dupe, Spider-Man finds the remains, recognizes the mask as being one of his own creations and realizes that it's authentic. Rather than calling Peter to drag him into it or letting the authorities poke around, Spider-Man steals the remains.
Swinging through the city on the way home to hide the body, Spider-Man runs into the Rhino, who's battling Kaine. The Rhino is also involved in the 'Game' and he sees taking Kaine and Shannon out as a way of scoring some major points. When Spider-Man tries to get involved, the Rhino brings down the house, so to speak, demolishing a building. In the confusing mess of the debris, Spider-Man gets caught underneath it all, and the Rhino goes off in search of Kaine and Shannon, who've disappeared.
Spider-Man finally arrives at his apartment and has to stash the skeleton outside for the time being, as he discovers Jessica is waiting for him alone. After changing, Ben comes in and discovers that Jessica organized a housewarming party for him (but all the guests are now long gone). He even has a new TV set as a housewarming gift! Jessica tells Ben that they should "get to know each other better," and they share a kiss.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I don't recall Dan Jurgens being too enthusiastic about the Kaine story line, which would certainly explain why there are only five pages devoted to it in SENSATIONAL #2. ]
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #409, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt, covers part 3 of "The Return of Kaine." The issue picks up more on the dealings of the "Great Game," with James Johnsmeyer discussing options with his fellow sponsors. They want to know whether to proceed with Kaine's initiation or factor Spider-Man into the proceedings. They vote to include the wall-crawler.
The Daily Bugle staff is holding discussions of their own. While Jameson wants to nail Spider-Man using the skeleton information and Ken Ellis's sensationalism, Robbie wants to let Ben Urich get to the truth before doing anything. Jameson tells him that they report facts, not the truth.
Elsewhere, the Rhino catches up to Kaine and Shannon, forcing them into another battle. Before the Rhino can lay claim to his "prize," two more Game contestants join the fun, Joystick and Polestar. The Rhino doesn't take kindly to people trying to steal his thunder, so he turns his attention away from Kaine and on to smashing Joystick and her buddy. Spider-Man can't sit by and watch the city become torn apart by this bunch so he intervenes.
During the battle, each combatant manages to pummel each other senseless, while Spider-Man concentrates on keeping the sides even and making sure that no innocents get injured. Kaine bests the Rhino and he slips away with Shannon, but not before Shannon is able to place a call to Johnsmeyer, revealing that she's been allied with him all along. The issue ends as Carolyn Trainer pays a visit to her father in the hospital and mentions how he will soon pass on.
"The Return of Kaine" concludes in SPIDER-MAN #66, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr, Al Williamson, Dick Giordano and Al Milgrom. Spider-Man catches up to Kaine and tries to apprehend him. While Kaine states that he doesn't mean Spider-Man any harm, he simply can't allow himself to be captured and brings down a wall, using his adhesion power.
The police arrive on the scene but they're more interested in arresting Spider-Man, for stealing the skeleton, than they are in Kaine. Soon they try to apprehend all of them, but Kaine brings down another wall, causing enough of a distraction to get away.
At the Daily Bugle, Jameson is livid that none of his newspaper people have been able to get any more information on the skeleton. He places a call to someone who he claims has always been the best at getting the dirt on Spider-Man and offers to pay for all expenses to get the person out to New York ASAP.
Kaine and Shannon invade the Johnscorp building and have to battle through laser cannons and other high tech security devices before they can go any further. After a great deal of destruction on the rooftops, Shannon thanks Kaine for saving her life earlier and kisses him. Their moment of intimacy is shattered when Kaine gets a vision of Shannon, dead, with his mark on her face. Furious, Kaine tears through the building, promising to end the Game, now. Spider-Man arrives, telling Kaine that he's never been more right, but before they can get into it the rooftop opens and the three fall into a center room.
