Complete Ben Reilly Epic Volume 6: Spectacular Spider-Man #240, Sensational Spider-Man #11, Amazing Spider-Man #418 and Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75
Ladies and gentlemen…we made it. The END of the Clone Saga is here in the four part crossover Revelations. This is the big one folks so to do it justice I have to divide the synopsis and review sections up into four separate parts. It really is that big. Disclaimers before we start, I love this story, it’s my third favourite Spider-Man story ever and part 4 of this tale was the very first Spider-Man comic I ever read, so objectivity will be difficult here; expect a lot of gushing. Also understand I will be talking briefly about the bonus pages from the Revelations Trade paperback, but I won’t focus upon them too much. Strap yourselves in people; we’re closing out the Clone Saga with a story which, to this day, rocks the Spider-Man world. Let’s start:
Trainer is in a cobbled together lab under the ruins of Multiplex. He begins the rejuvenation process of Gaunt, during which Gaunt will be unable to communicate with him. Gaunt’s boss shows up to ask how long it will take for the cyborg to be rejuvenated (saying he’s waited years so he doesn’t really mind waiting a bit longer). Trainer is so terrified to learn the identity of Gaunt’s boss that he resolves to tell Peter and Ben. In Forest Hills, amidst Halloween decorations MJ tells Peter how happy she is to be having the baby with him before hopping on a bus to go shopping with Aunt Anna. Ben shows up and Peter asks him to help get rid of stuff in the attic since they’re relics of both of their memories. Ben says he learned to travel light whilst on the road and put the past behind him, but a picture of Aunt May and Uncle Ben has him and Peter well up. Peter admits to Ben that seeing how Ben coped with being a clone helped get him get through the same experience; he goes onto say that he loves Ben.
At the Bugle Ben Urich and Glory Grant get black envelopes without return addresses. Ben’s is from Liz Allan asking him to meet her at the Bugle at 10.00 to ‘pay him back’ for his discretion. Ben thinks it is something to do with his book exposing the Osborns as the Green Goblins. Around the same time two new maintenance men (with recommendations from Osborn industries and Multivex) are hired by the Bugle on short notice. Across town, a woman named Alison Mongrain is also hired by Shirley at the Daily Grind after some of her staff drop out unexpectedly. At Osborn Industries, Liz Osborn also gets a black envelope (apparently from Ben Urich) asking her to meet him at the Bugle; she decides to take her boyfriend Foggy Nelson along. Back with the Parker brothers, Peter confesses to Ben that Aunt May knew he was Spider-Man and that he didn’t tell him this because after learning he was the clone this knowledge made him feel special; Ben forgives him.
Whilst all this is going on Trainer has escaped the lab and gone to Ben’s apartment, hoping to warn them of their true enemy and to tell him Ben the truth about how he deceived him, Peter and everyone else about lots of things (including who was the clone). As he gets to the apartment though the door is blown off and Gaunt stands there in new battle armour, having been ordered to kill Trainer for his treachery. The chase leads Trainer into the subway where he manages to get away and make his way to the Bugle to find Peter. When he’s almost there though Gaunt blasts him into an alleyway, where Trainer slips away again. This time however, Gaunt’s boss finds him and snaps his neck. The boss then orders Gaunt to dispose of the body, kill Reilly in front of Peter and keep him occupied so he won’t be near Mary Jane, saying tonight Peter will pay for having a life. Back at Forest Hills Peter and Ben play battleship but deny it when MJ calls to invite them to dinner at the Daily Grind; this exchange is recorded by someone listening in on the conversation.
Mary Jane and Aunt Anna agree to meet Ben and Peter at the Daily Grind before continuing their shopping trip. Meanwhile the Gaunt’s boss orders him to kill Reilly in front of Parker, bringing their little charade to an end. Literally across the street from the villains, Jonah rants in the Bugle about being called into a late night meeting. Robbie telling Jonah that he’s been called too does nothing to calm him down. Jonah then screams his head off at the two maintenance men who are ‘fixing’ the elevators. At a police station Arthur Stacy finds Detective Trevane and asks for his help in finding Spider-Man since Trevane knew his brother George. At the same time Flash Thompson and Betty Brant receive black envelopes inviting them to meet at the Bugle that very night.
Back in Forest Hills, Ben finds Peter’s beeper (which will alert him about MJ if she goes into labour) for him as they leave the house. Ben tells Peter he admires him for surviving all the tragedies in his life as Peter wonders if (given the lack of heroes in the wake of Onslaught) he should get back into action. Ben is apprehensive about this since Peter is a father to be and his powers keep cutting out sporadically. Peter showcases his abilities and Ben relents. Sensing danger nearby, the brothers find three children playing in the ruins of a school. Peter begins shepherding them out when Gaunt attacks Ben. Whilst Peter ensures the kids get to safety (noting how his powers have cut out) Ben changes into Spider-Man and begins to fight Gaunt. Elsewhere at the Daily Grind, the new waitress (Alison Mongrain) spikes Mary Jane’s food. Back at the school Ben learns who he’s fighting (since he didn’t recognise him) and wonders what happened to Trainer. Meanwhile Peter’s powers return in time for his spider sense to warn him about the kids, whose eyes begin glowing. Ben manages to remove Gaunt’s mask and discovers he is in fact Mendel Stromm, a.k.a. The Robot Master (an old villain who apparently died in Amazing Spider-Man #37) who sends out robot drones to fight Ben.
Back at the Daily Grind, Mary Jane has gone into a painful labour but the doctors can tell something is wrong because it’s like nothing they’ve seen before. They rush her to hospital as Mongrain slips out the back. Peter discovers the kids are themselves robots and uses his powers to free himself from them and join Ben. Stromm is intent upon killing Reilly to end his service to his master but just then Peter’s beeper goes off, alerting him to MJ’s labour.
MJ is in the hospital where she meets Doctor Folsome who is covering for her regular doctor (oh dear). As Anna wonders where Peter is Angela Yin (a young Bugle photographer) sees MJ and recognises her. Back at the school, whilst Ben continues to fight Gaunt and his robot drones, Peter contends with the robot children who each have a unique power. Ben orders Peter to go to MJ (who’s still beeping him) but Peter refuses since he can’t abandon Ben. At the Bugle, Robbie gets a call from Angela Yin learning of the complications with MJ. Regretfully he tells Glory, who came to his office asking about the Halloween party. They both sorrowfully wonder how much tragedy Peter and Mary Jane could endure given all that’s happened to them in the past year, whilst outside the maintenance men continue their work. Meanwhile, Ben succeeds in destroying Gaunt’s robot drones whilst Peter takes out one of the robot children. Mary Jane however is fairing far worse, experiencing a very difficult labour which Folsome assures her is going according to plan. These sentiments echoed by Stromm’s boss who is watching the birth privately from the shadows, though he soon departs.
Peter finds a phone and uses it to contact Aunt Anna learning of the complications with MJ, whilst he defeats the other robot children. Across town at the police station, Trevane introduces Arthur Stacy to some other officers who are familiar with Spider-Man. Returning to Ben’s fight, Stromm manages to tag his shoulder and as he advances upon him he tells Ben he should know something about his friend Trainer. Before he can get a word out however, Peter shows up and saves Ben, who attacks Stromm with Peter. Stromm unleashes a gas he thinks will immobilise them both (that’s what his boss told him anyway) but it seems to have no effect. Just then one of the drones catches Peter unawares, which Ben chalks up to his powers cutting out again. However he is himself unaware that behind him Stromm has unsheathed a large blade; their respective spider senses have been disabled.
