Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 9

And now we arrive at the most crucial chapter of the entire clone saga, "The Trial of Peter Parker." Will Peter Parker go to jail for a murder he didn't commit? Who is Kaine? And most important, who is the real Peter Parker?

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The Tom DeFalco Interview

To help mark this special installment, we took some time to speak with another key player in the storyline, former Marvel Editor in Chief and current writer of the wonderful SPIDER-GIRL, Tom DeFalco.

Andrew: How much convincing did it take for you to approve the clone saga, and why?

Tom : It took quite a lot of convincing for me to approve the clone saga. Danny Fingeroth was the Spider-editor at the time, and had arranged for all the Spider-creators to come into town for a meeting. He showed up at my office pretty late one night, and proposed the clone saga to me. My first reaction was to reject it, but he convinced me to think about it overnight and come to the next day's meeting. I showed up and faced the staff - all the writers, artists and editors - and they all had passionate reasons why we should do this story. I had never seen such passion in all my years in the business. If the creators were so passionate, I figured the readers would be, too. Seems I was right!

Andrew: What was the reasoning behind such a drastic decision?

Tom: I guess I finally okayed it because I was convinced the crew could produce one heck of a dramatic story.

Andrew: If the clone saga was in response to DC's Superman and Batman "events" were there any other possible Spider-Man "events" considered before deciding to move on the clone saga?

Tom: I'm sure the "event" mentality had a hand in my decision to okay the clone saga, but the only other events that anyone were discussed in the Spider-office was A) Killing or divorcing Mary Jane, or B) Killing Aunt May.


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The "Trial of Peter Parker" is the four-part story running through the Spider-titles that finally answers the question of who Kaine is, and who is the one, true Spider-Man. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #126, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Roy Burdine, Randy Emberlin and Don Hudson, begins part one of the story.

Spider-Man is scouring the city, looking for Kaine, the one man who could provide answers to prove Peter Parker's innocence, but Kaine finds him. Kaine is furious that Peter is involving himself with things that have nothing to do with him. When Peter responds that being framed for murder involves him, Kaine mentions that his intent was to frame Ben Reilly for murder and Peter is suffering the consequences for allying himself with Reilly.

As the trial begins and the prosecutor introduces grisly evidence of the murder, Ben Reilly, as Peter, hopes that Peter can find a way to prove that Kaine is the killer. Kaine, meanwhile, is quite happy that Reilly will be found guilty and executed for murder, no matter what name he goes by. Kaine and Spider-Man continue to beat the hell out of each other. Kaine is stronger and more powerful that Spider-Man, but Peter will never give up.

Elsewhere, Jacob Raven and Stunner hear reports that Spider-Man and Kaine are fighting. They head to the scene to try and get their hands on Kaine, which they hope will prove Parker's innocence. All this is happening while Spider-Man gathers all the strength he can to fight back against Kaine and bring him in. He doesn't know what happened between Kaine and Ben Reilly to cause Kaine's hatred, but Spider-Man vows to bring Kaine to justice and set Ben free.

Spider-Man and Kaine take their fight to the streets and Jacob Raven and Stunner arrive on the scene. Stunner says that she wants to make Kaine pay for killing her beloved Otto, but before she or Raven can do anything, Traveller appears and transports both Kaine and Spider-Man away from the area.

Part 2 occurs in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #403, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt and Sam DeLarosa. While Ben faces trial as Peter Parker for murder, Spider-Man is facing a trial of his own, presided over by Dr. Judas Traveller, with Carnage as prosecutor, Kaine, John Jameson and Dr. Kafka on the defense and a jury made up of Ravencroft inmates. The purpose of the trial is clear: is Spider-Man, by his very existence, responsible for the creation of these super-villains and would his death somehow "cure" them?