Visions of Johnsmeyer and the rest of the sponsors appear on the walls. Johnsmeyer reveals to Kaine that Shannon was in on it the whole time. Kaine, remembering how Louise Kennedy also betrayed him, tries to fulfill his own prophecy by killing Shannon, saying how there was never really any choice. Spider-Man tries to reason with him, telling Kaine that he's better than that and that he can choose to do what's right. Kaine reluctantly agrees, letting Shannon go. He says that no one will ever use him again, and promises to hunt down Johnsmeyer.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This "softening" of Kaine's character was part of Bob Budiansky's long-range plans to turn Kaine into a more heroic figure and hopefully spin him off into his own series, as had been done earlier with Venom. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the main reason for doing "The Return of Kaine" was to test the waters and see how Kaine worked as a lead character. ]
Spider-Man tells Kaine again that he can't let him just walk away, while Kaine replies that he won't let himself be taken in. Spider-Man knows that the degeneration made Kaine bigger, stronger and more powerful than himself, but he uses all he can to try and bring Kaine down. He eventually starts to see Kaine fall, but then Shannon uses her powers to stun Spider-Man and thus give Kaine the diversion he needs to slip away. The story ends back at the Bugle, where Peter and Mary Jane Parker arrive, as per Jameson's request to get to the bottom of the skeleton situation.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : What I didn't mention earlier was that the skeleton in the smokestack had a secondary purpose, and that purpose was to serve as the catalyst to bring Peter and Mary Jane back into the books. To that extent, it was successful.
Peter and Mary Jane's return to New York came only a month or two after we said a fond farewell to them in the last issue of the SPIDER-MAN: THE FINAL ADVENTURE limited series. Ideally, they would have been kept out of the books for a while longer, so that the readers would at least get a chance to miss them, and their sudden reappearance would therefore have more dramatic impact. It was one of those situations where, as someone intimately involved with all this stuff, you just had to shake your head, say "Whatever" with a sigh, and move on.
Now for a special treat. I mentioned last time that I still had all the infamous "clone memos" that circulated between the Spider-Man Group when we were trying to resolve the clone saga. Starting with this column, I'll present some of the most interesting and significant ideas proposed in these memos, and you'll get a sense of the creative process that went into trying to restore order to the Spider-Man books.
I've discussed in the past that once it was decided that Peter had to return as Spider-Man, there was no chance that he could become a father. What you probably never knew was that Peter's return as Spider-Man was also going to coincide with the end of his marriage to Mary Jane. It was felt that Peter Parker should go back to being single, and that the end of the clone saga was the place to do it. So you see, the breakup of Peter and Mary Jane's marriage, which happened in the 2001 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL, was actually something that was intended to happen six years ago!
The first memo, dated June 29, 1995, comes from Todd Dezago. In a nutshell, Todd proposed that we announce a storyline called "The Death of the Clone," which would get all of fandom thinking that Peter (still believed to be the clone) was going to either die of clone degeneration or get killed by some super-villain. As the suspense builds to a dramatic peak, Ben Reilly is the one who gets the clone degeneration and melts away, revealing that Peter was the real deal all along.
An interesting fake-out, isn't it? Sort of like the way Alfred Hitchcock made audiences think that Janet Leigh's character was going to be the main character in Psycho, only to kill her off within the first third of the film. But wait, there's more.
As Peter copes with both the sudden restoration of his identity and the loss of the closest thing he's ever had to a brother, the pregnant Mary Jane also develops clone degeneration and melts away! Mary Jane was a clone, too! It turns out that the Jackal captured the real Mary Jane years earlier and kept her in suspended animation for all that time! She and Peter were never married! As Todd wrote, "No baby! Peter's single! No clone! Disoriented MJ has to readjust! We play down the tragedy of Peter losing his family by having a 'new' Mary Jane around... (Peter) will feel responsible in that she lost five years of her life and was drawn into it all because he was Spider-Man!"
I honestly don't remember what my reaction to Todd's memo was back then, but considering how wacky some of the later ideas were, this one is pretty reasonable to me. Hell, I'm wondering now why we didn't pursue this any further! I kind of like it, actually. It's simple, it's clean, and it accomplishes everything it needs to. It's not a perfect solution, but then again, neither was the one we ended up using for real. And this one has that extra twist of Mary Jane having been a clone since 1975. I mean, who would've seen that coming?