Meanwhile Jonah rants about how the board meeting him and Robbie were to attend that night seems to be happening at the same time and place as an office Halloween party. Robbie tells Jonah it’s probably something done by the staff to boost morale in light of the cutbacks. He encourages Jonah to not be down on the party as nothing bad could happen if they take the night off. As he says this one of the maintenance men places a jack-o’-lantern on a desk and activates a time bomb hidden inside it.
Elsewhere, Spider-Man barely dodges Stromm as he lunges at him with the blade. He demands to know about Seward and Stromm exposits that Seward was assigned to keep track of Ben and win his confidence, as well as rejuvenate Gaunt’s body. Ben doesn’t believe him but when hearing that Seward ‘outlived his usefulness’ he accuses Stromm of killing him. Stromm says it doesn’t matter who did that specifically which enrages Ben to the point where he rips off Stromm’s blade and follows that up by tearing Stromm from his armour. As Stromm pleads with him, Ben says he wishes he could kill him but that just isn’t who he is. Peter congratulates him for this but Ben just tells him to get moving and greet his daughter on his behalf.
As Peter leaves Ben turns to interrogate Stromm, but is stunned from behind, his Spider Sense still disabled. From behind him, Ben’s attacker says if he wants to know who Stromm was working for, he’d be better off going to the source. Wondering how he was ambushed (and realising it must of been the gas) Ben put’s two and two together, realising (as he turns around to gaze at his opponent) who his attacker is. Ben can’t believe what he’s seeing because he saw this man die. As his enemy fires off more energy blasts from his gloves he tells Ben ‘appearances can be deceiving’, before knocking Ben out. Stromm says he didn’t need his boss’ help, but his boss says that since he had to complete Stromm’s assignment he has failed him, and he knows the penalty for failure. With that he blasts Stromm, causing him to scream.
Mary Jane herself screams back in the hospital as she finally gives birth and falls back on her pillow. When she gets up again, she asks the doctor about her baby and why she isn’t crying, but Folsome just looks sorrowful. MJ begins to cry as Folsome tells her he’s sorry. As MJ breaks down denying what has just happened, one of the nurses who exited her room shortly before wheels a tray out of the hospital to a car, removing her surgical mask to reveal herself as…Alison Mongrain! She takes her car to a shadowy pier where (carrying a bundle in her arms) she meets her employer, informing him there were no difficulties and that she has his ‘delivery’. He congratulates her, gives her a bonus, puts her on a boat and wishes her farewell on her extended leave in Europe, saying he trusts she’ll make sure the ‘delivery’ is never seen again. As she bids her boss goodbye he tells her to not be so formal. Igniting his lighter to illuminate his face he tells her she can refer to him by his real name: Norman…Norman Osborn…
Normie Osborn is trick-or-treating with his friend and his friend’s mother. They bump into a man who gives them some candy and comments that they’re a frightening pair of little goblins. Normie removes his mask and looks up at the stranger. As he’s ushered away, the stranger tells him to stay safe as Halloween can be a dangerous night…a night of goblins. Before he loses sight of the man, Normie quietly mutters “G-G-rampa?”
Meanwhile Peter Parker makes his way via rooftop to the hospital. Once there though, no one seems to be able to locate Mary Jane and he wastes time looking for her. Finally Doctor Folsome approaches him and tells him there’s been a complication. As Peter starts to ask what’s wrong Folsome injects him with something to knock him out, seemingly transform into a jack-o’-lantern before Peter’s (heavily drugged) eyes.
Meanwhile at the Bugle Robbie and Jonah enter an elevator with Flash Thompson. When they exist they find Foggy Nelson, Liz Osborn, Glory Grant, Betty Brant, Ben Urich, Angela Yin and Ken Ellis all gathered there by the black envelopes. Wondering what’s going on Jonah notes only Peter is missing.
Elsewhere, Peter regains consciousness and realises he’s in his original Spider-Man costume. Remembering Mary Jane and the baby, he tries to fight the dizziness but a voice tells him it’s useless, as a jack-o’-lantern emitting a special gas has immobilised him (at least until the voice deems otherwise). The voice says (as its face emerges from the darkness) it’s been a long time. Peter thinks it’s Harry Osborn, but the voice tells him Harry, his son, is dead, killed by Peter; he’s returned to make Peter pay for that transgression against his family. As Peter’s vision clears and he sees the stranger he denies what his eyes tell him for it is…Norman Osborn. Peter says he saw Norman die and Norman agrees, reminding him of how he killed Gwen and was impaled by his own glider. He assures Peter he’s the genuine article and rips off his shirt, revealing the scars from the goblin glider to prove his case.
Back at the Bugle the gang discovers the phones are dead, the elevators won’t work, the e-mail system is down and the fire escape is locked. At a sports bar, Arthur Stacy meets with his fellow officers telling them how the skeleton from the smoke stack prompted him to investigate Spider-Man again after all these years, given his involvement in the deaths of Arthur’s brother and niece. The appearance of the skeleton has made Arthur think that Spidey is a murderer and wants the policemen to help him find out the truth.
Back with Norman and Peter, Norman can’t believe how pathetic Peter is, saying how he couldn’t do anything if he ever targeted MJ or the baby. He begins to suit up. As he does so, Peter demands to know how Norman survived their last fight. Norman explains the Goblin formula gave him an unforeseen healing factor which repaired his heart and that Harry bribed the right people to fake his autopsy. He goes on to say how he killed a vagrant similar enough to him and had him replace his own body in the morgue. When Norman returned to his warehouse he found Harry testing out the Goblin equipment and decided to let him have a chance as the Goblin whilst he left for Europe. When Peter ‘killed’ Harry he decided to return and make him pay. Peter asks what Norman wants from him and as Norman kicks Spider-Man in the face before he answers ‘everything’. He wants everything he has, everything he’s ever had and everything he might ever have. He wants Peter’s life but finds it funny as he already has that and Peter doesn’t even know it.
At the Bugle Jonah orders everyone to the windows to attract some help and privately confides to Robbie that he’s very worried, he senses something bad is going to happen; which Robbie concurs with. Flash and Betty bump into one another and Betty is not pleased to see him at all. Flash confides to Liz (who introduces Foggy Nelson as her ‘friend’) that he and Betty fell apart after her husband Ned died because Flash didn’t know how to act. He says he doesn’t know how to act outside of High School and almost mentions Harry. Liz says she made her peace with Harry a long time ago thanks to friends like him and Peter, also saying she can’t believe how much they’ve changed since High School. Liz wishes Peter was here because he’s a special guy, and Flash adds that he’s an even better friend. Just then he notices someone in the darkened building across the street from the Bugle. It’s Peter and Norman, who are still having their little exchange.
