The End of the Clone Saga
PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75
Written by Howard Mackie
Illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna
With Special Thanks to Glenn Greenberg
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned in this column waaaaay back, writer Howard Mackie was not much of a "continuity" person. When writing stories that had to deal with or debunk past continuity, Howard tended to give hurried and unsatisfying explanations, or he would simply dance around the matter and quickly move on, hoping that no one would care too much. This did not make him the ideal person to write PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75 (which, by the way, was the first issue to bear this modified title).
This story, after all, would have to confront and debunk a bona fide classic Spider-Man story, one that had rightfully achieved legendary status. The most important job of PPSM #75, besides ending the Clone Saga, was to convince long-suffering and long-jaded readers that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Norman Osborn had not really died, that he had been alive all along and was manipulating Peter Parker's life from afar. For this to work, to get the readers to accept this, the explanation had to be clear and logical. It could not raise more questions than it answered. Just as importantly, the information had to be conveyed with crisp, compelling dialogue rather than stiff, overwritten exposition.
None of this, however, played to Howard's strengths as a writer.
For this reason, PPSM #75 became very much a group effort. For starters, Editor in Chief Bob Harras was heavily involved in developing the plot. The jeopardy at the Daily Bugle involving the supporting cast came from him, as did the tone of the interactions between Norman and Peter-right down to some of their dialogue.
At the request of editor Ralph Macchio, I was also heavily involved, along with Ralph's former assistant editor, Mark Bernardo, who had just recently been promoted and was no longer working on the Spider-Man books. (I believe my boss, editor Tom Brevoort was also involved, but to a lesser extent.) We made comments on each draft of Howard's plot, pointing out inconsistencies, continuity gaffes, and instances where Howard strayed too far from what had been agreed upon (or requested by Harras) in advance. Howard went through several drafts of the plot before we all agreed that it was satisfactory enough to be sent to John Romita Jr. for penciling. ]
The issue begins in the streets on New York with a disguised Norman Osborn running into his grandson, Normie, who's going trick or treating. Norman tells the boy to be careful since Halloween, the night of the goblins, can be a dangerous night. As Norman walks away, the little boy watches him and whispers, "Grandpa…?"
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was, in my opinion, a GREAT opening scene, and it was suggested by good ol' Mark Bernardo. ]
At the Daily Bugle, Jameson demands to know what's going on, now that the staff and other people have come up for a party that no one is responsible for throwing. Elsewhere, Peter rushes over to the hospital, regretting the time he wasted trying to help Ben. When he gets there, he finds the hospital staff to be of no help. The woman at the information desk even tells him that they don't have a record of Mary Jane being admitted. Dr. Folsome finds Peter and tells him that there's been a problem. Before Peter can do anything, Folsome injects Peter with drugs that knock him unconscious.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : It should be pointed out here that the reason why Peter's spider-sense didn't warn him about Dr. Folsome and the injection is because his spider-sense had been temporarily nullified by the mysterious gas that Stromm used on Peter and Ben during the battle in AMAZING #418. (This is also the reason why Norman was able to sneak up behind Ben and render him unconscious at the end of that same issue.) Looking back, this plot point should have been made much clearer in the actual "Revelations" story line. As written, it was handled far too subtly and was easy to miss. ]
Peter wakes up in costume later, still disoriented and weak as someone in the shadows tells him that it's time to lay their history to rest. Peter thinks that it's Harry Osborn, but the man replies, "No, Peter. My son is dead. You saw to that. And now I've come back to see to it that you pay for every transgression you've made against me and my family." He reveals himself to be Norman Osborn, which sends Spider-Man reeling. Norman taunts him with memories of how he killed Gwen while all Spider-Man could do was watch. He then explains that he's not a clone, a doppelganger or a mechanical construct, but the real Norman Osborn, and he rips open his shirt to reveal the scar on his chest (from being impaled by the goblin glider) to prove it.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : There's no denying that this was a very powerful and dramatic moment, beautifully illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna. In fact, I would have to say that the best thing about PPSM #75 was getting the chance to see JR Jr.'s depictions of Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin, both of whom he'd never really gotten a chance to draw before. Say what you will about the story, and I know how much Spider-Man fandom was split on that, but I don't think ANYTHING negative can be said about the work that John and Scott did on this issue. ]
Norman begins to put on the Green Goblin costume as he explains to Spider-Man that the formula which gave him his super strength also provided him with a healing factor that began to repair his vital organs immediately. Spider-Man asks Norman what he wants, and Norman replies, "Your life." As Norman tells Spider-Man how its always been about the two of them and this final moment. Spider-Man begins to tell Norman that he's not the real one and just a clone, but Osborn interrupts. "You really don't have a clue as to how much I've been involved in the events of your life, do you?" Norman asks.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : In addition to the plot, Mark Bernardo and I were also very involved in the script stage of this issue. With Ralph, we went through the entire script and tightened, punched up, and rewrote the dialogue where it was needed.
