Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #3
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Jim Cheung, John Dell and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Dan Slott is one of the most tenured writers to ever be assigned Marvel’s most famous webslinger because of his penchant for getting the work done and creating stories that feel undoubtedly and essentially meant for Peter Parker. But part of the reason for that is that he has a tendency to tweak continuity in a way that allows him to take previous stories and remix them for a new audience. The result is something that when it works feels familiar but still fresh. Unfortunately, though, familiarity breeds contempt, as The Clone Conspiracy sees Slott going back to the well of not only a fairly (or unfairly, depending on your age) derided part of Spidey history, but also a major theme from earlier in his run. It’s not a bad story. It’s not even poorly executed. Jim Cheung’s art is clearly a fit. But if all of that’s true, why isn’t Slott’s formula yielding its usual payoff?
This issue in particular is the kind that exists to move the chains along. Slott is getting us to a big reveal here and in doing so, he needs to check in with all the moving parts of this story. That means the employees of Parker Industries, Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen, the Jackal himself and the various rogues who have played a part in the story. For his part, Slott does some expert character juggling. No scene really overstays it’s welcome. We get in and out with all the pertinent information and the book is really a brisk read. Despite that, it doesn’t really feel like a Spider-Man story outside of the continuity that’s being toyed with.
Now before you got any further - spoilers ahead for the reveal in this issue. You can read about the spoilers themselves in full here. You have been warned.
As it turns out, Slott’s going back to the well one more time with his big reveal. Once we find out that Ben Reilly is the Jackal and that he wants to bring back Uncle Ben, it’s hard not to shrug at the prospect. It’s clear that this takes Slott’s own “Dead No More” theme to an even more extreme end. But we’ve seen (a version of) Uncle Ben return in Slott’s Spider-Verse event. This might be the “real” Uncle Ben, but what would that really add to the story? His death is so essential to Peter’s history that there’s no way that the prospect of bringing him back can really impact the story or the reader all that much. There’s some frustration with Slott’s endless tweaking of continuity because it threatens to undermine the fact that he is a good writer who understands these characters. Slott has given us memorable, original material in his Spider-Man stories before. It almost cheapens his legacy to pull stunts like these.
Now Jim Cheung, John Dell, and Justin Ponsor definitely turn in an excellent bit of work. While I do think that Cheung does over-render his characters a little bit from time to time, he generally avoids overcrowding his panels. Part of the reason that the pacing is so brisk is that Cheung chooses his shots well, allowing for Slott’s dialogue to breathe and readers to get a sense of what’s going on quickly and easily. Visual clarity is so underrated in comic books, especially when artists try to push the envelope too much. This issue sees the art team solidly in the pocket, turning out work that is effective and interesting, never sacrificing their own style for the story and vice versa. It’s an excellent balance.
It’s tough to see exactly where The Clone Conspiracy will go, but readers that are familiar enough with Slott’s work will probably see the writing on the wall. It’s unlikely that any major changes stick; very few have over the course of his run. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t in for a fun story. Slott always has good artistic collaborators, and his ideas are always entertaining enough. But there’s something hollow about constantly looking back especially when so many other characters are looking forward. Here’s hoping that Slott proves me wrong. He’s still got time to do so.