Norman tells Peter it’s always been about the two of them, but Peter reveals Norman’s got the wrong guy since he’s a clone. Norman snidely tells Peter HE was manipulating the clone situation the whole time and pulls out a beaten and battered Ben from the shadows. He reveals he was controlling the Jackal and Seward Trainer the whole time to convince Peter he was a clone. Tossing both Spider-Men aside Norman says that beating Ben is meaningless, he wants Peter to suffer as he’s suffered. He tells Peter that he hates him most of all for surviving and living on in spite of Gwen’s death, learning he was a clone and everything else he or Harry put him through. Donning his mask and once more becoming the Green Goblin, Norman says he took something from Peter to even the score for his killing Harry. This prompts Peter to fight off the drugs and attack Norman, demanding to know what he meant. Norman is pleased as he wants their final battle to be a grand one. As he tosses Spider-Man out of the window as he heads over to the Bugle cackling about making Peter lose everything, including the people who are unfortunate enough to know him.
As Peter hangs out the window, Ben regains consciousness and remembers what happened. He recalls how after Norman zapped him he told Ben he was a clone but he didn’t believe it, choosing to attack Norman himself for manipulating him and for messing with Peter’s happiness. He put up a decent fight until Norman knocked him out and revealed how he planned to kill Peter’s friends at the Bugle. He relays this to Peter and explains that Norman has rigged explosives inside the Bugle. Peter tells Ben he can’t fight Norman in his condition and asks him instead to evacuate the place and clear the bombs out.
Across the street Jonah tells Liz and Foggy to stop talking but he stops (his cigar dropping from his mouth) as the Goblin crashes through the window. Jonah recognises Norman’s voice as he is flown outside by the Goblin, who is raving about Jonah’s lack of action against Spider-Man. Spider-Man swings up to them but the Goblin zaps his web-lines sending, him falling. The Goblin tosses Jonah back inside and smacks his daughter-in-law Liz across the face for keeping Harry from becoming a man, a chance he tells her she won’t have with little Normie. Addressing the assembled crowd he says all of them have earned his hatred and disgust. Jonah calls him crazy but Norman assures him he’s never been saner as Spider-Man yanks him back outside via web-line to resume their battle.
As the crowd in the Bugle prays Spider-Man will win (and fears what will happen should he fail), crowds gather below too watch the battle rage above them. Ben slips away, heading for the Bugle whilst the news of the fight sends Arthur Stacy, Devon, Shirley and Buzz (and apparently an off panel Jimmy Six) to the scene of the fight to watch the spectacle.
Back to the fight itself, Spider-Man searches for the Goblin amidst the onslaught of explosions and finally get’s tagged by one of the blasts falling into the Bugle sign, seemingly beaten. The Green Goblin cackles to the heavens speaking to his dead son Harry about how a real Osborn does things and what a disgrace he was to let Spider-Man beat him. However the Goblin is shocked to see Spider-Man, groggily rising to his feet, saying he’ll have to do much better than that if he wants him dead and beckoning him to finish the fight. Norman charges at him asking what he must do to keep him down but Spidey says he won’t fall until he knows what’s happened to Mary Jane and the baby.
Back at the Bugle Ben evacuates everyone and collects the bombs. One of them rolls away towards Flash but Ben smothers it, being injured by the blast in the process but saving Flash. Gathering up the bombs Ben decides to dump them on Osborn’s building before tackling Norman himself. Outside Norman asks Peter why he doesn’t just give up since he’s clearly beaten. He continues to ask how much pain he must inflict and how much he must tear away from Peter until he dies, since he’s nothing more than flesh and blood under that costume. Yet time and again he endures whatever agony befalls him and keeps coming forward , he carries on living and Norman demands to know why, as he dive bombs towards Peter.
Spider-Man says he does it to spite the Goblin and in spite of him, as he knocks the Goblin off his glider. Standing over his enemy he pronounces Halloween to be over and removes both of their masks. He tells Norman he was right, it has always been about Peter Parker and Norman Osborn, not Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and now they can finish their battle as men. Norman is shocked by this and can’t believe he had Peter at his mercy but somehow allowed him to win anyway. He demands to know why Peter won’t just die, but Peter simply says it’s because that would mean Norman would win and he’d never let that happen. With that he punches Norman clear across the roof.
Ben shows up with the bombs and half collapses form his wounds. He suggests Peter take the bombs over to Norman’s building which Peter agrees to do so long as Ben keeps an eye on Norman. Just as he leaves though Norman activates his remote controlled glider, having it unsheathe several spikes and aim for Peter’s back (just as he did when he and Peter last fought all those years ago after Gwen died). Ben senses the danger and saves Peter by getting between him and the glider. Peter watches in horror as Ben is propelled over the street and is then dropped over the pavement. Norman mounts his glider again and attacks once more, saying goodbye to Peter. Spider-Man however throws the bombs at the Goblin and says goodbye to him too the bombs engulf the Goblin in a mighty explosion. As he falls Norman laughs about how he’ll never ever die, how Peter has no idea what he’s taken from him earlier and how it ensures that Peter has merely won a pyrrhic victory.
Moments later Spider-Man descends to the street to find Ben’s body. The doctors say there is nothing they can do and Ben asks Peter to come closer to him so no one will overhear what he has to say. As Jonah, Robbie, Shirley, Ken Ellis, Angela Yin, Ben Urich, Buzz, Betty, Liz, Flash, Foggy, Glory, Devon, Arthur Stacy and Jimmy Six watch on, Ben tells Peter that, clone or not, he is Spider-Man from now on, and he must carry on for Ben. In his dying words he asks Peter to take care of his niece and to tell her about…her Uncle Ben.
Peter notices Ben’s body beginning to change and swings him away to a rooftop, watching as Ben’s body degenerates. Realising Norman wasn’t lying, Peter accepts that Ben was the clone after all and he was the real Peter Parker all along. Heading for the hospital Peter finally reunites with Mary Jane who tearfully begins to tell him about the baby, but he already knows. As they hug and cry, he promises Mary Jane they will get through this, through the tears and the pain, and they will face the future together as husband and wife (f*** you One More Day, f*** you).
Several days later at the Parker residence, all of Peter and Mary Jane’s friends have gathered and insisted they hold a funeral for Ben Reilly and the baby, determined to show support to Peter and MJ in their time of need. As they do so, Peter thinks about how he and MJ just wanted to act like it all never happened and move on, but they have to accept that it did happen (now that’s one helluva swipe at Marvel editorial right there). Even Jimmy Six himself approaches Peter and Mary Jane, offering his deepest condolences and asking to speak with Peter. He tells Peter that he didn’t know Ben for very long but in that short time he was the best friend he ever had and he’s going to miss him. He promises Peter that the Green Goblin (and, if he was involved, Spider-Man too) are gonna get whacked if he shows his face again. Jimmy tells Peter that he will do anything for him and his family if they need anything because it is now Peter who is his friend. Peter thanks him and leaves to do one last thing for Ben. Going to the Brooklyn Bridge where Gwen Stacy died, Peter as Spider-Man scatters Ben’s ashes to the wind and tells his brother he will always miss him.
As Ben’s ashes travel throughout the city on the winds they pass by Osborn’s building opposite the Bugle. Construction workers comment about how the building is to be made into a homeless shelter on Liz Osborn’s orders and how the Goblin’s body was never found when a figure rises up from behind them. The figure kills the workers and comments about how things turned out quite well thanks to his planning for any eventuality (something he could never teach Harry). As the figure discards the charred remains of its costume, it says it accomplished most of what it intended to do as the Goblin and now the rest will be up to…Norman Osborn!
Wow. Where to start.
