Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 35

And so it ends.

The 35-part experiment that many scoffed at last year is complete. And in the process, we managed to become the most popular feature at both web sites that the column was hosted on. We were linked to at one time or another by virtually all of the major comic book sites on the Internet. We've even been transcribed into two different languages by some admirers overseas. The cynics have all but disappeared. Their initial remarks drowned out by the roar from fans across the net, with each new installment of this column. Could a print collection of "Life of Reilly" be next? Hmmm. That's up to you. And for those of you who've been wondering what Glenn and I will do next…well, we're going to keep you wondering a bit longer. We will be collaborating again in the near future, on a new Spider-themed column, but that's all I'm saying right now. After doing this for over a year (and more frequent delays towards the end of this run) Glenn and I both need a bit of a breather before taking on our next joint project. If you enjoyed 'The Life of Reilly', you're going to love what comes next…

Before we get on with this, I'd like to give the floor to Alan David Doane, founder of the website Comic Book Galaxy (www.comicbookgalaxy.com), who was crazy enough to inspire and encourage this experiment.

Alan: Just the other day I bought a Scarlet Spider action figure for my desk. I like Ben Reilly -- in fact, he was part of the reason I came back to comics. I was curious to know how Marvel would bring back a character that had quite definitively been killed. I have always been a sucker for evil twin and time travel stories, and over the course of LoR we learned about the first part (not that Ben was evil, but you know what I mean) and we learned that time travel almost played a role in the saga, as well.

Funny thing is, they never really did explain Ben's return, and the Clone Saga essentially consisted of a few good ideas and a couple boatloads of bad ones, mis-managed and drawn out and it left a stain on Spider-Man that I'm not sure has even yet fully faded. For the record, my favourite issues from that time were the handful of Dan Jurgens/Klaus Janson Sensational Spider-Man issues, which I think still hold up pretty well, and artistically represent some of the finest work ever done in any Spider-Man title. There wasn't much else from that time worth saving and re-reading, unfortunately, but I still have those issues in my collection.

The Clone Saga also gave us The Life of Reilly, though, a unique piece of longform comics journalism that summarizes and explains not only the complex, at times non-sensical plotlines, but more importantly, it includes first-hand reportage of how this story went so horribly awry from the editors, writers and others involved in its creation.

Life of Reilly got its start on Comic Book Galaxy, when Andrew pitched it to me and I gave it the green light and came up with its title. I have to grab on to that small bit of fame, because from there Andrew and Glenn took a mad, much-maligned plan -- months and months of looking back at comics' most disrespected story ever -- and turned it into perhaps the most compelling series of online comics articles ever. Life of Reilly is onscreen crack -- once you start reading, you simply cannot stop.

I hope to see LoR published in book form someday. It's excellent work and it deserves to be permanently collected. Congratulations to Glenn and Andrew for making it happen. And when the book finally gets produced, remember where you got the name. :-)

Alan David Doane Editor-in-Chief Comic Book Galaxy http://www.comicbookgalaxy.com

I don't know whether the popularity of the column comes from the complete in-depth retelling of one of the most controversial stories of all time, or the behind-the-scenes revelations as told by the man who witnessed all of this firsthand, Glenn Greenberg, or the interviews and pro comments or just a love of Ben Reilly. I think in the end, that it's a combination of all of the above. And who knows, maybe one day we'll get those Clone Saga trade paperbacks or new Ben Reilly tales in the "Startling Stories" or "MAX Comics" lines. Time, and your enthusiasm, will tell.

The Clone Saga is over and the loose ends have been tied up. Except for the Scriers, who are still running around. And Kaine, who, by the time the Clone Saga concluded, had turned himself into police at the end of SPIDER-MAN: REDEMPTION. We can't forget the original Gwen Stacy clone, who's still somewhere, doing God knows what. There's also the issue of baby May, who apparently died, though Alison Mongrain was seen exiting the delivery room with a container that Norman Osborn needed Alison to protect/guard in Europe.

Marvel editor and writer Tom DeFalco offered fans the best of both worlds with regards to baby May. In a WHAT IF issue, the story flashed forward over a decade to feature a teenaged May who followed her father's legacy with her uncle's suit and fought crime as Spider-Girl. The story was popular enough to warrant a series, which continues its alternate reality tales to this day. In fact, SPIDER-GIRL will soon be celebrating its 50th issue.

