"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.]