The opening scene is spooky, and lends a lot of gravitas to the mysterious mastermind. Were this more poorly written by Dezago Trainer’s fear would be nothing more than a cheap ploy to build up the villain, but when he’s ultimately revealed later on he earns every ounce of fear Trainer displays through Ross’ art. I also liked that Trainer is still a fundamentally decent man. He wasn’t a coward pretending to be Ben’s friend, he really was Ben’s friend (his father really) and he was living in genuine fear. Throughout the issue he strives to do the right thing for Peter and more than this for Ben’s forgiveness but it isn’t enough. Trainer’s death was unfortunate since he was a good supporting character but more than this, it means Peter and Ben didn’t get the heads up they needed, adding to the impending doom. Nevertheless when his neck was snapped (there is a lot of that in the Clone Saga) in the reflection of Gaunt’s armour, the story really conveyed how ruthless and powerful the big bad of the Saga really is. Ultimately Trainer’s arc is that of a somewhat standard, yet well done tragedy.
This issue had a very big ‘Terminator’ vibe as the techno-terror Gaunt stalking Trainer whilst he was on the run reminding me a lot of the very first movie, and brought out a horror movie vibe almost. Additionally I don’t care how 90s that design was, Luke Ross’s splash page made it work; especially the eye patch which was a clue to his identity. In fact there might have been another little clue (or maybe misdirection) in regards to who the mastermind was when Trainer went to Ben’s apartment and the door was blown off. That moment was somewhat reminiscent of the scene from ASM #136 when Peter’s apartment blew up when he opened the door. The culprit in that case was Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin so maybe Dezago was trying to hint Harry or another Goblin was behind this.
The scene with Peter and MJ is both good and bad. The bad is that it’s cheesy, over the top and wince inducingly saccharine, but that’s due to the dialogue more than anything else. When writing these two (or most couples really) this kind of over the top dialogue can detract from the scene. The sentiments the bad dialogue is expressing though are justified and good to see (again, Dezago writes a good married MJ and Peter). In particular I loved MJ saying she couldn’t do this without her best friend (Peter).
The art is nice and the scene is idyllic but just like the Death of Gwen Stacy (or countless stage play tragedies like Othello), there is an uneasiness, a palpable sense of dread in the air, where you know this happy scene at the start will lead to something bad. Indeed when the story is finished, looking back at this scene just twists the knife. When I first read this issue (knowing what was to come) I whimpered out a big “ohhhhhhhhh” because I knew what Peter and Mary Jane, and their baby were in for; especially given the not so subtle foreshadowing with Halloween decorations and a ‘Dead End’ sign. I felt similarly about the scene between Peter and Ben in the attic, Peter having invited Ben to get rid of their old memories together (which was an “aww” moment in and of itself). And I don’t mean like I disliked it, I mean the story drew me in so I felt sorry for the characters. This palpable sense of dread carries on through the rest of the issue and the rest of the story really until we hit the miscarriage in part 3. Another example of it in this issue (but only if you know what happens ahead of time) was when Alison Mongrain showed up. She plays a big role in this story, then in some post Clone Saga issues (then sadly in the Final Chapter where she’s derailed) and finally in Spider-Girl. I don’t know if it was a little joke or cruel foreshadowing, but there is even a panel where Mongrain is underneath a picture of a wicked witch which bears more than passing resemblance to her.
As I’ve said in the past the brotherly relationship between Peter and Ben was very much Dezago’s wheel house and here he gives us his best work yet (I suppose as a fond send off to that relationship). Their friendly greeting to each other, Peter inviting Ben to get rid of their shared memories, Ben welling up with Peter as they both miss Uncle Ben and Aunt May (and really I like BOTH those characters being dead), Peter’s confession he felt bad about not letting Ben see Aunt May before she died and not telling Ben that Aunt May knew the secret (because it made him feel real, and he says this holding a copy of Pinocchio, well done Dezago, well done), Peter telling Ben he inspired his recovery when he discovered he was a clone (although MJ was half responsible for that too), Peter telling Ben he loves him, them saying “I never realised we read so much” (because they both remember being lonely nerds, whilst now they’ve got each other so they’re not alone), them saying they loved Peter Pan and got the chance to fly after all; then there’s them playing battleship and pretending to get stuff done to MJ. It all is just heart warming stuff (with a bit of comedy thrown in as well).
In particular Peter hording the information that May knew he was Spider-Man was great. Apart from showing great character insight and flaws on Peter’s part (even referencing Maximum Clonage, brave man is our Dezago) it is a lovely bit of continuity which makes use of a brilliant issue and status quo (Aunt May being dead). If you didn’t think of them as brothers before you did now and them both looking over relics of their shared childhoods and memories (even playing battleship together) really cements that, giving us something new from a Spider-Man book. More than that it gives Spider-Man something he didn’t know he was missing his whole life, a brother, a friend (where they hang out AS friends, which didn’t happen as much with Harry or Flash) and a companion who understands him because he IS him in many ways. It is almost like Dezago tortured us by showing us what tremendous potential there could be for Peter and Ben’s relationship but he does it in the story where Ben is destined to die, which I suppose is good storytelling since it makes his death more of a loss (for us as much as Peter). I mean when Ben dies, it happens on the same day that (hours before) he and Peter were growing even closer as family.
In this issue we also see the first of the invitations which shall gather the supporting characters (whom we love but haven’t seen much of in the Clone Saga) at the Bugle for the grand showdown. I think this little subplot throughout parts 1-3 was done really well, building the tension gradually as everyone got invites for different reasons with cryptic clues left all over the place. Similarly the obviously shady maintenance men who put the bombs in the Bugle ratchet up the dread even more (especially when they have letters of recommendation from Osborn industries and Multivex). Now it isn’t just Peter or Ben in danger the entire supporting cast is there too. With Ben Urich we get the subtle reference to ‘paying him back’ for his discretion with the Legacy of Evil book which was a BIG clue as to where this was going (if the black envelope he and Glory got didn’t also do that). But there is an even bigger clue when Liz is in Osborn industries and seated under a sign which says “Our founder” whilst talking about her father-in-law. We don’t see the portrait but we know it must be Norman Osborn, heck when the scene plays out Liz literally says “you don’t know what could happen” whilst the final panel uses shadows to literally form a big arrow and POINT to Norman. At the time this was probably poor foreshadowing as it was too obvious, but I still like it because Norman makes such an epic re-re-entrance in part 3. On a side note, I liked Liz and Foggy Nelson dating, means we can have more Spider-Man/Daredevil cross-pollination.
The bad aspect of this issue is that it all but broadcasts that Ben is the clone and Peter is the original. I’d have preferred that that little reveal happen in the final part, preferably when Ben degenerates, mind you I suppose they wanted to leave you in no doubt.
The worst thing about this issue is that the start of it rehashes the ending of the last part. Necessary when you read on a weekly basis but not so good when you want a complete story, where one part naturally flows into the other. It’s especially egregious because Dezago wrote BOTH parts; still Wieringo’s art is cool.
Also he overdoes it in the opening narrations “Mary Jane is so happy, so pregnant so full of joy…and in terrible danger muahahahaha”. He equally over does it with Jonah’s ranting and raving though it is funny, plus it was good to see a slow build to how the Bugle will become a death trap for everyone who attends the meeting that night (what with the repairmen disabling the elevators).
