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My theory on the Spider-Man clone saga


In 1975, Marvel published a storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man (issues 149-151) which dealt with one of his enemies creating a clone of him. Spidey (Peter Parker) and his clone were put in a stadium, where a friend of his (theirs) was tied to a bomb. The Jackal (the enemy in question) told them that only the real Spider-Man could defuse this - if the clone went near it, the bomb would explode, killing the friend. The idea was that they would fight each other to the death, and "Either way, the Jackal will have his revenge!" In the end, the Jackal saw the error of his ways, and cut the hostage loose himself. He died in the subsequent explosion, which also killed one of the Spider-Men.

The survivor spent a while trying to work out whether he was the original or the clone, and went to a friendly doctor for some tests. However, while he was waiting for the results, he got involved in a battle, where he almost died. Because he thought of Mary-Jane at this point (his current girlfriend), rather than Gwen Stacy (his former girlfriend), he concluded that he must be the original, so when the test results came through he didn't bother reading them. With this new found confidence, he disposed of the clone's body by dropping it down a smokestack. And so it ended.

Except that it didn't. In 1994 (twenty years on from our perspective, although only five years had passed for the characters in the comic), Marvel decided to resurrect this storyline, and turned it into a much longer version, now known as the clone saga. It turned out that Peter's clone hadn't died in the stadium after all, and had woken up outside the chimney where he had been dropped. Realising that he was the clone, he decided that he had no place in his old life, and started a self imposed exile. He took the name Ben Reilly in tribute to the people who raised him - Ben for his Uncle Ben, and Reilly for his Aunt May's maiden name.

When his Aunt May became dangerously ill, Ben could no longer stay away, so he returned to New York to see her, where he ran into Peter. The Jackal also made a reappearance at this point, and proceeded to confuse the issue by making Ben and Peter question which of them (if either) was the original. Eventually, it turned out that Ben was, so he became Spider-Man, and Peter left to settle down with his wife and child. Round about this time, a skeleton in a Spider-Man costume was discovered in the smoke-stack.

However, it didn't end here. Due to poor sales, Marvel made a U-turn, and decided to bring back Peter as Spider-Man. This then entailed making him the original, revealing Ben as the clone, and killing him off. They have now returned to more straightforward storylines, so it looks as though the status quo should remain static for the time being.

Issues arising from this

With all these changes, various questions arose, and were left unanswered. For example, why couldn't Peter tell the difference between a live body and a corpse? This is my theory at explaining them away. However, it is geared around Ben being the original - I haven't come up with a theory to fit the latest retcon.

When the Jackal first abducted Peter, he made two clones, who he put in the arena to fight each other, while the original remained in stasis below. This solves the question of "how could the bomb tell which was the clone?", since they both were, so it would detonate when anyone touched it. I can see this appealing to the Jackal's twisted sense of humour. After the explosion, the survivor dropped the corpse down the chimney, where it remained for the next five years. However, the Jackal extracted his (the corpse's) memories of the fight, and put them back into the original, who he dumped outside. The original then became Ben Reilly, while the surviving clone became Peter Parker. This explains why Peter didn't mistake a living person for a corpse. Two reasons for why the body didn't degenerate:

  1. Peter was supposed to be the perfect clone, without the degeneration factor, so presumably the other one didn't have this factor either.

  2. Our bodies are continuously replacing our cells with new ones (this is how cuts heal). I'm guessing that degeneration means the new cells aren't exact duplicates of the cells they replace, kind of like accelerated aging. Once the clone died, his cells weren't being replaced, so he couldn't degenerate.

Regarding "Revelations" (the story where Ben died and Peter returned), I was pleased to see Peter back in the suit, and I can accept Ben's death, even though I didn't like it. However, I am annoyed that Marvel's attitude was "Hmm, Ben's taking over, so make him the original. Oh no, Peter's coming back, let's make him the original again." Surely the whole point of the clone saga was that it doesn't matter whether you were conceived in a laboratory or a womb, you're still a real person. The reversal of Ben's and Peter's status seemed to cheapen this.

Another question that has come up in discussions on the internet is "Was the original Jackal the one in the stadium the original, or was that a clone?"

There seemed to be some inconsistency on this point. This may be because it was during the mega-crossover phase, so different writers may have had different impressions of the plot. There are two theories:

  1. The Jackal in the stadium was a clone (by my theory, this would make 4 of them, including Gwen!), and the one we saw recently was the original, who'd been having his body enhanced for the past few years.

  2. The Jackal in the stadium was the original, and the one we saw recently was a clone. During the "Maximum Clonage" story, he made some comments like "this virus will kill all normal people, and there'll be nobody left but us clones".

Most of the evidence points to the former being correct. Still, in retcon-land, anything is possible ...

While we're on the subject, I hope that if they do bring the Jackal back then they get a decent writer for him. J.M. deMatteis springs to mind, since he really wrote him the way a professor would sound. In one of the flashback scenes, he gave a speech to a Peter-clone, saying "you're as arrogant, as blind to the value of human life as the wretch I cloned you from." This was a man who was grieving for Gwen. The new version came out of his tank, showed Ben and Peter a Gwen clone, and burst out laughing when she melted.

This page was last updated on 2003-12-29 by John C. Kirk

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