The Clone Conspiracy #4
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Jim Cheung, John Dell, Cory Smith, and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The Clone Conspiracy has threatened to buckle under its own weight with its sprawling cast, but Dan Slott and Jim Cheung manage to temper the frenetic pacing of this fourth issue with a dramatic ratcheting of stakes combined with some solid character moments from Peter Parker and company.
Unlike arcs like Superior Spider-Man, "Spider-Island" or "Ends of the Earth," the premise of The Clone Conspiracy feels almost inherently a bit more cerebral, a bit less visual and actiony - the very concept of clones in Spider-Man lore is a premise based on identity, which oftentimes leads to talk-heavy scenes even more than fist-fights. And while the fist-fights do eventually come in The Clone Conspiracy #4 - albeit a little late in the game, and almost perfunctorily so - Slott knows his cast intimately, and is able to get some good moments in even as he has to maddeningly jump from scene to scene at an almost breathless pace.
What’s interesting about this installment of The Clone Conspiracy is that Slott is able to cleverly connect Peter Parker’s A-plot with Doctor Octopus and New U’s B-plot through contrasts - a scene with Peter being forgiven by Gwen Stacy is immediately juxtaposed against Anna Maria lashing out against Doc Ock, for example. But the idea of clone technology - the idea of an easy, effortless win, a sort of cheat code against the trials and tribulations not just of superheroism, but of life itself - is a theme that Slott spools out nicely. Peter himself, for example, finally realizes that his vow that “no one dies” is a childish, unfulfillable promise - and that Ben Reilly’s plans to resurrect the dead are a definitive show of great power without the requisite great responsibility. Even Anna Maria’s reaction to an offer for a cloned body - a body at full size - is a great moment for the book, as Slott shows that his characters (and his readers) should embrace themselves for who they are.
Admittedly, while this script is fairly talk-heavy with loads of crowd scenes, Jim Cheung is able to channel the sadness in Peter Parker’s eyes as he has to confront a man who was a brother to him, all while dealing with the ramifications of his resurrected friends and foes coming back to haunt him. And when the story does inevitably boil over into violence, Cheung is in his element, from the way that Spider-Man is constantly scurrying underfoot across the Rhino’s hulking shoulders, or the way that Spider-Gwen hops around the Jackal’s lab, dodging Electro’s thunderbolts. Colorist Justin Ponsor delineates the A-story and B-story nicely, casting Spider-Man’s story in optimistic daylight that swiftly turns takes on a sickly green, while the Jackal’s lab is cast in dark and moody blues.
Some critics might rightfully comment that The Clone Conspiracy #4’s introspective premise feels counterintuitive for a superhero story, and that there’s so much talk that the action almost feels a bit tacked on at the end. Those people wouldn’t be wrong, but I’d argue that for this particular issue, Slott is able to get to the hearts of his characters and gives them strong perspectives on the issues of cloning and resurrection, making these necessary conversations that not only help Spider-Man win the day, but win the moral argument, as well. While cloning in the real world is a fraught ethical argument, in the realm of comic books it can be an easier case to make, and Slott and Cheung prepare their side with slick-looking designs and strong character work in The Clone Conspiracy #4.