We got a…frankly too obvious clue as to who Gaunt was when he’s referred to as Mendel. Who else could it be but Mendel Stromm at that point and who else could his boss be except Norman Osborn; that spoiled the reveal later in the issue? However, in the same scene we also got some nice set up for Part 4 when we see that the HQ of the bad guys is directly opposite the Bugle. By the way, I know it’s a totally 90s design but even so…Stromm’s new look is still bad ass; for awhile I thought only Luke Ross would pull it off but Wieringo does it justice as well. It is a strange thing but considering the story grows darker with each part, it’s oddly appropriate that we begin with two light and fun artists in parts 1-2 (Wieringo and Ross) and conclude with Romita Jr in part 4 where things get dark. No offense to Romita Jr, but his art does convey a darker and more serious tone, which would’ve telegraphed how this story would’ve gone. On a side note Wieringo draws the Fantastic Four briefly in this issue which is interesting since he will draw them again in a run with Mark Waid in the 2000s (which was my first run on the series actually).
I think Dezago did a good job in this part of mirroring himself from part 1. There Pete praised Ben and said he inspired him to recover from being a clone. Here Ben is saying Peter is someone he admired for his ability to survive and bounce back, which of course is not only completely true of Peter’s character but also foreshadows part 4 when the Goblin learns this lesson the hard way.
I liked that they used a little bit of continuity carried over from Onslaught (the destroyed buildings) since it shows the real ramifications of that event. Now the robot kids are goofy but also in their own way creepy (but they’ll be goofier in part 3 sadly), and when you actually look at how they fare against TWO Spider-Men…they’re actually more effective than most of the Spider Slayers the Smythe’s cooked up (yet another reason why I prefer Gaunt to Smythe). Gaunt himself is kind of bad ass here, taking the role of the mastermind’s right hand man to the nth degree and loving his new power (he is kind of the Vader to Norman’s Palpatine). The fight with Gaunt and Ben was nice to see because it’s a rematch from Blood Brothers, made more personal when Ben learns something has happened to Seward (and will sadly never find out what, he’s gonna die thinking Seward betrayed him). Furthermore, Gaunt is still played as mysterious and spooky with references to Gaunt having known Spider-Man long ago. Less impressive was the reveal of Gaunt as Mendel Stromm. Do not get me wrong, I like Stromm and it isn’t a bad reveal but it was a bit underwhelming because Stromm doesn’t look distinctive enough for you to immediately tell who he was. Nevertheless revealing this guy to be a villain with roots as far back as the Ditko days (with Ben almost mentioning he worked for Norman) was a nice little shocker and made Gaunt/Stromm more than just a new villain.
Dezago also used a bit of continuity in referencing the times Ben and Peter both considered the idea of Peter getting back into action in the wake of Onslaught. I was apprehensive over Peter’s desire to be a hero again but I think it’s (a) dad shock and (b) he really can’t help himself but BE Spider-Man. I particularly liked in this scene where Ben is seen as the older brother, even though the reality is the opposite. The scene is also good for the ending of part 4 where Ben changes his tune and encourages Peter to be both a father and Spider-Man (something he’s against initially before reluctantly agreeing to in this scene. There’s even more foreshadowing in that Ben says he won’t let anything happen to his little brother (who’s actually his big brother), which obviously sets up his sacrifice in part 4.
The scene with Arthur Stacy is mixed for me. It is good because again it goes back to one of the elements from the series when I first started reading. It is bad though because it’s made clear here Arthur has an axe to grind with Spider-Man, but later issues will reveal he has no malice towards him.
When Flash and Betty get invitations it’s interesting to note that Flash and her apparently got onto bad terms off panel somehow (they were dating a while back before Flash hooked up with Felicia in Michellinie’s run), Betty still wears her wedding ring (which is something to remember for Hobgoblin Lives when we get there) and we get more foreshadowing when Betty’s letter is signed ‘O’, which leaves Betty puzzled as she has no idea who that could be.
Once more you feel dread (and if you know what’s coming, despair too) when Mongrain drugs MJ’s food because it’s just so cruel and it makes you (rightly) hate Mongrain. On a lighter note…what happened to everyone else who ate that food she drugged?
The scene where MJ is taken to the hospital also has Ben’s entire regular supporting cast in it, looking more sombre than we’ve ever seen them before. It’s a tiny thing but it shows how Peter and Ben’s worlds have merged together, that Ben’s friends feel connected to and sorry for Mary Jane. It is also just a sad scene generally, that begins the process of tearing your heart out, which part 3 will finish off (leaving part 4 to just stamp on it in front of you).
This was overall another decent little issue to move the plot along and gives us another big revelation (earning this arc’s name) and ends on one helluva cliffhanger.
Oh and there was a nice little cameo from the Joker and Harley Quinn in there too.
Right from the start Skroce’s art really brings part 3 down and undermines the scene where MJ realises they’ve lost the baby (as well as all of her other scenes, in fact EVERY other scene is undermined, except for when he draws Spider-Man). This being said that scene (and the other labour scenes) really are the heartbreaker of the issue, maybe even the whole Clone Saga as (like Peter and MJ) we’ve followed the pregnancy from start to finish and to see it culminate in tragedy like this…it’s good storytelling because it makes you feel stuff; in this case you feel just so sad. I seriously find that scene hard to read to this day and of course wish they’d kept the baby. I will give Skroce some credit regarding the panel layout of that specific scene actually because he intersperses Mongrain’s actions with MJ realising what has happened. You really feel the gut punches hit you one after the other.
But all was not lost for in this very issue, we get so much evidence to the idea that the baby is NOT dead but instead kidnapped (though one wonders how MJ didn’t hear is crying, maybe she was knocked out and didn’t realise the time and maybe Anna was out of ear shot) that frankly it pisses me off whenever people stupidly say the baby died. There is a lot more evidence to the contrary in fact, a big expel being it’d be out of character for Norman to kill the baby. Why kill the baby when he can fake her death, thus making Peter and MJ experience what he felt when Harry died, and then get a double revenge by raising the kid himself who will have spider powers like her father (which Norman knows from experience are superior to his own Goblin powers). Face facts people, as it played out, the baby never died, Norman kidnapped her and has had her ever since.
Speaking of Norman…oh.my. god. That last panel was…I had to put the comic down and just immerse myself in it. The shock. The scale. The malevolence. Although the clues were obvious kudos to the writers for keeping Norman obscured until that last panel when he lit up his lighter to reveal himself. I can’t imagine people’s reactions back in the day but I do know that (even knowing the ending) when Norman was revealed I felt this sense of exhilaration and could only imagine people wondering HOW it happened. THIS is why Norman is the best Spider-Man villain there is, THIS is why he’s such a bad ass and that reveal (whether you liked it or not) was mind blowing. Here he is, the most memorable Spider-Man villain ever, the killer of Gwen Stacy (who is so memorable because of that storyline) and HE’S the one who’s been pulling the strings since…well, not even since the start of the Clone Saga, since before then, way back when the Jackal first showed up in the 1970s. And he’s back and he’s evil and he’s stolen Spider-Man’s baby, and he’s killed Gaunt and he’s got something special planned for Spider-Man and…*gushing noises*.