When Howard Mackie was scripting the first scene between Peter and Norman, he called me and asked how Norman survived his apparent death in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122, how he'd gotten away, where he'd been all this time, and what were the most important bits of information about Norman's activities that would absolutely need to be covered in PPSM #75. I was a bit taken aback, because all of the information Howard was asking for had been included in the detailed Norman Osborn time line that I put together, which Ralph Macchio had already sent to Howard and the other Spider-Man writers. Now, here was Howard, making it very clear that he had never read the time line. I found that interesting, since Howard, of all the regular Spider-Man writers, was the one who would exclusively be dealing with Norman in this story line, and therefore the time line would be of most use to him.
Nevertheless, I gave Howard the information he needed, and when the script pages for this scene came in, I did some tweaking on the dialogue to ensure that the information would be consistent with the time line and, more importantly, with THE OSBORN JOURNAL, which was well underway at that point.
When I thought about how much work I had done on PPSM #75, and the fact that a significant amount of material that I had developed for THE OSBORN JOURNAL would first appear in PPSM #75-well before my one-shot would hit the stands-I went to Ralph and asked for an acknowledgment in the credits. Ralph agreed that I had made enough contributions to deserve such an acknowledgment, which is why I received that "With Special Thanks To" credit. ]
Norman pulls out a bloodied and unconscious Ben Reilly and taunts Spider-Man some more. He tells Spider-Man that he was manipulating Miles Warren, Seward Trainer and more aspects of his life than he could ever imagine. Pointing to Ben, Osborn says, "This thing here-this Ben Reilly. He is the clone, Peter. He always has been and a victory over him means nothing."
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I really liked how Norman referred to Ben as a "thing," and considered his victory over Ben to be meaningless. I felt this provided a very nice insight into Norman's character and how he viewed the whole clone situation. This dialogue came purely from Howard Mackie, and I remember calling him just to compliment him on it. ]
Putting his mask on, Norman rants some more about how he's wanted Parker to suffer for what he did to the Osborn family. He later taunts Spider-Man more by telling him that what he took from him earlier tonight was to even the score for the loss of his son. Fighting off the effects of the drugs, Spider-Man lunges at the Green Goblin, who is pleased to see Spidey back to full strength. "Good," he says, "I want this final battle to be a grand one."
The Goblin sends Spider-Man crashing out the window. Spider-Man shoots a web to save himself but it gives the Goblin time to head across the street to the Daily Bugle. Ben wakes up and tells Spider-Man that Norman filled him in on his master plan. Osborn has rigged the Bugle with pumpkin bombs and trapped everyone inside. He's going to kill them first to torture Ben and Peter. Spider-Man tells Ben to clear his head and try to rescue the people from the Bugle while he goes after the Goblin.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Ben Reilly's Spider-Man costume is completely tattered and torn when Norman pulls Ben out to show him to Peter. When Ben heads over to the Daily Bugle, he's wearing the clothes that Peter was wearing at the beginning of the issue. As I recall, this was my idea, as I felt there was a great deal of irony in having Ben meet his final fate wearing Peter Parker's clothes. ]
The Green Goblin crashes through the window of the Daily Bugle and grabs Jameson, who seems to recognize the Goblin's voice. "Norman?" Jameson asks. The Goblin is pleased that Jameson remembers and tells him that he's not going to kill him just yet. He tells the people in the room that they've all earned his hatred and disgust, even though some of them probably don't even know how. Spider-Man comes in and forces the Goblin to take the fight back outside. Pumpkin bomb explosions and laser blasts light up the night sky as Spider-Man tells the Goblin to come out and show himself if he really wants to fight.