Not only is SPIDER-GIRL a perfect title for younger readers and female readers, but the series is almost like an indirect sequel to the Clone Saga, without the baggage. Peter is the one true Spider-Man, but in this world, he eventually was reunited with his kidnapped daughter. Kaine is out there, still watching over (or is that hunting?) the Parkers. There's also Reilly Tyne, son of Ben Reilly. Recently, an issue was dedicated to May's Uncle, Ben Reilly, and even Alison Mongrain has turned up again. You want more? How's this? Now there's even a new Scarlet Spider running around…! If you're one of those who enjoyed the Clone Saga and always wondered 'what if?', well, SPIDER-GIRL should definitely be on your must reading list.
I need to thank some people.

In Alan David Doane I found someone who was as crazy as I was to even carry this thing. Neither of us thought anyone would read it, even as I pledged to finish all 35 parts regardless. In the days and weeks to follow that first installment, we began to realize that there were a lot more people interested in this than we could have ever imagined. Alan took a big risk, endured a lot of criticism initially for this and deserves a lot of thanks for being the one who promoted us and got the ball rolling.

It goes without saying that this wouldn't have done nearly as well without the help of my partner in crime, Glenn Greenberg. Glenn contributed so much more to this than just his insider comments. From editing my jumbled writing to helping me with contacts and my own facts, he was the keystone of this entire experiment and I think its popularity rests squarely on his shoulders.

I also have to thank Tom DeFalco for his guidance and help at crucial points in this column. Tom was always willing to help and spend time making sure that we didn't get too off track, and even jostled with Glenn for a bit many, many chapters ago.

I also have to thank the two very patient chiefs at Marvel, now: Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada. Poor Joe's first encounter with me was during a Marvel Press Conference when I asked if Ben Reilly would ever come back. One can still hear the silence of the moment immediately following. And Bill Jemas, who now has at least a dozen questions a week (for his Q&A column) from fans asking if Ben Reilly will ever be back or if the Clone Saga will ever be reprinted. My reputation with these men is irreparably damaged, but damn if they haven't been the best sports about all of this.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : If goes without saying that I wouldn't be involved in this endeavor at all if not for the fact that Andrew e-mailed me out of the blue many months ago and asked if I would be interested in offering some commentary for a column that would recount the entire Clone Saga from beginning to end.
What started out as me just sprinkling in brief anecdotes and "fun facts" became a major undertaking, one in which soon I found myself digging out my massive "Clone Saga Files" and reading through them all over again, in order to recreate for the column all of the meetings, conversations, and frustrations that came up amongst the Spider-Man editors and writers. It was not unlike traveling back through time!


I had a lot of fun co-writing this column, and it was gratifying to get such positive feedback from the readers. I must admit, I was a bit concerned about having a "voice" on the Internet again, as my previous online experience had ended somewhat unpleasantly, thanks to some extremely hostile comic book readers who goaded me on and my own immature reactions to the goading. But once Andrew and I got underway, I found it quite easy to regain my online "voice," but it now reflected what I'd like to think of as the wisdom and maturity that I've acquired over the last few years. So much so that, despite initial misgivings, I even agreed to write an additional column for Andrew's Web site, entitled "Greenberg's Grumblings." I've found that writing both columns has been an absolute pleasure, and has definitely helped me to further hone and develop my writing skills and to take my writing in new and different directions.

So, first and foremost, I'd like to thank Andrew Goletz for inviting me to get involved with "Life of Reilly." And I'd like to thank Alan David Doane for being so supportive of the column in its early days. Alan and I exchanged many a friendly e-mail and Instant Message when the column was over at ComicBookGalaxy.com, and it was a pleasure to get to know him, albeit electronically.

I'd also like to extend my gratitude to Tom DeFalco, who was very helpful and made significant contributions to the column as it went along. Tom and I remember some behind-the-scenes aspects of the Clone Saga very differently, but that's usually the case in group efforts, and I think it made for some very interesting exchanges between us in the column. In reviewing all the Clone Saga memos and notes, and running through my own memories of that era, it's clear to me that Tom was one of the true unsung heroes of the Spider-Clone story line, someone whose instincts were almost always right, and someone who wasn't listened to nearly as much as he should have been by the various Powers That Be of that time.