For over 20 years we’d heard about Norman Osborn, we’d known about him, he existed as a symbol of ultimate evil in the Spider-Man universe having killed Gwen and unmasked Spider-Man. We’d seen his legacy give rise to multiple Goblins including the Hobgoblin and Harry Osborn’s own tragic turn as the Goblin, but now the original model was back and he is going to go head to head with Spider-Man again. I get complaints about his resurrection to some extent but Norman does prove that you CAN bring a character back from the dead well if you do it right. He might be the only villain whose resurrection was as awesome as his death. Hell even his take down of Ben when we didn’t see his face (just his visage, which was getting clearer and clearer as the story progresses, going from him being off panel in the first scene of part 1 to being very much on panel in part 4) was full of dread and scale. If BEN is scared of this guy, who could he be? How big would he have to be to orchestrate all this AND scare Ben too?
Additionally, the scene where Norman takes down Ben from above (his face hidden and taking advantage of Ben’s spider sense being disabled) is just bad ass (even with Skroce’s poor art). The mini fight they have where Norman’s appearance is getting clearer and clearer (but we still can’t make it out) is genuinely effective (albeit sadly cartoonish) what with Norman‘s concealed reflection standing above Ben, reflected in his mask lens. Ben’s terror and denial (more than anyone’s I think) sells how BIG this bad guy must be and how dangerous. The scene contains even more clues to the mastermind being Norman because of course finger blasters are one of Norman’s favourite gadgets and Ben says he saw this mastermind die. This meant it HAD to be someone from BEFORE the first Clone Saga or otherwise from the new one when Ben was introduced. That narrows the suspects down quite a bit to the point where, when you put all the clues together, it can ONLY be Norman. And of course only Norman could do something as awful as this issue. Norman will forever be remembered as the guy who killed Gwen Stacy, but frankly this issue was when he did his most despicable thing of all, in kidnapping Peter and Mary Jane’s baby and faking her death. That…that’s evil. Pure, pure evil. NO ONE has ever done anything as terrible as that to Spider-Man (and given their desire to not give him children, they never will again)
Many people expected Harry, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Harry could never have pulled this whole thing off, he wouldn’t have hurt Mary Jane like this and frankly, since Spec #200 was entirely about his death (whilst the Death of Gwen Stacy was more about Gwen’s death than Norman’s) bringing him back here would be cheap as all get out. As it played out, they DID use continuity from Spec #200 as Norman’s primary motivation was revenge for Harry’s death. You could almost say from Spec #200 to this story Peter’s been caught between two Green Goblins, with both Harry and Norman manipulating his life during that time.
This might just be one of the most important Spider-Man issues out there for the sheer volume of life changing stuff that goes on in it. Stromm’s elimination by Norman was heavily foreshadowed as far back as Blood Brothers, but was still awesome to see. I’ve always like Stromm. He has a super villain name and his relationship to Norman makes him more than just a robot guy, which Smythe basically is.
Now that the BIG stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about the other aspects of this part.
Doc Folsome gives you that sinking feeling as soon as you hear that he’s replaced MJ’s regular doctor (and to his credit Skroce does actually make him look evil). He’s obviously an Osborn plant but if Osborn made sure the baby would die when he had Mongrain drug MJ’s food…why does he need BOTH Mongrain AND Folsome (or either in fact) there when MJ gives birth f it’s a sure thing that it was a miscarriage? In fact why is he there observing it…? Unless the baby was never intended to die, and never did die…and actually Folsome and Mongrain were there to deliver the baby to Norman or give MJ and/or the baby something to keep them quiet/make them not notice what’s going on (or maybe Mary Jane just passed out)???? What other ‘package’ could Mongrain possibly be delivering to Norman, what else could she be wheeling away from the hospital? Sorry, I’ll try not to get back into that, but my point is the overwhelming majority of the evidence is pointing towards the baby being alive. I also liked that Angela Yin showed concern for Peter and Mary Jane in spite of not knowing them that well. She’s a nice little supporting character so I was sorry to see her disappear eventually (even if taking photos of a woman in labour in a hospital isn’t going to make her any friends).
Now for some criticisms. I love DeFalco and I understand that between his old school sensibilities and the way comics were done in the 90s dialogue was used to catch the reader up on the goings on, but…when he writes Peter’s thought captions on that opening double page spread…it’s just clunky and too expositional. Stromm’s dialogue also slightly changes. It’s a subtle but noticeable change to more traditional/cliché comic book villain dialogue, whereas in parts 1-2 Gaunt’s voice was more consistently menacing I felt.
Also Skroce decided the sleek looking robots Wieringo drew in the last part needed to be replaced with these green alien things (which Ben claims he’s fought before but unless I missed something neither he nor Peter have met these things before). Okay, he’s referencing the robots from ASM #37 but still, Wieringo’s design was better. And needless to say, Wieringo drew everything else better. Skroce gives everyone wrinkly faces and exaggerated eyebrows. Wieringo also does the latter but this stuff is…I don’t know it’s just ugly and over the top.
Going back to some positives, Robbie and Glory’s scene was small but effective showcasing (especially in Robbie’s case) that they both really care about Peter and Mary Jane when they get news about the complications with the labour. And then there are the maintenance men just outside the window, ominously working away to seal everyone’s doom. Personally I preferred the scene where they planted a pumpkin with a bomb inside it (maybe the least subtle clue yet, a literal ‘pumpkin-bomb’ really?), with Robbie saying there wouldn’t be a major disaster whilst the scene played out.
The kid robots were frankly annoying; they should’ve stayed silent killers not the comedic little rugrats we saw in this part. That’s too light-hearted for where we are going to go in the next part, where we’ve come from in Parts 1-2, heck it’s too light hearted for where we went at the end of this part. Where this a slightly less serious story, scenes where Peter fights the robot children whilst Anna tells him about MJ’s labour might be okay, but here…it’s standard super heroics but it nevertheless doesn’t fit well. However that scene in particular does end with the ironic statement by Peter that nothing will keep him from MJ’s side, because…yes it will.
Getting back to the fight with Stromm himself, it’s kind of interestingly choreographed (I especially liked Ben ripping off his arm blade and then the rest of his armour) but the dialogue is frankly more riveting, particularly when Ben and Stromm start talking about who he works for and Stromm reveals Seward’s role (and death) in the Clone Saga. Again I love Stromm’s unabashed hatred for his boss (which Norman knows about no doubt) but I don’t get why Ben would think Mysterio was behind this? It’s supposed to be someone dead and Mysterio was not a dead guy last he knew (he showed up in ‘Bug Story’). I did like when Stromm used the gas to disable Ben and Peter’s Spider Sense though. I always loved that little trick that Norman could pull and of course it’s at the heart of the Spider-Man/Goblin mythology because that’s how Norman found out Peter was Spider-Man in the first place; the case was yet another little clue to who the mastermind was.
Ben’s ending the fight was cool I must admit, even with Skroce trying to ruin it. This was in a sense Ben’s last great battle. Peter will fight Norman but Ben get’s Norman’s second in command and Gaunt wasn’t a bad opponent for him, nor was his victory over the guy. I also liked Ben telling Peter to give his daughter a kiss from her godfather immediately after beating Gaunt. Gaunt’s death was built up quite well, we’ve seen him talk about how evil his boss is and how he rewards failure with death (Stromm himself carrying out such deaths) so seeing Stromm succumb to the same fate was only natural (especially when you consider Norman has a history of screwing him over). I’ll miss Stromm because I think he was an effective villain in this arc and really my biggest complaint about him was that he continued to talk in a modulated computer voice even after he lost his technological armour, WTH?
