This week, Marvel will take Spider-Man fans back to a story that was one of the most controversial points in the webslinger's history – The Clone Saga.
Spider-Man Clone Saga #1, written by Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie, revisits a part of Spidey's past that has been rarely referenced since. Originally conceived as a fairly short Spider-Man story, The Clone Saga ended up being stretched out into a years-spanning story that replaced Peter Parker as Spider-Man and caused quite an uproar among fans.
At the time of the story's inception, DeFalco was editor-in-chief at Marvel and Mackie oversaw the Spider-Man books. But just as the story was taking off and increasing sales, DeFalco was fired and marketing took a more prominent role in editorial. Because The Clone Saga was successful, the original ending was scrapped as writers were told to draw the successful story out as long as they could and make it as exciting as possible, resulting in controversial changes.
In fact, most of the changes were so controversial that fans cried foul loudly enough to make Marvel take notice and fix things so that most of the Clone Saga never really affected anything.
Now, the original plans for the story will be told in Spider-Man Clone Saga, a six-issue mini-series, drawn by penciler Todd Nauck, telling "what might have been" had the Clone Saga proceeded as planned.
As DeFalco and Mackie told Newsarama when news of the new mini-series broke, the idea came from Mackie, who still has the original outline and notes for the original story.
Mackie suggested that Marvel editor Ralph Macchio approach the powers-that-be at Marvel and tell them the documents outlining the original storyline still exists, and might make an interesting storyline that would function as a sort of "what if." Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada liked the idea and told Macchio to go ahead with it.
For today's Weekly Webbing, Newsarama talked to Macchio about his role in the original Clone Saga and why Marvel is revisiting the period in not only the Spider-Man Clone Saga mini-series, but also the Amazing Spider-Man story Who is Ben Reilly? that ships in October.
Newsarama: Ralph, you're known for being somewhat of a Marvel history expert. Has there ever been a "Director's Cut" retelling of a story before?
Ralph Macchio: I don't think so. I'm going back through my mighty Marvel memory, and I don't think we've ever done anything like that. We may have done a story where we've later done a more complete version of the story. But I can't remember ever going back this way and saying, "This is how it was originally intended to appear." That is unique. I don't recall us ever doing anything like that in the past.
Nrama: What do you think it is about The Clone Saga in particular that it inspired this never-before-done project? Why does that story get people fired up enough that Marvel would want to do something like this?
Macchio: I don't think it's the story so much. I think it's the character. Spider-Man is front and center. He's probably the greatest Marvel character, and certainly the most popular. And this was a major shift in the perception of the character because what we were saying in this story, initially, was that the character – the Peter Parker that you've been reading about for years – was not the real character. If this had been done with a secondary character, like Moon Knight or Captain Marvel or something, I'm sure it would have been perceived as just another storyline that might have been interesting. But because it's Spider-Man, and because of his importance in the Marvel Universe and in popular culture, something like this was a huge sea change in people's perception. And people are always talking about The Clone Sage. It's just never died. The conversation is still there. You talk about Spider-Man, a number of topics come up, and one of them always seems to be the Clone Saga.
Nrama: How involved were you originally in the Clone Saga's unfolding. You were an editor on it, weren't you?
Macchio: Although some people I've spoken to seem to think I was involved with it from the very beginning, it's not true. I was brought in midway through. This was when the storyline had really kind of gotten out of everyone's control. The previous editor, who had done his very best on this thing, had been let go. And when Bob Harris came in as editor-in-chief, he was re-assigning various groups of books. And he called me into his office and said, "Ralph, the Spider-Man line is in a bit of trouble. We may have just extended the Clone Saga too much. There's so much going on now, it's just gotten out of control. We keep adding new layers to this thing, and it's really just getting way out of everyone's control."
And my understanding is that the reason the storyline got extended was because it hit with such a furor that all of the sudden, everyone was going, you know what? Let's let this thing go on awhile longer. And then it took on a life of its own. And then you had sales and marketing and everybody going, what are you going to do this month? Keep this thing going! This is going to be big! And it did get big, but then it got bloated. And then it just got out of control. And then it became a bit of a problem.
So he gave me some parameters, and he said, "Here's where we are. And here's where I want us to be when we come out of this storyline. I want Peter Parker, the one everyone has been reading about all these years, to have been the real guy. Not Ben Reilly. Peter Parker. Ben Reilly is the clone."
Nrama: So your first task was to fix the clone problem?
Macchio: Yes, and it wasn't going to be easy. Before I came on these books, of course, we had pretty much confirmed that Ben Reilly was the real guy, not Peter Parker. So that all had to be changed.
We also were told to get rid of the baby. One way or the other, we had to eliminate the pregnancy and get rid of the child. That had to be done, and that had to be done in as tasteful a way as we possibly could.
