Revisiting SPIDER-MAN's Clone Saga on its 25th Anniversary

Clone Saga
Credit: Mark Bagley (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Steven Butler (Marvel Comics)

Before “One More Day”, before Superior Spider-Man – there was the Clone Saga, and this year marked the 25th anniversary of 1994's "The Clone Saga." The story arc spanned for a whopping two years, launching in October 1994 and going through December 1996. According to insiders, Marvel's marketing department saw the rise in sales and wanted to bank on the event’s success, pushing to prolong the event.

The story introduced fan-favorite Ben Reilly, as it was revealed that Ben was the real Peter Parker and our Peter was a clone - which angered fans and led to the arc’s controversial legacy. Even though the story polarized many fans, Marvel has used "The Clone Saga" as inspiration for many of their other Spider-Man stories – including storylines in Ultimate Spider-Man and then, more recently in Amazing Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy evnt - which led to the return of Ben Reilly after decades of absence.

Newsarama had the chance to talk to some of the creative minds behind "The Clone Saga" - specifically then-executive editor Tom DeFalco and writers Terry Kavanagh and Howard Mackie. It was Kavanagh that originally pitched the story to Marvel, while Mackie worked on many of the smaller crossovers involved with the story arc. The three discuss the event's overall impact to Spider-Man as a character and Marvel as a company, their impressions of Marvel’s follow-ups, and how they feel people would react to the story today.

Newsarama: Looking back 25 years later, how do you feel "The Clone Saga," affected not only the Spider-Man franchise, but the comic medium as a whole?

Terry Kavanagh: Tough question to start out with. But also, much easier to answer with 25 years of perspective and response.

It definitely affected the Spider-franchise. Sales-wise, it was a huge success at the time, but a critical not-so-success.

Historically, it appears to be a winner - due to the many, many fans that grew up with Ben Reilly, and the return to the storyline in comics and other mediums.

Credit: Mark Bagley (Marvel Comics)

Howard Mackie: I am amused by it all. Our Clone story arc - it did not start out as a 'saga' - certainly created its share of controversy at the time. It was loved by many, and pilloried in the fan press of the time. The creators were simply trying to tell a story that would allow the adventures of Spider-Man and the life of Peter Parker to go in a different direction. A direction that would allow it to go forward unencumbered by a few decades of continuity. Stepping back from the controversial elements of the time - I think we succeeded.

Tom DeFalco: I think "The Clone Saga" was an exciting story that inflamed the passions of our readers which is the goal of every story. I am pleased to see that it added a few new elements to the Spider-Man franchise, but I’m not convinced it had any long terms effects on the comics medium.

Nrama: Why do you think it’s such a memorable story?

Kavanagh: The original Gerry Conway intro of the clone was memorable to me because it was two-good-guys-in-a-bad-situation. A clone of Peter Parker, until experience shapes him otherwise, is by definition a good guy. That was fascinating and interesting to me, personally. If we did it correctly, that's why it worked for our Ben Reilly readers as well.

Mackie: Did I mention controversy? It was intended to be a big, controversial story that upset the apple cart of Spider-Man continuity. Again, I think the story - as originally conceived of by the creators - would have done that and given a new breath of fresh air to the life and adventures of Peter and Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, it became a victim of its own success. 

We had been charged with creating a Spider-Man story that would lift sales - it did exactly that as the comic book industry suffered a severe downturn. The marketing geniuses of the time decided that the storyline should not end. Marketing geniuses have no idea what constitutes a story. Beginning. Middle. End. They decided we focus on the middle. As a result, a storyline that was conceived to be three months long went on for more than two years… and became a 'saga.'

Credit: Phil Gosier (Marvel Comics)

DeFalco: I think it is so memorable because it is all about personal identity. Every reader can identify with Peter Parker in this story. Am I who I really believe I am? Or am I only kidding myself? It gets to the core of how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Nrama: Terry, how did the idea for "The Clone Saga" come about?

Kavanagh: It's what I said earlier... and then add the fact that I, at least - and I suspect the other creators - felt hamstrung by the fact that Peter was married to the acknowledged most beautiful woman/model in town, and had to worry about his mortgage on their spectacular apartment, etc. As the creators matured, we (I think) mistakenly matured Peter. Suddenly, he had our problems - marriage, mortgage, etc. - instead of his problems. Tough for younger reader to identify with.

That's my opinion, at least. I really, really wanted to come out the other side of it somehow. (Without adding more baggage by killing MJ and making him a widower.) And, seriously, Dolly the cloned sheep on the cover of Time magazine made the whole thing okay.

Nrama: How did your colleagues react to the story?

Kavanagh: Hmmm... great question. Howard Mackie and I talked all the time, and he was on board from the minute I first mentioned it to him. The other creators at the conference were initially resistant, citing - understandably - the just-completed Spider-storyline where Peter's parents returned (before being revealed as LMDs, I believe). The minute we revealed the intention that Ben Reilly would turn out to be the true Spider-Man - unmarried, without a college degree - most everyone in the room was onboard. Writers, artists, assistant editors - with one singular exception - the editor.