Let’s finish this part off with some more trivial stuff. The scene with Arthur Stacy had the exact same problems as the one from the previous issue, only worse because Skroce is drawing it. This being said, it was fun seeing Tork again, he’s an old school police character from the 1980s, specifically the ‘Gang War’ storyline.
Finally, there was a good joke (if you’re juvenile at heart, which I am) about masturbation (notice it was about masturbation, not directly involving it Mr. Slott) which surprised me because you would not expect that from DeFalco.
This issue overall was the weakest part of this story but not irredeemable. If nothing else it had okayish-nice action scenes going for it, to say nothing of shock and heartbreak value.
READ THIS ISSUE AFTER DARK, I implore you. It will add so many atmospheres to the story.
What is most striking about this issue going in is how well it actually reads on its own. Reading this over 10 years ago when I jumped on board without having read the other parts (or any Spider-Man story for that matter) and re-reading it now with the other parts I can appreciate what a masterpiece Mackie and Romita crafted here. This is their best issue. Unquestionably so, their later stuff isn’t bad at all, but this is their peak.
Right off the bat we have a scene which (thanks to Romita’s art and Mackie’s writing) is positively seething with malevolence, symbolism and continuity. Norman Osborn meets his grandson (his namesake) for the first time ever and of course young Norman is dressed as a green goblin-like monster (foreshadowing his destiny in Spider-Girl as much as referencing his family legacy). Of course Norman has a twisted love for his grandson that he’d make sure he is alright before he kills the boy’s mother. And of course Normie recognises his grandfather from the portrait his father showed him in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 where Harry died, where many of the seeds for the 90s Clone Saga began in fact. The Osborn legacy is on full display here.
The story also does a good job of living up to the new name of the comic. ‘Spider-Man’ was renamed ‘Peter Parker: Spider-Man’ to send a clear message about who was going to be the main character from now on and who was the real deal. And, unlike parts 1-3 which are very much Peter AND Ben’s story for the most part, Part 4 is Peter’s story, plain and simple. Oh Ben is there, he has his moments, he plays hero and works with Peter but this is NOT a team effort anymore. The focus is heavily upon Peter, following his journey through this book and most especially building up his rivalry with Norman. I’d even go so far as to say the story up until now was about Peter and Ben, but this issue is about Peter and Norman. That’s why Ben’s fight in part 3 against Stromm was so important folks. It was HIS last hurrah, one last fight for him to win on his own, unquestionably as Spider-Man against a foe who’d previously kicked his ass and also ruined his life. Now in this is Peter’s fight. Ben might owe Norman some licks, he might hate him, and they might have a business to settle (which happens in the bonus pages where we get a cool flashback fight where Ben actually looks to be winning for awhile) but when push comes to shove Norman is Peter’s arch-nemesis. HE’S the one who deserves to take Norman down, he’s the one Norman has hurt the most and he’s the one who’s wife and child Norman is withholding from him. This is Peter’s story.
For awhile when Peter searches for MJ in the hospital, we get some of the old Parker luck but the way the art, layouts and colours are done you see things through Peter’s eyes, feel his frustration, his desperation, his despair (which pales compared to that of the readers’ who saw last issue and know what’s happened to MJ and who’s waiting for Peter) and feel like (thanks to the black areas surrounding the panels) like they’re in the grip of night; the Night of the Goblin that is. Folsome’s appearance makes him look almost demonic before he literally turns into a jack-o’-lantern and (thanks to the art) I’m now terrified of those.
Speaking of the art, I’ve always said I like Romita Jr’s art but honestly here…this might just be the best issue he’s ever drawn (partially due to Hanna’s inks). It is so beautifully done. The use of darkness in this story really makes you feel like your reading this at night and that there is evil in the air. The scene where Peter slowly emerges from the darkness as Spider-Man is so spooky, yet so beautiful to look at too. It’s a quick (if a bit nonsensical) way of getting him in costume, but more than this it’s symbolic of Peter emerging from the darkness and becoming the one true Spider-Man again. By the same token, Norman emerging from the darkness really puts across the idea he’s arisen from the dead to torment Spider-Man and leaves you in no doubt…this man is truly evil.
In regards to Norman, I think it’s very telling that he WANTS a fight with Peter, he doesn’t want to just kill him, he wants to prove himself superior to his enemy physically, and specifically he has to do it AS the Goblin and Peter must be Spider-Man when it happens (in the original costume no less) because Norman wants the full experience. He wants this because he thinks in terms of physical violence due to his family history of physical abuse. Unless he physically beats Spider-Man a part of him will always think he wasn’t good enough compared to him.
There is also a nice bit of symmetry early on when Peter realises Norman is back, since he (like his brother Ben) denies that Norman can be alive because he saw him die (memories Ben shares with him). The letterer even outdoes themselves on this issue as you can feel Peter’s denials of Norman being alive growing louder as the words grow larger in the speech balloons.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention by the way that John Romita Sr. worked on ‘The Death of Gwen Stacy’ where Gwen and Norman kicked the bucket and now in this issue, his son get’s to pencil a quick flashback of Gwen and Norman’s epic return. Also Romita Sr. drew Norman unmasking as the Goblin in his very first issue on the title. My point? Nothing really I just like those coincidences, although having Romita Jr. pencil what is essentially a sequel to the second most famous Spider-Man story of all time (cos the origin is always the most well known) given his dad worked on it seems almost like destiny.
The double page spread this happens on by the way has been burned into my mind for over 10 years (although I forgot the hilarious editors note that the Death of Gwen Stacy is only NOW a classic story). THIS is the most iconic shot of Norman of all time, followed up by even more iconic shots like when Norman tears his shirt off revealing his scars (which is more proof he’s the real deal). In that panel Norman not only looks bad ass but he says words which, rarely for comic books, are utterly true: “I am Norman Osborn…your worst nightmare.” He speaks more words which get to the heart of their relationship when he says it always had to come down to the two of them fighting each other.
The explanation of how Norman can be alive isn’t actually as out of left field as people think. Apart from this being standard super villain routine (see Doc Ock surviving a nuclear explosion be wrapping himself in his tentacles) Norman survived an electrocution to the head as well as the Goblin formula exploding in his face which started his criminal career. He should’ve died or had horrific chemical burns from those, but he’s fine. Why? Because the formula heals him. It always has probably. The page of exposition is done eloquently enough to plug several questions readers no doubt asked though most will be addressed (and repeated) in the Osborn Journal One Shot. This page where Norman suits up really conveys just how much seething hatred and how personal his and Peter’s war is. This isn’t like when Peter fights Doctor Octopus or even Venom. Norman loathes Peter for a legitimate reason from the bottom of his soul and Peter feels the same way given how Norman’s hurt him and MJ. Doctor Octopus wants to prove his superiority to Spider-Man. Venom wants to kill him. Norman wants everything about Peter. He wants to destroy everything he was, is and might ever be.
Looking at the supporting cast for a moment, the situation at the Bugle in this part let’s them shine a little bit independently of Peter, demonstrating how they’re really an ensemble cast when you get down to it. There is this claustrophobia established from them all being locked in the Bugle together (the maintenance men’s work being responsible for that). That was great build up by the way, seeing the maintenance men join then carry out their work through parts 1-3, all culminating in one locked office. It really gave you a good sense of the passage of time and had the story build organically.