The Green Goblin launches another assault that takes Spider-Man by surprise, causing him to crash onto the roof of the Daily Bugle. As the Goblin laughs maniacally, Spider-Man begins to rise, raising his hand and gesturing for the Goblin to come at him again if he dares. "If you want me dead, you grinning green clown… you're going to have to do much better than that! Let's finish this…now!" This Romita Jr.-illustrated panel, of Spider-Man getting back on his feet, is my favorite in the book. Classic. The Goblin is furious. He wants to know how Spider-Man can keep getting up, but Spider-Man replies that he's not going to fall until he knows the truth about Mary Jane and their baby.
Soon, news teams are covering the fight between these two. Different people in Spider-Man's life, such as Devon and Arthur Stacy, race to the Bugle to get a firsthand look. Out of his costume, Ben breaks into the Bugle offices using his spider-strength and tells everyone to get out. Once the innocents are free and clear, Ben uses his spider-sense to find and gather up the bombs to take them to the roof. Flash comes back and tells Reilly not to try and be a hero, but goes to pick up a bomb. Ben pushes Flash out of the way as the bomb explodes, taking most of the force of the explosion that knocks Flash unconscious. Ben can see the Osborn building across the street and decides that's where he's going to drop the bombs. First bring down the building, and then the owner.
As Spider-Man stands ready for another barrage of hits from his opponent, the Goblin asks why he doesn't give up. Why doesn't he just lie down and die? Spider-Man delivers a powerful kick to the Goblin's chest that takes the wind out of him and replies, "I do it to spite you. I do it in spite of you." Spider-Man takes off his mask and the Goblin's, saying "No more masks. This has never been about Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. It's always been about Peter Parker and Norman Osborn and tonight they settle this face to face…as men." Spider-Man sends a powerful right hook to the Goblin, knocking him down and apparently out.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I recall, that bit about "This has never been about Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, it's always been about Peter Parker and Norman Osborn" came directly from Bob Harras. It was his feeling that this was what the whole story should really be all about, what it should all come down to.
Well, it makes for an intriguing line of dialogue, but it was my opinion then, and it's still my opinion now, that it doesn't hold any water when you stop and think about it. As far as I can tell, it IS, and always HAS been, about Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, because WITHOUT Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, there would be NO conflict whatsoever between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin were archenemies long before Peter and Norman ever knew of each other. Of course, the conflict between them greatly intensified after they discovered each other's true identities, but when all is said and done, it was really Spider-Man and the Goblin who were at war with each other, and that was what everything revolved around. I can't argue with Bob Harras's knowledge and understanding of the X-Men, but when it came to Spider-Man, I didn't think he had as firm a grasp, and I think it's possible that he saw the Peter/Norman relationship as something along the same lines as the Charles Xavier/Magneto relationship-which is simply not correct. ]
Ben comes over to congratulate his cousin on a job well done, but he's too weakened to dispose of the bombs properly. Spider-Man takes the bag containing the pumpkin bombs and agrees to drop them off at Osborn's building. At that moment, Osborn pulls out his "impaled on a glider" trick. The jagged front of the glider heads right for Spider-Man, but Ben gets in front of it, taking the glider right in the back. The force of the collision sends Ben off the top of the roof of the Bugle and he crashes onto a car below.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I'm not sure who came up with the idea that Ben should be impaled on the Goblin's bat-glider, although I do know that it wasn't me. Obviously, this was done to echo Norman's "death" in AMAZING #122. I think I reacted positively to the idea when I first saw it in the plot. I do know that I didn't try to argue against it. With the Green Goblin back and Ben Reilly having to die, the idea actually seemed pretty appropriate to me.
