The Clone Conspiracy #1
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Jim Cheung, Ron Frenz, John Dell, Justin Ponsor and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“I don’t deserve this… I’m a kind person… caring to my family and friends. This isn’t fair. I’ve led a good—“
Every good Jackal story winds up returning to the scene of the crime - the death of Gwen Stacy. But there’s something altogether chilling about The Clone Conspiracy #1, revisiting the scene from inside Gwen’s head. While this is only Dan Slott’s backup story alongside a solid opening tale, it’s the back pages of The Clone Conspiracy that give this event its true insidiousness, something that shows the knife might just be twisted into Peter Parker’s back soon enough.
In many ways, with The Clone Conspiracy, Slott is attempting to reopen Pandora’s Box while still keeping his fingers attached - because while the "Clone Saga" eventually became universally reviled once it wreaked havoc on Peter Parker’s status as the one, true Spider-Man, the overall paranoid arc of the long-running event was a solid, personal hook. With two Spider-Men running around, the existential crisis of “am I a real person?” brought the tension to a fever pitch - and wound up consuming the entire thrust of the series, eventually immolating the Spider-Man franchise by trying to write Peter Parker out of the mix entirely.
But that’s not who Dan Slott is. Peter Parker is written into his DNA - even when he wrote Otto Octavius filling in with Superior Spider-Man, it was clear there was an end game in sight, that this was a pretender usurping the webs only temporarily. And with The Clone Conspiracy, there isn’t any doubt over identity here - in that regard, Slott’s delivered a solid and sturdy introduction punctuated by the right bursts of action, such as a break-in at New U or a two-on-one battle royale between the Rhino and the new Electro. While Slott’s previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man poignantly summed up Peter Parker’s ongoing battle between personal obligation and superheroic responsibility, the personal hook for The Clone Conspiracy isn’t quite there yet, outside of Peter’s ire being raised when he sees Miles Warren’s face for the first time. Structurally, this hits all the right beats for a Spider-Man story, and so most fans will enjoy this for its extreme accessibility as well as the popcorn action factor, but like "Ends of the Earth" or "Spider-Verse," you might need to be patient until the main conflict heats up.
That all said, if getting in on the ground floor on the latest Spidey-event isn’t enough for you, Jim Cheung on the artwork might be another strong selling point. It speaks to the quality of Dan Slott’s storytelling that he’s gotten to work with such a murderer’s row of talent over the years, but having Cheung on this book feels like a bit of a career highlight. When Peter is in his Spidey suit, Cheung and inker John Dell deliver an almost Romita-esque solidness to the character, built from rectangular shapes that never seem to diminish the character’s innate agility (particularly as he climbs through a darkened air shaft). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his status as a blockbuster event artist in recent years, Cheung’s action sequences are also showstoppers, with Spidey’s fight between the Rhino and Electro providing a wonderful showcase of the wall-crawler’s agility. Cheung’s panel layouts are also nothing to sniff at, as he is always careful to give his work room to breathe, which pairs nicely with Joe Caramagna’s lettering - Spidey stories like this can always trip readers up thanks to their roots in convoluted continuity, but the visuals work just as hard to provide an accessible story as Slott’s script.
Yet as I said before, where this issuec gets truly memorable is with Slott’s backup story with Ron Frenz, the latter of whom delivers some of his best work in years teaming up with inker John Dell and colorist Edgar Delgado. While the questions of whether or not reanimation through cloned organs makes you any more “real” than a cloned body doesn’t necessarily interest me as a reader, once Slott gets into the heads of characters like Gwen Stacy or Miles Warren, suddenly the stakes get higher - particularly in the case of Gwen, whose first-person narration of that fateful scene on the bridge is like your worst nightmare come to life, as if your own loved one died cursing your name. Given that Slott has made his living for years writing imaginative, fun Spidey stories, this kind of abject horror is a foreign but delightful addition to the book, giving The Clone Conspiracy some teeth where it hadn’t had it before, if only for defiling the sainted memory of Peter Parker’s first love.
Reading this issue alongside Slott’s spectacular Amazing Spider-Man #19, perhaps it’s understandable that The Clone Conspiracy might take a small step down in terms of personal investment - or perhaps it’s because Slott saves his best hook until the end of the issue. Either way, this first issue reads like a textbook example of how to properly pace and establish an event comic book, but it hasn’t quite set up the stakes and tension for Peter Parker as a character yet to make us really quake in our boots. There isn’t the odds-are-against-us desperation of "Spider-Island," "Ends of the Earth" or "Spider-Verse" that I think made those arcs work, since The Clone Conspiracy, almost by definition if not by inertia, seems to be a case of Dan Slott bringing back discarded toys to the toybox, rather than putting his own unique spin on the series. Still, Slott’s backup story shows that he has plenty of diabolical tricks up his sleeve, and is a great, if last-minute, pitch for readers to keep this series on their pull lists.