Among Spider-Man fans, "The Clone Saga" is among the most controversial Spidey stories ever told.
Spanning years of issues, the story had a clone of Peter Parker take up the mantle of Spider-Man and Norman Osborn come back from the dead, as well as a whole lot more. And because the story gets fans so riled up, it hasn't been revisited.
This month, Marvel will begin telling the "writer's cut" of the originally intended storyline in the out-of-continuity mini-series, Spider-Man: The Clone Saga. Then in October, Amazing Spider-Man writer Marc Guggenheim will tell a story that revisits the story within continuity.
Focusing on a character named Raptor who was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36 as he hunted for Ben Reilly, the upcoming storyline is titled "Who Is Ben Reilly?"
"Ben Reilly does appear in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man for the first time in a long time," Guggenheim told Newsarama, although he wouldn't confirm it was a current-day appearance. "I'm just going to say he appears within the pages of #608 and #609."
Then just this past weekend, Marvel assistant editor Tom Brennan hinted what most readers had guessed after reading Amazing Spider-Man #600's back-up teaser story:
“We can’t confirm Kaine but.....” Brennan said.
The story was also teased by Joe Quesada over the weekend, as he showed a picture of Kaine.
Well, leave it to Steve Wacker to confirm it here on Weekly Webbing. Kaine will definitely be returning in Amazing Spider-Man #608.
But before we talk about the Clone Saga's resurfacing, we review last week's issue #603 with Wacker. In the story by writer Fred Van Lente, not only did the Chameleon fool MJ and Flash Thompson, but he stirred up trouble for Peter on more than one front -- including a surprise visit to Harry Osborn that didn't end well.
And there was also a guy in that issue who was stalking MJ... a man with a script about bikini models...
Newsarama: "Wet n' Wild Bikini Models from Venus?" by Steve Wacker? Is there a script in a drawer somewhere that we should know about, Steve?
Steve Wacker: No, but this is the name of my debut album with my new boy band N’Vaders.
Nrama: In this issue, the Chameleon seems less about being a "master of disguise" terrorist, although that's part of it, but it's more about how manipulative he can be in someone else's life. Now that we know just how low this Chameleon character will sink, what can you tell us about the thinking behind the character's "re-imagining?"
Wacker: Hey who’s that walking in wearing a brand new Hannah Montana jacket? Why it’s America’s own Fred van Lente, writer of the very story you’re bothering me about. Fred?
Fred Van Lente: The Chameleon revamp was literally something that had been rattling around in my head since I was a teenager. The opening scene in #602, with the captive, and suffocating him with latex to make the mask, and destroying the body in acid pretty much played out verbatim from that original concept back in high school. In retrospect, it's kind of astounding, after all this time, I was actually able to do it in the pages of Amazing.
For the rest of it, my high concept was basically, "What if Dr. Phil was a serial killer?" This guy isn't going to just impersonate you, he's going to be you better than you were, and destroy your body so there's no evidence that there was any you other than his version of you. The main motivating factor was get beyond a guy with shape-shifting powers; make Chameleon a unique villain with a unique style and M.O. With Skrulls and Mystique and the other Marvel shape-shifters, the powers themselves actually render him kind of boring.
Wacker: Thanks, Fred.
Nrama: When the Chameleon first took Peter's identity, he paused as if he remembered the name but couldn't quite place it. Was this a way to recognize continuity, and that he's dealt with Peter and MJ before, without getting bogged down by it? Is that a challenge when you tweak villains like this?
Wacker: It’s not a big challenge since going back to our very first Spidey retreat, the lay of the land was that no one knew Spider-Man’s identity. That little pause might have been a nod from Fred, but I didn’t read it that way. Certainly Cham and Spidey have a history that both are well aware of.
Nrama: Since it's been revealed that MJ knows Peter is Spider-Man, it's tough not to notice every little thing she says. Like in Issue #603, she says to Peter - or at least who she thinks is Peter - that he's a narcissist because he keeps talking about Spider-Man. Should readers be looking at MJ's words carefully - and who she's saying them to - for hints about what's really going on?
Wacker: Well, I hope everyone reads carefully, but we’re not really dropping hints in the way you’re suggesting.
Nrama: In September and October, the "Clone Saga" will be revisited by Marvel in a couple places. But now that MJ's back, will the subject of their stillborn daughter be approached?
Wacker: No plans to revisit that story precisely, but we will be dealing with some Clone stuff all though October. Including as announced this weekend…the Koming of Kaine!
Nrama: Is Marc's story going to creatively revise what readers have been told about Ben Reilly? Or just fill in some blanks? Or what?
Wacker: This story does touch on some events that happened during Ben’s “Lost Years” and you got a preview of it in this year’s Annual. While it does fill in some blanks, you don’t really need to know much about the "Clone Saga" to read the story.
Nrama: The Annual seemed to take great pains to inform newer readers about the "Clone Saga", so someone that wasn't reading in the '90s might understand who Ben Reilly was. Is there a concern that all this revisiting of the past might alienate newer readers? Or is it a constant balancing act between recognizing continuity and moving forward?
Wacker: One topic that’s come up a lot at Marvel recently is “accessibility” and making sure anyone off the street can pick up our books and at the very least have a fighting chance of being able to following the stories.