I know that a lot of fans complained about how Ben was killed. Some people said that it was ridiculous for Ben to have flung himself in front of the glider, and that he didn't even NEED to do it, as Peter's spider-sense would have warned him in time. But, as I mentioned before (and as it SHOULD have been made clearer in the actual story), both Peter and Ben's spider-senses had been temporarily nullified, so Peter wasn't aware that the glider was headed right for him. Also, Ben had been badly beaten so his reaction time was down, and he was out of costume, so it's not like he could use his web-shooters to snag the glider and fling it away from Peter. ]
The Goblin gets back on his glider and heads right for Spider-Man, who looks down onto the street in shock. "Goodbye, Peter," the Goblin says as he heads for Spider-Man. Spider-Man swings around quickly and hits the Goblin with the bag of pumpkin bombs. "Goodbye, Green Goblin," Spider-Man says.
As the bombs begin to go off, covering the Goblin in flames, Osborn continues to rant, telling Spider-Man that he'll never kill him. "Besides, I've already won. Take your pyrrhic victory. You have no idea what I've taken from you!" And with that, the Green Goblin disappears.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : People have asked me over the years if Peter was really intending to kill the Goblin when he hit him with that bag of pumpkin bombs. I'd like to think he wasn't, because Spider-Man is simply not a killer, no matter the circumstances. He's a hero, and a hero should never kill if it can be avoided. I guess we can assume that with Norman having revealed to Peter the existence of his incredible healing factor, Peter knew that the bombs wouldn't kill Norman, that they would only incapacitate him temporarily. Which we now know was exactly what happened, since Norman came back, strong and healthy, a little less than a year later.
I was actually very much in favor of Norman coming back again after PPSM #75, and I was looking forward to it. In fact, as our work on this issue was coming to a close, I made the point to Ralph and Bob and the Spider-Man writers that this simply couldn't be the final death of Norman. I argued that we could not have gone to all the trouble of bringing him back, could not have gone to such great lengths to undo one of the all-time greatest deaths in comic-book history, just to kill him again, and to do it in a way that could never live up to what had been done that first time. I said that we should get as much out of Norman's return as we possibly could, and make him a powerful, ongoing presence that could really shake things up in the post-Clone Saga era of Spider-Man. I guess they all felt the same way I did.
The other reason I wanted Norman to return was because starting with SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #241, the first issue after the Clone Saga, J.M. DeMatteis was back as a regular Spider-Man writer, and I knew that Marc would do some really great stuff with the character. Marc had shown a unique flair for dealing with the Osborn continuity in his powerful and gripping story lines about Harry, culminating with SPECTACULAR #200, in which Harry died. I couldn't wait to see what DeMatteis would do with Norman once he got the chance. And when Marc finally did bring back Norman, in a story line that began in SPECTACULAR #248, I for one was not disappointed. ]
Spider-Man rushes down to the street where paramedics are already at Ben's side. They tell Spider-Man that there's nothing they can do for Ben. Ben is alive, barely, but he's fading fast. He tells Peter that from this day on, clone or not, he is Spider-Man and needs to carry on. Ben's last words are to ask Peter to tell his niece about him. "Tell her about her uncle Ben." Spider-Man notices something on Ben's arm and carries him away to a more private area, where Ben turns to dust. "No, Ben," Spider-Man says. "This can't be happening. Osborn was telling the truth. You were the clone. I am the real Peter Parker. Rest easy… brother."
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : We knew that with Ben's death, it had to be made abundantly clear who was the original and who was the clone, once and for all. To finally get past this Clone Saga, there could be absolutely no more questions about who was who. Sure, Norman had explained everything earlier in the issue, but he was the BAD GUY! Who could believe anything HE says, right?
Bob Harras suggested that the simplest, most effective, and most dramatic way to resolve this was to have Ben's body experience clone degeneration upon his death. That would prove without a shadow of a doubt, to both Peter and the readers, that Ben had been the clone. Mark Bernardo and I had mentioned to Bob that clone degeneration, as established throughout the entire Clone Saga, didn't really work that way, but Harras's reponse was something along the lines of, "It works that way in this instance." Mark and I just shrugged our shoulders and went along with it.
