Weekly Webbing: Defalco & Mackie on The Clone Saga

Among Marvel’s solicitations for its comics shipping in September is something that caused the Spider-Sense of many a Spider-Man fan to go into overdrive:

SPIDER-MAN: THE CLONE SAGA #1

COVER BY: Pasqual Ferry

WRITER: Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie

PENCILS: Todd Nauck

INKS: Victor Olazaba

COLORED BY: Javier Tartaglia - A

LETTERED BY: Dave Sharpe

THE STORY:

You’ve been asking for it…and now it’s here: THE CLONE SAGA!!! Marvel’s most controversial event of all time returns with a vengeance, presenting the Clone Saga as it was originally intended to be told! From the minds behind the crossover that changed comics forever and the artist that introduced Spider-Man to President Obama, it’s six issues of twists and turns that will shock fans old and new alike! Be here as Peter Parker’s worst nightmare begins again…now with an ending you have to see to believe! Rated T …$3.99

The news was met with love, hate, and a lot of talking.

As far as Spider-Man stories go, The Clone Saga – a years-spanning storyline that saw a clone of Peter Parker take up the Spider-Man mantle, Norman Osborn return from the dead, and oh, so, so much more – is perhaps the most controversial Spider-Man story among fans after “One More Day.” Yes, it even beats out “Maximum Carnage.”

The Clone Saga #1, page 1

So why would Marvel want to revisit the story in a new six issue miniseries by two of the original architects of the Clone Saga, in what’s being described as an effort to tell the story the way it was supposed to be told?

No – there was no alcohol or bribes involved.

We think.

Just to be sure, we spoke with Howard Mackie and Tom Defalco for some inside information about The Clone Saga.

Newsarama: Howard, Tom, before we get into what's going on in the coming limited series, let's talk about the original - the Clone Saga is still many things to many people, from abomination to revered Spider-Man story and everything in between. How do you two see it now, some 15 years since it began?

Howard Mackie: I see it as all of the above. I remember the story that the writers intended to write… back then there was no Clone “Saga”. It was simply a story that the writers were passionate about. It was to be told in the four Spider-Man titles over three months. Some of the elements to the proposed story did see print, but there was so much interference on so many levels, and that much of the story was lost.

The Clone Saga #1, page 2

Tom Defalco: I think the so-called Clone Saga was a product of its times. Comics were going through some pretty rough times when it started. All the publishers were concentrating on producing the next big event and retailers were still sitting on copies from the last big one. The Spider-Man office came up with an interesting story--and many of the individual issues are still pretty terrific--but other forces intruded and things eventually spun out of control.

NRAMA: Looking back on it now, are you able to pinpoint where things headed off track? Looking back at the histories and interviews, it seemed as if it was caused, if not compounded by too many cooks in the kitchen, but in your view, what happened and what was your reaction when things started....expanding?

HM: My recollection is that as soon as the initial orders on the first issues came in, and they reflected an upturn during a down sales period. Then the Marvelution came along, editorial changes occurred, and things got way off track. It was strongly suggested/ordered that the storyline not be ended too quickly. So, this simple, mapped out storyline—one that had a beginning, middle, and end—was given an open ending. Suddenly, those onboard and in charge when the project was conceived were no longer in charge. Many of the cooks remained the same, but we were ordered to come up with a new menu.

TD: I know this will sound self-serving, but I agree with Howard. I still believe the problem started when the company fired me as editor-in-chief and replaced me with five editor-in-chiefs that reported to Marketing/Sales. A Marketing/Sales department can tell you how to sell a certain title, but editorial should be in charge of creating the actual material. Also, after I was replaced, Marvel bought its own distributor and sales plummeted across the entire line and industry. Since the Spider-Man titles didn’t fall as badly as the rest of the line, Marketing/Sales decided that the so-called Clone Saga was working and wanted it to continue.

The Clone Saga #1, page 4

NRAMA: What do you see as the legacy of the original Clone Saga? While it seems cool to revile it among the majority of fans, there's no denying that there are pieces of it that provided a foundation for the Marvel Universe from then on, the return of Norman Osborn being chief among them, of course. So how do you see it? A failed attempt? An example of storytelling from a specific period of time? A cautionary tale to every comic book publisher since?

HM: Really? The Clone Saga reviled? I find that so hard to believe. It is impossible for me to see it as a “failed attempt” given that the story pitched by the writers never saw print. “Storytelling from a specific period”? I believe that storytelling is storytelling. I’d like to think that there was an excellent story, conceived by wildly enthusiastic creators, which never saw the light of day, because of sets of circumstances that would be impossible to recreate. Look at where the industry was at the time, look at how Marvel was attempting to react to it, look at the internal shifts that occurred at Marvel—that is where things went off the track.

TD: To tell you the truth, I rarely think about past stories and almost never look at my published work. I’m more concerned with the story I’m crafting now.

NRAMA: Fair enough. How do fans respond to it when they meet with you at conventions or talk with you via e-mail or on message boards?

HM: In person, and on the few boards I frequent, fans are typically polite—and I am always willing to discuss things politely. Many seem to genuinely love Ben Reilly, and realize that without the Clone Saga the character would not have been created. This leads me to believe that the fans would have loved the story the writers originally pitched.

Sure, I have seen the negative stuff out there, but that comes with the territory.