Kaine attacks Traveller, who he calls "Scrier's man." Traveller isn't affected by Kaine's power at all and takes offense to being called a servant of Scrier. At the trial of Peter Parker, Mary Jane has been called as a witness for the prosecution. They explain that while Peter may be prone to frequent absences due to his freelance assignments, there was a period a few years ago where he was missing and no one knew where he was. Mary Jane knows that Peter was buried alive by Kraven the Hunter at that time, but she can't say anything without revealing that he's really Spider-Man.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : That line about Traveller being "Scrier's man" was really the first concrete reference to the notion that Scrier was the real power behind Traveller. J.M. DeMatteis was definitely going in that direction, but he would not stick around long enough to see it through. I ended up sorting all this stuff out later on, in THE OSBORN JOURNAL one-shot, in a way that I am quite sure was not what J.M. had in mind at all. But we'll get to that in the future. ]

At Spider-Man's trial, Carnage blames his existence on Spider-Man, who brought to Earth the symbiote that corrupted the serial killer known also as Cletus Kassady. Kaine cross-examines Carnage by attacking him and the two fight it out until Traveller puts an end to it. Spider-Man begins to sense that for all of Kaine's crimes, there seems to be something beneath the darkness that surrounds him. Carnage's next witness is Malcom Macbride. Carnage asks what prompted Macbride to toy with Dr. Warren's Carrion virus in the first place. He offers that perhaps Malcom was jealous by the success of one of Warren's other students, and became irrational enough to play with the virus. When asked who the student was, Macbride answers "Peter Parker." With that, Carnage unmasks Spider-Man and reveals the face of Peter Parker, claiming that he destroys everything close to him, no matter what the identity.

Furious at having his identity compromised again, Spider-Man breaks free of his restraints and confronts Traveller. He concedes that Traveller will never leave him alone and offers to give himself fully, as long as Traveller will let him go long enough to bring Kaine to trial, clear Parker's name and save Ben Reilly's life. Traveller ignores the plea and asks the jury for a verdict, before the defense can plead their case. The verdict, of course is guilty and Traveller's sentence is death, to be carried out by the prosecution and jury immediately.

Spider-Man has been paralyzed by Traveller, so Kaine comes to his rescue, battling off the dozens of villains who seek to kill him. Traveller then ends the nonsense by transporting all of them back to their cells before Kaine almost dies. Spider-Man asks why he stopped it and Traveller reveals that he needed to understand Spider-Man's being. The fact that a corrupt soul like Kaine would sacrifice himself for Peter speaks more about Spider-Man's life than his actions ever could. Traveller concludes that the experiment is over for now, and returns Spider-Man and Kaine to the place from where he took them. Stunner is waiting for them. Back at the Ravencroft Institute, Carnage is in his cell, talking about killing Peter and his family, but is visited by Traveller. Traveller says that the knowledge Carnage has been given is too precious for one such as him and he removes Carnage's memory, as well as that of everyone else who witnessed the day's events.

Part 3 takes place in SPIDER-MAN #60, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna. Stunner is gaining the upper hand against a weakened Kaine, but Spider-Man intervenes. The battle between the three of them causes a building to collapse, nearly killing them all. Stunner disappears and Spider-Man tells Kaine that he's coming with him to the trial. When Kaine explains that he will fight him with every ounce of strength to keep from helping Reilly, Spider-Man nods in understanding and then puts all of his power into a single devastating punch which knocks Kaine unconscious.

Just as Spider-Man drags Kaine onto the courtroom steps, his captive breaks free and attacks. The two of them throw each other through walls and create enough of a disturbance to put the court into recess. Kaine and Spider-Man carry their fight into a private room where Kaine tells him the fighting needs to stop. Spider-Man wants the truth and Kaine asks which truth he wants. Kaine reveals that if Spider-Man were to examine his actions, he would understand that everything Kaine has done has been to protect Peter Parker. Everything. He won't allow Spider-Man to throw it away and risk it all for Reilly. To drive home the point of why he's so obsessed with Peter Parker's protection, Kaine removes his mask to reveal a scarred face of...Peter Parker. Kaine was the first clone, but the degeneration took effect, ending any hope he had at a real life. The degeneration also twisted his powers in a way that makes him stronger than either Ben or Peter and he's spent his life making sure that the life Peter built for himself was never in danger.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : So now we know who Kaine really is. Fellow Spider-Man assistant editor Mark Bernardo revealed this information to me early on, and I thought it was pretty intriguing. If you look at the original clone stories from the 1970s (which Tom Brevoort and I reprinted as the SPIDER-MAN: CLONE GENESIS trade paperback), you can see that there was definitely room for the creation of Kaine to have occurred, off-panel at least. So the idea certainly worked within the established continuity.
If memory serves, it was Howard Mackie who first came up with the idea of Kaine. But it was J.M. DeMatteis who really fleshed out and developed the character. DeMatteis had a real fondness for Kaine, and it showed. Whenever Kaine appeared in a DeMatteis story, there was a depth and three-dimensional quality to him that was just wasn't there in the other writers' stories.