(And before some wisenheimer says it, I’m not suggesting we never spoke about accessibility before. We’re all aware of the “every comic is somebody’s first’ axiom—which I personally don’t think is true anymore, but that’s another interview)
Our stories have rightfully gotten more complex as the world has, so no one’s looking to dumb our books down to the least common denominator (well, Brevoort is, but that’s also another interview…filled with one syllable words).
By accessibility, I’m talking about simple stuff like making sure your characters are named or spelling out their motivations within a story. I don’t think this is stuff you can leave to a recap page, which I contend most people don’t even read…particularly the text heavy ones.
At the same time, I also think you have to be careful not to go so far in the direction of assuming your audience is a bunch of dopes (Deadpool readers, I’m looking at you). I tend to find the assumption that everything is confusing comes from people who already know the back-story being discussed, but they’re worried about some mythical stranger who will never read comics again. Kids, in particular, are better at figuring this stuff out than we give them credit for.
Anyway, that was a longer answer than I intended. I’m not worried that we’re going to alienate anyone by bringing up the clone stuff. Everything you need is on the page. I never read it and I’ve understood Marc’s story.
Nrama: You didn't read the "Clone Saga"? And here I was going to ask your opinion of it.
Wacker: I was there at the very beginning, but checked out around Amazing Spider-Man #400. To be honest, as we got deeper into the "Clone Saga", it really seemed to me as if the secrets were piling so high one on top of another that there was no way to get out of the story.
I’m exaggerating, but it seemed like every issue there was a new guy in a trenchcoat on page 22 who knew everything. (I didn’t just feel that way about Spidey back then, by the way. I felt the same way about a lot of Marvel’s books at the time.)
Anyway, as I’ve gone back to reread them, I don’t find the books very fun to read, but (and it’s a big but) I am amazed at how much great talent editorial found for the books at the time (in fact we’ll be using Ben Reilly artist Luke Ross on some flashback sequences in “Who Was Ben Reilly”). I also think that, while I’m not crazy about the way the overall story played out, there are a metric ton of ideas in every issue. There’s enough fodder for three separate comics.
I’m also amazed hearing about the all-day conference calls those guys sat through. I don’t even like to be on the phone for 5 minutes!
Nrama: One of the reasons the "Clone Saga" story is being retold by Howard and Tom is that its original story was changed in an effort to create the next big "event." Now that we're in another era of "events," do you think there's a danger of repeating history? Or did the "Clone Saga" teach some valuable lessons that Marvel still remembers?
Wacker: The "Clone Saga" is brought up at Marvel anytime you want to do anything, so I don’t know that there’s danger of it being forgotten. In my view, I think it has served editors and creators well to not let their stories get out of control.
But also, I want to correct something that underlies criticism of the "Clone Saga": at the time it was a decent selling story. If the books didn’t work creatively for some readers, they certainly worked commercially. Granted it was a much different market than we have now, but everyone working on those books seemed to do what they were asked to do, raise the numbers and interest on the Spidey books.
Nrama: Can you give us any insight into the "Clone Saga" mini-series?
Wacker: I don’t work on the book, but I know it starts next month under the editorial auspices of Ralph Macchio, now entering his 75th year editing at Marvel, and his assistant Michael Horwitz, who is a real fan of the book.
I also know DeFalco and Mackie are doing a bang up job having read a couple scripts and they are both convinced I will soon be fired from Spidey. They think I don’t know this.
Also, what was originally a 5-issue mini will now be an 86 –chapter event Saga with chrome dripping off every page each alternate cover will have a variant acid cover guaranteed to burn your hands. Plus each issue comes with a trading card DeFalco will personally staple to your chest.
On sale in September.
Nrama: It just all seems a little too well-planned that the mini is happening around the same time as Marc's "Who is Ben Reilly?" story. Is there a grand plan to all this "Clone Saga" revisiting by the Spider-Man office?
Wacker: Don’t you read the interviews I do with you? As answered a couple times, this was all just happenstance. There are no plans or interest in bringing back Ben Reilly or anything like that.
Nrama: Then what was the thinking about revisiting this part of Spidey's history now, and in both the Amazing Spider-Man comic and the mini?
Wacker: Ralph Macchio’s editing that book so he can speak more specifically about the new mini-series. From my point of view, it was as simple as Marc pitching it several times. My initial reaction was to stay away from that stuff. At the time "Brand New Day" was just underway and that was confusing enough for people, bringing in the "Clone Saga" in on top of it seemed dangerous. But Marc chipped away at it and really came up with a nice throughline and a couple of neat hooks and convinced me. As you can see from his Spidey work, Marc’s got a real interest in the cost of secret identities and the toll they take on the lives of the people around you. This story falls right in his wheel house.
Nrama: Anything you can tell us about what's coming up for Peter in the next few issues?
Wacker: He’ll definitely be dealing more with his roommate Michelle and the fallout not only of the night after Aunt May’s wedding, but of the kisses Chameleon stole from her. Pete’s been making some bigger-than-usual mistakes lately that am for sure.
Also we’ve got Black Cat coming up and if you thought people were talking about the night after the wedding….oh boy.