I also need to mention J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Bernardo, Tom Brevoort, and Bob Budiansky, all of whom offered information, advice, their own recollections of certain events, and just general support along the way. Thanks, guys.
Thirty-five installments… who would have that we'd go the distance with this thing? Hard to believe it's finally over… or is it? ]

And now, one last piece of business: SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #17, written by our own Glenn Greenberg and illustrated by Joe Bennett. This issue came out several months after the Clone Saga ended, but one loose end remained that needed to be dealt with. Well, several loose ends remained, but Mendel Stromm, the Robot Master/Gaunt, who was seemingly killed by Norman Osborn in "Revelations," still had to be followed up with.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : After we went through all the trouble of bringing back as obscure a character as Mendel Stromm for the Clone Saga, and giving him such a significant role in the story line (he, of course, was the true identity of the mysterious villain known as Gaunt), I felt it was a mistake to just kill him off in part three of "Revelations." My feeling was that if Stromm was back, why not keep him around and see if we can make him into a worthy new addition to Spider-Man's collection of super-villains? Certainly the Spider-Man rogues gallery needed some new blood! I made my opinion known to editor Ralph Macchio and writer Tom DeFalco as "Revelations" was being plotted, and Ralph seemed pretty receptive to it, but I think Tom just wanted Stromm out of the way and forgotten about. Tom got his way with his chapter of "Revelations," in which he had Norman Osborn apparently fry Stromm's brain. But it was never definitively stated that Stromm was dead, and what happened to his body afterwards had not been shown. I kept that in mind as time went on, hoping that perhaps I could make something come of that.

I also saw that in the months following the introduction of Arthur Stacy, who I felt was a potentially fascinating character, virtually nothing significant was being done with him in the core Spider-Man books. We really didn't learn anything about him. We knew he had two kids, Jill and Paul, and that he wanted to know what the connections were between Spider-Man and the late Captain George Stacy and his daughter Gwen. But what kind of man was Arthur? How was he different from his brother George, who had been such an important character in Spider-Man's history? What kind of choices would Arthur make if he was thrown into a crisis situation? Just how obsessed was he in finding out the truth about Spider-Man, and would he let that obsession blind him to more immediate responsibilities?

I wanted to see that stuff explored, and I was disappointed to learn that there were no plans to really get into any of that in the core books. Call it arrogance, but I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to see a story in which we learned more about Arthur Stacy, I would have to write it myself.

I asked Ralph Macchio if I could pitch a story for an upcoming issue of the quarterly SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED title, a story that featured Arthur Stacy in a prominent role. Ralph was fine with that, and suggested that I consult with Howard Mackie, who had first introduced Arthur and had primary control over the character in the PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN title. I then called Howard, who generously gave me advice on how to handle Arthur in the story, how he should be portrayed, and what was really going on in the character's head. Howard also agreed to read my story synopsis before I submitted it to Ralph, and he gave me some valuable feedback and suggestions that I incorporated into the story. This is why, in the printed issue, there is an addition to the opening credits that reads, "Special thanks to Howard Mackie for his time and advice".

Since I wanted to do an Arthur Stacy story, and I also wanted to do something with Mendel Stromm, I decided that both characters would feature prominently in the same story. Once I decided that, the story itself came together fairly easily.
This would be my first and only time working with penciler Joe Bennett. I thought he did a really good job on the artwork, and I have to say that he's grown by leaps and bounds as an artist in the years since we did this story. His recent work on THOR has been absolutely beautiful. ]

As we come into the story, Peter Parker is accompanying Betty Brant to the children's ward of a hospital. A mysterious person has been leaving toys for the kids at various hospitals and the city is abuzz with who it could be. As Peter gets ready to take some pictures, he notices that one of the toys is an exact miniature replica of the robotic armor that Stomm wore in his last encounter with Peter and Ben Reilly. Peter cuts out immediately and changes into Spider-Man to get to work, while Betty simply thinks that Peter ran off because of the emotional strain of seeing so many young kids so soon after Peter and MJ miscarried.

Finding the Stromm toy sends Spider-Man's mind racing, as he thinks back to his first encounters with the evil genius, all the way up to his most recent battle alongside Ben Reilly. Another problem exists in the fact that if Stromm is alive, he also would now know Peter's identity and could prove to be as dangerous an adversary as Osborn.

While Spider-Man has to deal with finding whoever is behind the toys, his alter ego faces tough questions from Arthur Stacy, uncle to the late Gwen Stacy, who is searching for answers. Stacy wants to know what Spider-Man's involvement was in the deaths of his brother and niece and believes Peter can help him out. Peter quickly changes the subject to the mystery of the children's benefactor, hoping that Stacy's experience as a private eye could provide tips for him. Stacy does offer advice, but also notes to himself that Peter was being very obvious in his attempts to change the subject.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I loved writing the scenes between Peter and Arthur. Being around Arthur always made Peter uncomfortable, and having Peter trapped at a diner with Arthur for an extended period of time, with no way to get out of it, was fun to write. And I also liked showing how sharp Arthur was, and how he didn't always let on to Peter just how much he was aware of. ]