And here's a few things you probably didn't know about Kaine. First, that weird costume of his was actually a life-support outfit that stabilized the debilitating effects of his cellular degeneration. Kaine lived in constant pain, and that would only get worse as time went on, but the outfit slowed down the degeneration and prolonged his life. That's why Kaine wore the costume in most of his modern-day appearances, and why he didn't have it in the LOST YEARS limited series, which took place years earlier.

Second, all of Kaine's powers were enhanced versions of Peter's powers. It was well established in the stories that Kaine was physically stronger than Peter, and he was clearly much taller and more massive. But the infamous "mark of Kaine" burn that he left on the faces of his victims was just a greatly enhanced version of the "stick-to-walls" ability that Peter possesses in his hands and feet. And the "future visions" that Kaine experienced from time to time, including the relentless vision of Mary Jane's death, was simply a much stronger version of Peter's spider sense.

Ironically enough, as Mark Bernardo - even to this day - has never failed to point out, NONE of the Spider-writers ever managed to work any of this information into the actual stories! Mark and I both felt that these were some of the most interesting aspects about Kaine - but as it turned out, the people in our little group would be the only ones who ever knew about them!

Spider-Man empathizes with his clone but is shocked to hear that Kaine still won't help save Reilly. He then decides the only way that Ben can be saved and Peter can be cleared, is to reveal his identity to the court and tell the world about the clone mess. With Kaine begging him not to do it, Spider-Man enters the court and offers new evidence that can clear Peter Parker's name. As he begins to pull his mask off, Kaine stops him and approaches the bench with a confession. He tells the court that he has hated Parker since Parker took a photo of him committing a murder. Since then, he had his fingerprints altered to match Parker's. While far fetched, Kaine puts his hand onto a table to let his prints be taken as evidence to prove what he's saying is true. Instead of just giving up, however, Kaine sets out to do what he has wanted for years, and carry out Ben Reilly's execution. ]


SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #226, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz, concludes the "Trial of Peter Parker" storyline with the most shocking revelation of all. Immediately after Kaine confesses, he lunges at Ben Reilly, determined to kill him once and for all. Spider-Man charges after him and with the helped of several armed police officers, Kaine is taken into custody.

While Kaine makes a formal confession to the authorities, and the Jackal answers questions from yet another Peter Parker about when he can strike, Ben, Peter and Mary Jane are reunited at the Parker home. Seward Trainer calls the trio down to his lab immediately. After giving them the wonderful news that the baby appears to be very healthy and doing well, he offers some somber news. Although the baby will be fine, he's discovered that one of the parents is quite possibly a clone. He reveals that he doesn't know for certain since he hasn't had the opportunity to compare both Peter and Ben together.

Peter wants to leave, feeling that Trainer is Ben's friend and they're plotting against him, but Mary Jane convinces him to do the tests. He's smart enough to know if something's been faked, so she tells Peter to do it for her, the baby and most of all, himself, to finally know the truth.

Peter agrees, and he and Ben undergo an exhaustive series of tests, checking and rechecking the data until they reach a conclusive, indisputable verdict: Peter's the clone and Ben Reilly is the real Parker. The news hits Peter and Mary Jane as hard as would be expected and Peter lashes out at Ben, telling him that he can't "steal his life." Ben points out that it's a life Peter never should have had in the first place, and that he, Ben, is the one who was robbed of five years. They continue to scream at each other and fight, but Peter is becoming more obsessed. He accuses Ben and Seward of playing him just like the Jackal and Kaine have done. He starts to strangle Reilly, claiming he'll make him confess even if he has to choke it out of him. Mary Jane rushes over to Peter to reason with him and in one of the most controversial moments, almost overshadowing the "Ben is the real one" revelation, Peter hits Mary Jane, sending her flying across the room. When he realizes just how far he's gone over the edge, he runs off, ashamed.

The story ends with the Jackal calling his newest Parker lookalike another clone and showing him a costume he's designed for him. Jackal tells his friend that the day will soon come when clones like him will rule the earth.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : SPECTACULAR #226 was, of course, the most pivotal issue of all. And in more ways than one. Yes, it was the issue where Peter found out that he was the clone and Ben was the original. But it was also the issue where Bob Budiansky faced his first real challenge as Editor in Chief of the Spider-Man books.
The thing you have to remember about Bob B. is that the clone saga did not originate under him - he inherited it when he took over as Spider-Man EIC. And I don't think he ever felt comfortable with the idea of revealing that the Spider-Man we all knew and loved for the previous twenty years had really been a clone. But he took over the books so late in the game, and the storyline had been so firmly laid out, that I don't think he felt that he could just make the writers suddenly switch gears and abandon the plans they had been following for so long. The way I see it, Bob was torn between what he felt in his gut was right for the books and his desire not to mess too much with his creative staff, who had been there long before him.