We also had to come up with a big, big villain behind it all. And I know Bob and I had a number of discussions about it. And it was he who suggested, and I think rightly so, that the only guy in Spider-Man mythology who would be big enough to have pulled all of these strings and done all of these things to both Peter Parker and Spider-Man was Norman Osborn. Now this guy, remember, had been dead for 25 years. He was gone, and he was pretty effectively killed because the Goblin Glider had impaled him.
So we had to sit down and put on our thinking caps. I worked with a number of editors here at Marvel and the writers, and we came up with a story that ended the Clone Saga storyline and brought Norman Osborn back as the big gun behind it all. And it showed that Peter Parker was indeed Spider-Man and not Ben Reilly. We did get rid of the baby. And we did all that kind of stuff.
Nrama: Did you have any idea, when you were called upon to fix it all, that the story would cause such an uproar among fans?
Macchio: I knew going into it that this storyline had now become such a polarizing story that no matter what we did with it, it was going to be maligned or loved. It was one of the two. And I told my writers, I said, "Don't tell me what they're saying on the internet or in chat rooms or in letters. This is a storyline that we need to tell. These are my marching orders. And this is what we're going to do." And to their credit, they did it. I think once they got over that original hump of bringing Norman Osborn back, of reversing the decision of Ben Reilly having been the real Peter Parker, then everybody got on board. And I think the creativity was just wonderful.
Nrama: Do you feel like it worked?
Macchio: I think that it worked out as well as it could. And I think when it was all finished, I was actually very pleased, given the parameters we had. With the direction the storyline had then taken at that time, to pull it all back and take it in another direction, I think it worked. And I was very pleased with the way it came out.
Plus, look at the Marvel Universe now. Norman Osborn is running the place! So every time I read one of these books with Norman Osborn in it, and he's chasing down Namor or going after Iron Man or the X-Men, I think, "You know, Norman, it's good that we brought you back. There's just nobody like you. The curly hair and everything. You're the best."
Nrama: Ben Reilly is getting a revival of sorts in the next Amazing Spider-Man storyline. How difficult was it to tell that character's ending in a way that satisfied both his fans and his detractors? There were a lot of people who hated him at the time, weren't there?
Macchio: Oh, we would get countless letters from people who were fed up with Ben Reilly, going, "OK, now that you have figured it all out, get rid of Ben Reilly right away! Have him hit by a truck!"
My feeling was, if you've brought this character in and you've already made him an important part of mythology, you need to make him so connected to Peter Parker that his death has meaning. Sure, we could have killed him off easily. We could have had something fall on him just to get him out of the way. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted the readers to feel for him. I wanted his death to be meaningful. So we waited until the very end of the story, Peter Parker [Spider-Man] #75, to actually do him in.
What worked out very nicely for us was that Peter Parker [Spider-Man] #75 – that book had been called Spider-Man up to that point, and I put the words "Peter Parker" in there to let everybody know that issue, Peter Parker was Spider-Man. That was also the issue that was the climactic battle between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. And it also came out around Halloween time, and because the Green Goblin is associated with Halloween, we were able to play up the trappings of Halloween in that story as well. And that happened to be coincidence.
So those things came together very nicely for us. And as I said, I'm very pleased with the way it played out. I knew we had a tough road ahead, and I think we did the best we could.
Nrama: But at the time, did you know there had been this original plan that was never carried out?
Macchio: No. I was not aware of it at all, because I was brought in at the middle of the storyline and had no connection with the Spider-Man books. At the time, I honestly didn't want to be the Spider-Man editor and had no interest in doing it because I couldn't imagine editing so many books about the same character. But I was a grunt and when my editor needed me to work on those books, I did. But no, I did not know, until Howard told me recently, that there had been an original outline.
And wow, what an outline it was. It was so detailed, really, that they knew exactly where it was going to begin and end. I just thought maybe they had some hazy ideas and that kind of thing. But this was a pretty specific document about where it was going to go. So I was surprised about what was in it.
Nrama: We've talked to the creators about the comic, but as an editor, what can you tell us about what readers can expect from Spider-Man Clone Saga?
Macchio: I think people will be surprised. It really is a director's cut, but not just a few changes here and there. And usually, the director's cut is longer than the original. Not so in this case! [laughs] This is considerably shorter. But it is what was originally intended.
And I think enough time has gone by that we can revisit the Clone Saga and appreciate that period in Spider-Man history. It really was, I have to say from an editorial point of view, despite the fact that it was highly controversial, it was a fascinating thing to be part of at that time, to see the kind of effect it had on readers and staff people and Marvel in general. To see how deep people's affection was for Peter Parker. The extent and length to which they would go to voice their opinion about this.
But I think this is a nice companion piece for people who are still fascinated by the Clone Saga. They can say, "OK, this over here is what is actually a part of continuity, what came out. But here's what could have happened if the original idea had been carried out."
Keep in mind that initially, the storyline was fascinating to everyone who was reading it. Marvel only decided to draw this thing out longer because the original story captivated the audience of the books at the time. The writers were taking Spider-Man and doing something very dramatic and radical with him. And now we're going to see what would have happened if that original, dramatic story had unfolded the way it was originally intended.