After his meeting with Arthur Stacy, Peter and Mary Jane have a heart to heart. She wonders if he is ready to face Stromm (if it is Stromm) so soon after the events depicted in "Revelations." Stromm was working hand in hand with Osborn, who took so much from their family in recent months, and Mary Jane worries that her husband may not be prepared emotionally for such a rematch. Some assurances are made and Peter is off as Spider-Man, in search of his quarry.
Eventually Spider-Man catches up to the mysterious person who's been dropping off the toys and it is, indeed, Stromm. As Spider-Man prepares to take Stromm down, he realizes that his opponent has amnesia. He doesn't remember anything about the past several years, let alone what he's been doing in the last couple of months. During their last encounter, Osborn left Stromm virtually brain dead.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : We knew that Norman Osborn had, at the very least, blasted Stromm through the head with a massive jolt of electricity. My reaction to that was to give Stromm severe amnesia. And while Stromm would regain some of his memories by the end of the story, he would NOT remember that Spider-Man was really Peter Parker. It was felt, rightfully so, that far too many people knew Spider-Man's true identity, and I made sure that if Stromm was going to be alive from this point on, he would not have that knowledge.
I also thought this situation would give Spider-Man a complex and interesting dilemma to confront: if Stromm really doesn't remember anything from his past, and is genuinely trying to be a good person, should he still be held responsible-and punished-for his crimes?


Through this story, I wanted to show that Stromm was very much a tragic character, not completely evil the way Norman Osborn is. In fact, he was someone whose life was destroyed just from being associated with Osborn. In that sense, Norman was as much a part of this story as Stromm was, even though Norman doesn't actually appear. ]

Spider-Man pokes and prods a bit more, and after mentioning Norman Osborn's name, something clicks in Stromm. His memory only comes back partially, particularly his hatred of Osborn and Spider-Man.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : My favorite bit of dialogue from this story comes when Stromm partially regains his memory and describes Norman Osborn: "I can't remember who he is, only his evil! His power! And-strange hair!" I remember Howard Mackie telling me on several occasions how much he loved that bit. ]

Stromm runs off and returns in a new set of armor, battling Spider-Man. The hero easily defeats Stromm, who thinks that Spider-Man is in league with Osborn out to destroy him, but not before structural damage is done to the building they're in.

Spider-Man manages to hold tons of debris off himself and Stromm as Arthur Stacy, who was trying to track Spider-Man and Peter, comes in. Spider-Man asks Stacy to pull Stromm to safety so he can get out of harms way but the PI contemplates taking advantage of the situation to remove Spider-Man's mask. Coming to his senses, Stacy saves Stromm, allowing Spider-Man to let the debris fall safely.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This scenario allowed me to explore Arthur's obsession with Spider-Man, and show whether he was willing to let someone die in order to seize the opportunity to learn Spider-Man's true identity. In the aftermath, I also showed that Arthur didn't regret his decision to choose rescuing Stromm over pulling off Spider-Man's mask, which I think made Arthur a more likable character. ]

Stromm is taken to Ravencroft and is assigned to Dr Ashley Kafka who later tells Spider-Man that most of her patient's memories are lost for good, with the exception of his burning hatred for Norman Osborn. Feeling that his secret is safe and that Stromm is in good hands, Spider-Man pays a visit to the hospital as Peter Parker and offers one of the young patients a poster of Spider-Man, autographed. In a cute scene, the boy mentions how Spider-Man's other costume (the one Ben Reilly wore) was cooler. Peter leaves to go meet up with Mary Jane, who asks how he feels.

"A loose end from that horrible night has finally been tied up," Peter says. "I feel like it's time to move forward…once and for all!"

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : 'Nuff said! I can't think of a better way to end this column, so I'll sign off by thanking all of you for following us through this long journey! ]

4 comments:

jscimmortal said...

thank you all for a wonderful behind the scenes look at the clone saga. i started reading spider-man when i was 11 at the height of the spider-man animated series. my first issue was amazing s-man #402 which was somewhere in the middle of the saga itself. i remember it all fondly and even though i have mixed feelings about the clone saga now, i loved it then. i do find myself missing ben as spider-man and peter as supporting cast but alas it was never meant to be. thank you so much for allowing me and so many others to see how everything unfolded and what a mess it all turned out to be. i still love spidey and still read him to this day. well except for the whole 'let's dump mj down a hole' thanks to omd/bnd. oh well if we learned anything from the clone saga its that nothing is perminate.

Alex said...

I just went through the whole thing, brilliant stuff Andrew. You to Glenn, really enjoyed the look at Marvel back then. God it must of been hectic. Such a good blog this, hope it does go to print.

JalRod said...

Has this been published?

Ralph C. said...

I've read this whole thing again, after first reading it over five or more years ago. Still an amazing story-- the story of the creation of the Clone Saga was greater than the Clone Saga itself.