Did Bob know in advance what was going to happen in SPECTACULAR #226? Absolutely. He undoubtedly read the plot when it first came in. And I know for sure that he read the issue once it was completed, and that he signed off on it before it shipped. So he approved it, he signed off on it, he let the story run as it was originally written... and as I recall, he immediately regretted it. I remember that he had second thoughts about it right after the issue left house. He began pondering ways in which the story could be undone, without it looking like a total copout. Of course, at that point in the game, it would be utterly impossible. The time to undo the story was BEFORE it left house, not after it saw print and the readers essentially had the rug yanked out from under them once already. From that point on, after Tom DeFalco had so dramatically - and pretty damn DEFINITIVELY - established who was the original and who was the clone, any backtracking would be seen as Marvel copping out, Marvel buckling under pressure from its readers, Marvel not having the guts to stand behind its own stories.

As the dust settled, Bob B. calmed down a bit, and at least seemed willing to give Ben a chance as the "one, true, original Spider-Man." But looking back, based on what I saw back then and what I know now, I think he was a man constantly fighting his own instincts and trying to convince himself to move forward with something he did not and could not ever believe in. This dilemma would only get worse as time went on. I'll be exploring that in future columns, and Bob will presumably be providing his own insights on it in his upcoming interview with Andrew.

Now, on to the matter of Peter "hitting" Mary Jane. We got some heat over this, and some bad publicity. But come on, it's not like Peter Parker was suddenly being presented as a wife-beater! Consider the circumstances. Peter was in a rage, his whole world had been turned upside down, and he was in the middle of a brutal fight with the man he believed had just robbed him of his life. Mary Jane was warned by Seward Trainer not to go near them, that Peter and Ben were both out of control, but she ignored Seward and tried to get in the middle of them and stop the fight. She is clearly shown grabbing Peter's arm, and in the next panel, Peter is shown flinging that arm outward, to shove her away from him so that he can continue the fight. That's how I always interpreted the scene. Peter was so angry, so on the edge, that he wasn't fully aware of what he was doing. Had he been the slightest bit rational at that moment, he surely would have taken into account the fact that he had super-strength, and that he couldn't just shove a normal human being away like that. And I know that's how Tom DeFalco intended the scene to be interpreted. Looking at the issue now, though, I'll grant that maybe some of these subtleties did not come through in the art as clearly as they should have. And that provided enough fodder for anyone who was really looking to make a big stink about the scene.

Again, Bob Budiansky signed off on the issue - it's not like he didn't see this artwork before it was printed. But when Marvel took some heat after the issue came out, Bob's reaction was to get very conservative and skittish about showing anything that could possibly be perceived as violence toward women, or even showing women in any sort of jeopardy. This completely screwed up a cover for VENOM that Tom Brevoort and I had commissioned by artist Kyle Hotz. The cover was for a storyline in which Venom is reunited with his ex-wife, Ann Weying. The illustration depicted Venom looming over Ann, with his long tongue wrapped around her. It was romantic, in a twisted sort of way. But after SPECTACULAR #226, Bob, who had previously approved the cover, now asked for so many revisions on it - after Kyle had finished it and turned it in - that we ended up not using it at all. It just would have been so watered down to the point where it lacked any punch whatsoever. A shame - it really was a nifty cover! ]



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The Tom DeFalco Interview (continued)

Andrew: Was there any consideration about just bringing Ben Reilly back to introduce a new character and rogues gallery, or was the sole purpose to shock the readers by making him the real deal?

Tom: Here's a secret - when I finally okayed the clone saga, I told Danny Fingeroth to build a backdoor into it. I said that I wanted to be able to bring Peter back as the real deal. But I didn't tell Danny everything. I believe that both comic book creators and comic book fans are a cowardly and superstitious lot. While the fans claim they want change, they tend to react negatively to it. So do most creators! With this in mind, I later updated Mark Gruenwald on our plans for the clone saga. Mark was my second-in-command, and the logical guy to succeed me. He and I agreed that Peter was the real guy, but that we would let the Spider-team try to convince the readers otherwise. If the Spider-creators succeeded, they would love the idea of the old switcheroo. If they failed, they'd be soooo harry that they had a backdoor. Either way, the readers were guaranteed a great story with a lot of unexpected twists.