TD: Some people like it. Others hate it. Some tell me they like my work. Others think I suck. That’s the biz.

NRAMA: Again, going back to the idea of how many fans disparage it, do you ever find yourselves surprised at its longevity or echoes in the Marvel Universe? After all, it appeared (in its own way) in the animated series, and Tom, you echoed it with Spider-Girl, and of course, Brian Bendis did his version of it in the Ultimate Universe...

The Clone Saga #1, page 6

HM: I am not surprised at all. The story was supposed to be big, and it was supposed to stir things up. Again, look at where comic books sales were going at the time. We were requested by upper management to come up with something—a big something—that would give us the equivalent of The Death of Superman without a corpse. The writers developed a storyline that grew out of continuity. It was intended to be a big controversial story, so there is no surprise that it hasn’t faded away. Plus, we created a character in Ben Reilly that became much beloved by a hard core fan base.

TD: I believe a story is judged by the effects it has on its readers. If you read a story and can’t remember what happened in it a few hours later, it wasn’t much of a story. If, however, the story haunts you and sticks with you or riles up your emotions, that’s a good story. It’s been a long time since the so-called Clone Saga saw print and people are still arguing about it and can remember whole scenes from it. As a writer, I couldn’t be happier.

NRAMA: Moving ahead 15 or so years, here you are again. How in the world did this get started, and what was your initial response when you were first asked?

HM: Hmmm… how did this come about? Well, Ralph Macchio and I talk all the time. I would always drop jokes about bringing back the Clone Saga. One day I stumbled upon the note book that contained some of my original notes. Within was the skeleton of the agreed upon outline of the original three-month storyline. I showed it to Ralph, and he mentioned it to Joe Quesada.

Some time later Ralph called me up, and said that Marvel would like to publish a version that was close to the original notes. It was suggested that Tom and I work on it together. Aside from my immediate revulsion at having actually meet, let alone work with, Tom again—I agreed. But I asked to be the one to broach the idea to Tom. I dropped him an e-mail, and his response was—well it’s unprintable.

No one is more surprised than I am that that Marvel green lit the project, but I am thrilled to be working with Tom and Ralph again.

TD: When Howard first mentioned the idea to me, I thought he was crazy. I’ve been trying to convince Marvel and every other comic book publisher that I can write stories without webs in it. Plus I like to do new stuff and have little interest in revisiting old stories. However, Howard reminded me of the story’s original themes and goals. I soon got hooked, again.

NRAMA: Any trepidation or worries?

HM: Trepidation or worries? Nope. The fans that liked Ben Reilly are going to love this story. The ones who didn’t like the Clone Saga might want to check this version out to see what could have been.

NRAMA: So how do you describe this limited series? The story as it was “meant to be?”

HM: Tom and I have been calling this the writer’s cut. Based upon my notes, and our rapidly fading memories, this is the story as we best as we remember it. We tried to strip away any extraneous characters, subplots, etc… and stick to the heart of the story. In essence it is a story about Peter Parker and Ben Reilly. A story about brotherhood.

TD: Howard and I are not the same writers we were fifteen years ago. He’s much more polished and I’ve grown better looking with each new year. I can also spell better and have added at least ten new words to my vocabulary. We are crafting a limited series that will appeal to anyone who has ever had any affection for Peter Parker or Spider-Man. If you loved the original Clone Saga, you will definitely love this limited series. If you hated the original Saga, this series will make you a true believer. If you never read the original saga, you can finally join the fun. This series will be totally accessible to new readers and it’ll take you on one of the wildest thrill rides in the history of Spider-Man. Hey, even if you don’t like Spider-Man, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll still enjoy this story.

HM: Hey! I thought you were more polished, and I had grown better looking? True, we did toy with expanding the audience by putting a photo of Tom on every cover, but Joe Q shot that idea down.

NRAMA: Obviously, we're a ways away from the first issue, but what can you tease us with "how it was meant to be told?" Are there any major characters or plots that don't make it into the definitive version?

HM: Again, we are stripping away some of the characters that helped the story wander away from its initial intent.

TD: But other characters will appear!

HM: And there are always those ten new words of Tom’s.

NRAMA: The idea of clones and weird science fiction has always been circling Spider-Man. Is it his origin that make these kinds of stories a good "fit" for him? He's kind of a science hero in his own right, isn't he?

HM: Spider-Man’s origins absolutely lend itself to fictional stories that spring out the most current science. Back when the revisit of the original clone storyline was first proposed cloning was a very hot topic in the news.

TD: Peter Parker is a wonderful character and can appear in almost any kind of story.

NRAMA: End of the day, how do you see this project? Is this your chance to get it right? A vindication of your original ideas? Just a romp?

HM: I see it as a chance to tell a fun Spider-Man story in the way it was supposed to be told. Plus, I get to work with Ralph and Tom again. Oh yeah… and the art that Todd has been sending our way is truly Amazing!

TD: I see it as a rare opportunity to visit with old friends--both real and fictional--and I’m determined to make it sell so well that Marvel will be forced to published a new monthly title that stars Ben Reilly. Why not? If Spider-Girl can still be published after twelve years, Ben Reilly should be good for at least twenty-four.

HM: Plus, I’ve only been able to figure out 7 of the 10 new words… and the curiosity is killing me!

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