Since the conclusion of this story line, some people have asked why Ben Reilly had to die at all. They've wondered why he couldn't just find out that he wasn't really the original Peter Parker, pack up his things, leave New York, and head out on the road again. Well, I'm afraid Ben's death was a foregone conclusion once it was decided that Peter had to be restored as the original. As it was said in the first "Highlander" movie, "There can be only one." There simply was no room in the Marvel Universe for two characters with the same exact powers, and many of the same memories. Spider-Man had to be unique, and he couldn't be unique with Ben Reilly out there somewhere. As much as I liked Ben, I agreed with the Powers That Be at Marvel that for the good of Spider-Man, he had to be killed off. ]
Peter Parker arrives at the hospital a short time later. Mary Jane tries to explain what happened, but Peter tells her that he already knows. "We'll get through this," he says. "Through the tears. Through the pain. And our love will be stronger. And we'll face all our tomorrows together. Husband and wife."
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Ironically, the end of the Clone Saga had long been planned to coincide with the end of Peter and Mary Jane's marriage. And yet, when it finally came down to wrapping up the Saga, the story line ended with the marriage-and Peter and Mary Jane's devotion to each other-being stronger than ever. I don't remember the reason for this about-face. Maybe we figured that we'd get so much hate mail just from bringing back Norman Osborn, that if we also broke up Peter and MJ, we'd have a full-scale riot on our hands!
Looking back at PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75, I have to say that it's far from being the completely satisfying, never-to-be-forgotten classic that it probably should have been. Let's face it: it was no AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122. But it could have been a LOT worse-it could have been another MAXIMUM CLONAGE OMEGA.
Months after the "Revelations" story line was completed, it was collected into trade paperback form. When the book was first being put together, ideas were kicked around on how to make the package a bit more special. At one point, there was talk about including THE OSBORN JOURNAL in the book, perhaps as the opening chapter, since OSBORN JOURNAL led directly into "Revelations" Part One. Naturally, I got pretty excited when I heard about that idea. But it was ultimately decided to only collect the 4-part story line. As a bonus, however, Howard Mackie and John Romita Jr. were asked to provide some all-new pages, produced exclusively for this paperback edition. Thus, two new epilogues were added to PPSM #75.
The first epilogue showed the aftermath of Ben Reilly's death and the death of Peter and Mary Jane's baby. The members of the supporting cast (Flash Thompson, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe Robertson, etc.) gathered at the Parker house in Forest Hills, Queens, to pay their respects. One expected guest was Jimmy-6, the son of the crime lord Fortunato, who had once befriended Ben Reilly and now, upon Ben's death, pledged his friendship to Ben's "cousin," Peter.
Howard Mackie, who was writing this bonus material long after he had finished PPSM #75, indicated in the plot for the new pages that Arthur Stacy and his children, Jill and Paul, should also be included in the scene at the Parker house. The Stacys would express their sympathies to Peter and Mary Jane, and Arthur would take Peter aside and let him know that at some point, he'd like to get together with Peter to talk about his brother, George Stacy, and his niece, Gwen… both of whom had been close to Peter and had died in the presence of Spider-Man.
The problem with this, of course, was that the Stacys hadn't even MET Peter and Mary Jane at this point in the continuity! Peter and Mary Jane didn't meet Jill until PPSM #76, and Jill first introduced Peter and MJ to Arthur in PPSM #77. The Stacys simply COULDN'T be included in this epilogue. (Remember what I said about Howard not being much of a "continuity" person?)
I can't remember how I entered the picture, but I read Howard's plot pages for the trade paperback shortly after they arrived at the Marvel offices. (Either Ralph asked me to read them to make sure the continuity was straight, or I just happened to ask Ralph if I could read them, purely out of curiosity.) In reading the pages, I immediately noticed the problem, and pointed it out to Ralph, who promptly called Howard to let him know about the gaffe and to ask for revisions. The revised version is what ultimately saw print. So, months after "Revelations" had ended, I once again acted as a consultant on it! Talk about déjà vu!
The second epilogue showed Norman Osborn emerging from the wreckage caused by his epic battle with Spider-Man in PPSM #75, and heading back into the shadows to plot his next comeback (which would be in the aforementioned SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #248).
The new material didn't really add anything to the story, nor did it take anything away from what was already there. It did, however, give us some brand-new John Romita Jr. pages to behold, and NOBODY could complain about that! ]