Andrew: How were you going to resolve the Clone Saga initially?

Tom: Our plan was to structure the clone saga like a three-act play. Act One would climax at or around Amazing #400 - when we revealed that Pete was the clone and Ben was the real guy. Act Two would last around three months and follow Ben's adventures. In Act Three, Peter would triumphantly return as the one, true Spider-Man. Mark and I were hoping the Spider-crew could make Ben a viable character during his turn in the spotlight, and we planned to star Ben in his own monthly title after Peter returned. It was kind of like what I had already done with Thor and Thunderstrike - two very different titles based on a single concept. Of course, our plan went into the trash the day I got fired, and Mark wasn't picked to succeed me.

Andrew: What do you remember the response being like from fans, regarding the clone saga? Did you see a change from when Ben Reilly was reintroduced as the story moved on?

Tom: The fans were intrigued, and they were responding to the story with a passion the Spider-office hadn't seen in my twenty years with the company. I think people didn't like Ben at first, but he slowly began to grow on them. I believe our plan was working - at some point the readers would have wanted Ben to have his own book.

Andrew: Where do you think the storyline fell short, if you think so at all?

Tom: I think editorial eventually lost control of the story, and the marketing department took charge. Instead of moving along at a brisk pace, the story was stretched farther and farther out. At one point, I was asked to plot a two-part story. After I pitched the story and it was accepted, I was informed that it would be stretched out over four issues instead of two. I was later told that marketing wanted to stretch it over eight issues. I argued and argued, and they agreed to keep it to four...if I could pitch another four-issue arc by the following morning. Let's just say, I did the best I could with the time I had.

Andrew: Do you think it'd be possible for Ben Reilly to co-exist with Peter Parker in the Marvel Universe?

Tom: Absolutely! Though they started from the same place, they were two completely different characters. The potential for conflict was unlimited!


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The "backdoor" that Tom DeFalco says he requested had apparently never been worked out, because we later ended up spending MONTHS trying to figure out how to get the hell out of this mess. We (the writers, the editors, the assistant editors, Marvel's continuity cop, and writers who weren't even working on the Spider-books) were going back and forth, submitting one idea after another, until we were all sick of Spider-Man, of clones, and, to some extent, of each other. Had a backdoor been in place from the start, believe me, we would have welcomed it with open arms and taken full advantage of it.

Tom D.'s mention of Thor and Thunderstrike brings back memories of a major trend (some would call it an epidemic) that was going on at Marvel at that time - namely, taking an established character and creating a "spin-off" version of that character. This spin-off would be very similar to the original character, yet different enough to justify its own existence and, hopefully, its own ongoing title. In addition to Thunderstrike being spun off from Thor, the USAgent was spun off from Captain America, War Machine was spun off from Iron Man, and the Fantastic Force was spun off from the Fantastic Four. So from a business standpoint, it made a certain degree of sense to try to do the same thing with Spider-Man. But creatively? Well, all I'll say is that THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and FANTASTIC FOUR are still being published to this day, and all of the spin-off characters are either dead, in limbo, or limited strictly to infrequent guest appearances. There was a major reader backlash to this practice of "duplicating" existing titles, and it's easy to see why: the original versions - the classic Marvel heroes - could no longer be unique or special with other Marvel characters running around who looked similar to them and had similar powers and abilities. It's safe to say that an ongoing SCARLET SPIDER series would have been met with the same reaction, and would have ultimately suffered the same fate as all the other spin-offs. ]

2 comments:

maurice said...

I'm sure I'm not the only reader who could clearly see at the time the issues dropped that Kaine's abilities were just mutations of Pete's. Fascinating read, by the way, and a heartfelt THANK YOU for giving me so much to delve into.

Hornacek said...

According to Tom Defalco, there was no backlast against Thunderstrike that led to the title's cancellation. Actually, when it was cancelled it was outselling Thor but Marvel had decided to cancel a certain number of title to save money and given the choice between Thor and Thunderstrike, they chose to keep Thor, even though Thunderstrike was outselling Thor by a wide margin.