Credit: Steven Butler (Marvel Comics)

We finally sold him on it, although he still had reservations. He brought the Editor-in-Chief to the conference the next day. The EIC was also initially resistant, citing the "Bobby in the shower" scene on the tv show, Dallas, that told the viewers everything they had seen in the previous scene was just a dream. Nobody liked that. But, once we pointed out to him that that wouldn't be the case here - everything that had happened over the previous years was real history to our characters - he was onboard, too.

Nrama: Tom, what's your side of it as an editor then?

DeFalco: I remember when the Spider-Man writers and artists pitched the story to me. They were all so passionate and committed to it. I figured the readers would be too. Seems I was right.

Nrama: Do you think you could have played out this story for as long as you did in today’s landscape of comics? How do you think people would have reacted with the use of social media?

Kavanagh: From the beginning, we ALL agreed that it would be four months over five titles. The Sales and Marketing team came to editorial and made it clear that the super-increase in sales meant that we couldn't end it as soon as we'd planned. Things snowballed from there. I did not continue on Web Of Spider-Man through the whole storyline. I thought it was too long then, and I think it would be too long now. No idea what the reaction would have been on social media.

Mackie: Does anything play out that long in today’s market? Now that you mention it… the creators would probably have been allowed to tell the storyline they wanted to do. Today’s comic book landscape would have forced us to keep it tight. Now I am sad.

DeFalco: Probably not. I think the story was stretched a little too far. The sales department was calling the shots in those days and they wanted the story to keep on going because it was selling so well - both on the mass market newsstand and in the comic books stores.

I think the entire sales landscape has changed so much. Marvel no longer has a strong mass market newsstand business and the comic book stores are very unforgiving. If the store owner doesn’t like a certain title or storyline, he won’t order it and his customers will never even get a chance to buy it.

Credit: Steven Butler (Marvel Comics)

I think "The Clone Saga" would have sparked even more controversy now than it did in the past. People would be writing posts - pro and con - long before they even bothered to read the actual comics. It would have been very interesting to read all those  posts before the story was even printed.

Nrama: How was your collaboration with the other Spidey writers for the event?

Kavanagh: I had tremendous fun working with all the creators at the time. And everyone added to the story in their own unique ways.

Mackie: I count all those involved as friends - then and now. We had a ton of fun… when we weren’t crying.

Nrama: Do you have a favorite issue of "The Clone Saga"?

Kavanagh: Can't answer that.

Mackie: Easier for me to remember my least favorite issues - which I will not reveal.

DeFalco: I had to reread the entire saga a few years ago when Howard and I did that The Real Clone Saga limited series. I guess enough time had passed that I was actually surprised at how good some of those stories were. I don’t really have a favorite, but Howard, Marc DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, and Terry Kavanagh all did some very good work.

Credit: Pasqual Ferry (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: As you mentioned, you two worked on Spider-Man: The Real Clone Saga year later. What made you want to return to the story?

Mackie: I found the notebook with the original notes from our first Clone story meeting. I showed them around the Marvel offices, spoke to Ralph Macchio and Tom DeFalco… suddenly we were writing it.

I do believe that the memories of the original writers are all over the place. It’s the Rashamon Effect… if you asked any one, two or three of the original writers to tell you what was supposed to happen in the Clone story.... You would have an ongoing "The Clone Saga" series.

DeFalco: Howard Mackie wanted to do it and I owed him money.

Nrama: How did you feel about Ben Reilly’s return in 2017 during Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man run? Did you get to read the story?

Kavanagh: I read and I really enjoyed it. Like I do all of Dan Slott's work. I think he figured out a very approach to the return of Ben Reilly, and a story-arc that took a fresh look at the original "Clone Saga."

Mackie: I have a policy of never reading the adventures of a comic book character after I am done writing them. I don’t ever want to inadvertently seem to criticize the writing of those who come after me. Having said that… Terry Kavanagh kept trying to get me to read it because he thought Dan Slott did a great job. I think Dan is an awesome writer, and I’m sure Terry is correct, but I stick to my policy.

Nrama: Tom, in your Spider-Girl series you had many homages to Ben Reilly and "The Clone Saga" from May’s costume to May having her own clone. What made you want to add these storylines to your run?

Credit: Ron Frenz (Marvel Comics)

DeFalco: Mayday came out of "The Clone Saga" and I felt it only fitting to keep that has part of her backstory and regular storylines.

Nrama: How do you feel about Marvel rehashing the Clone Saga for other storylines?

Kavanagh: Go for it. Have as much fun with it as I had with returning to the original, original clone story. And make it as relevant.

Mackie: Again… have not read them, but it’s to be expected.

DeFalco: That’s the biz! I’m afraid I haven’t read any of the other storylines so I don’t have an opinion of them.

Nrama: Last question... would you like to see the arc adapted for the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Into the Spider-Verse films?

Kavanagh: Of course. That would be so cool.

Mackie: Hell yeah!

DeFalco: Spider-Man has had so many great storylines over the year. I don’t think the MCU or the Spider-Verse needs the Clone Saga.

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