Seeing Jonah rant and rave as a coping mechanism to reassure the others (whilst privately confiding his fear to Robbie) was great characterisation for him. Where the issue trips up though is with Flash and Betty’s relationship (which, along with Flash’s negative feelings, play a part in Post-Clone Saga stories). Flash claims it went bad after her husband died but that wasn’t really the case in reality. Also Liz has moved on from Harry’s death which was about a year ago, which is a bit fast. These however are nit picks in the grand scheme of this issue.
Similarly (and it pains me to say this) Jonah and Robbie’s dialogue in the elevator really conflicts with what happened in part 3 because they’re back to assuming they’re going to a board meeting and act like they haven’t spoken to each other about it (in fact Robbie claims Jonah signed his letter himself). That is hardly something to tear this issue apart over though.
Another con is in the form of Arthur Stacy. I like this character, I really do, but his motivations here will be basically forgotten later on which is poor storytelling but not the fault of this issue…what IS the fault of this issue though is including him in it when he contributes nothing to THIS specific story. It distracts from the main action of the thing. This being said there is a good dialogue box where it says he is heading to the scene of the fight to see the man who killed his brother and niece pay dearly. It’s meant to mean Spider-Man but of course the Goblin was the guy who killed Gwen.
Turning our attentions to Mister Reilly, seeing Ben all beat up is disheartening, but in a good way. It shows what a bad ass Norman is and how desperate the situation really is. I mean if he has already defeated one Spider-Man tonight…The reveal that he’s been manipulating things since the 1970s also adds greater scale to Norman’s menace and you can tell that he is loving his little monologue about how he fooled Peter and how he (like Peter once upon a time) regards Ben as a meaningless creature, an inhuman thing. The panel where Norman holds both Spider-Men in his arms doesn’t just look good but it’s symbolic of how he’s held both of them in his hands throughout the Clone Saga and how the tired and tattered Ben is destined to give way to Peter in this very issue. Romita follows this up with a truly epic splash page of the Green Goblin in full gear and back in action after 23 years. Once more Norman eloquently puts into words WHY he hates Spider-Man so much. More than anything he hates the fact that (as Ben himself pointed out in part 2) Peter can survive anything despite his best efforts.
I hate to sound redundant but Romita Jr seriously draws one iconic page after another as when the fight starts he uses a double page spread to showcase Spider-Man and the Goblin coming in from opposite ends at each other as larger than life titans, picking up where their old rivalry left of back in Amazing Spider-Man #122. The dialogue from Norman is ambiguous enough that you aren’t sure if he’s killed Peter’s baby or stolen her, he just says he’s ‘taken’ her to even the score for killing Harry. As I’ve said before Norman wouldn’t just kill the child of his greatest enemy. He’d consider raising the child as his own (and making use of those marvellous powers she might inherit) an even greater victory, but he would make Peter THINK his daughter is dead, and make him feel the same pain Norman himself felt over Harry’s death.
Returning to the supporting cast, Jonah’s face, the dropping of the cigar and his fear would all be funny in another comic but here it is really not. I can’t say what it is but funny is the last thing that it is. The same goes for Norman’s announcement to the Bugle crowd. Here you see how crazy he is, he’s holding a grudge against people who he’s never even met, who don’t even know what they’ve done to offend him. Norman’s resentment of Liz for making Harry weak showcases Norman’s background in violence and resentment even of Harry himself. It also shows Norman’s hatred of women which is subtly documented around his history.
When the fight truly begins Spidey and Gobby fall back into a routine in a sense, there’s standard (I say standard, Romita Jr takes it up several notches) super heroics going on here but it builds up from there. Spider-Man has tiny pieces of humour but they aren’t what you’d expect. How can they be, this is far and away the most serious he’s ever been in a fight. This isn’t him getting revenge, this is him beating the man who killed his girlfriend and who might have hurt his wife and child. He is arguably more serious now than he’s ever been.
Another way this part really succeeds is its use of various elements of the mythology. Whilst Spider-Man fights his greatest enemy, we have Spider-Man’s friend’s lives on the line, whilst who knows what has happened to Mary Jane and the baby and all of this happens at the Bugle, the most frequently used location in the Spider-Man mythology. The battle is so epic it draws in people on the street, patrons of the Daily Grind and even Arthur Stacy. It brings in so many of the supporting cast and elements of the mythology to make a truly memorable wham bam finale to the Clone Saga.
I think my absolute favourite set of pages are when Gobby blasts Peter through the Bugle sign itself and shouts to the his dead son about how he was a disgrace for losing to Spider-Man, only to be shocked that Peter isn’t out of the game yet. The epicness is off the scale when Peter stands up and essentially tells the Goblin: “bring it on bitch!” THAT’S the sentiments of the Master Planner scene done right, no rubble, no rip-off, but it’s the same thing at its core. And of course (as the issue points out) the Goblin just can’t figure it out; he never could. He literally can’t beat Spider-Man so long as he’s got MJ and the baby to think about. Of all people on Earth, he is the least likely to make Spider-Man stay down because he is the one person Spider-Man can’t let win, the one person’s who’s continued presence means Spider-Man will make sure he lives on, just to spite him. This all happens on a double page spread where the situation is reversed from when Peter and Norman first began their battle. Their on opposite sides of the page and their battle is closing, not opening. More than this it’s the Goblin who gets his butt kicked in this scene, not Peter.
Shortly after, in a scene where it’s Peter’s turn to philosophise on their relationship (saying it’s never been between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, it’s been between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn, which has been utterly true since ASM #39), he removes his and Norman’s mask which by sheer coincidence ALSO happened when he and Harry battled in ‘The Child Within’, which further developed the Parker-Osborn feud. Following this we get Peter at his most bad ass in the Clone Saga when he just punches Norman out as Norman (reduced to the pathetic man he really is) tries to scrabble at Peter’s chest and bemoans the fact that he’s lost again!
But let’s not forget Ben. He plays hero again in rescuing the trapped folks at the Bugle and is marked for death from the gut wound he took to save Flash. When he gets to the roof he has a sarcastic little line about how he has some experience at this job which is a phrase Mackie has been throwing back and forth between Peter and Ben for awhile by this point. Here though it’s all the more poignant because he’s saying it just as the Goblin recreates the same scenario from the issue where he (Norman) first died; he remote controls his glider to impale Peter. Only this time it’s Ben who takes it instead of Peter. People don’t talk about this moment enough but they should. Ben thought he was the original Peter Parker when this happened. He thought Peter was his clone. But Ben gave his life to save Peter anyway, even though Peter was just a copy of him. He did it because Peter had a family and a life to lead, he did it because Peter was his brother, he did it because Ben Reilly was a true hero. In giving his life for Peter he fulfilled the fundamental moral message the Clone Saga should have had throughout, instead of just pretending to have throughout: that it is our actions which make us who we are, not how we were born. Ben was a clone but he performed an act of supreme heroism, which obviously put any doubts about the value of clones as people (and characters) to rest (or it should do any way).
Romita Jr. has Peter (in a moment of subtle hatred and anger) basically try and kill Norman by throwing a bunch of bombs at him and causing a brilliant explosion which is ANOTHER iconic panel I remember even 10 years later. Oh, and Norman says Spider-Man has no idea what he’s taken from him. If Norman earlier told Spider-Man he took something to even the score for killing Harry (implying the baby) and is now saying Peter has no idea what he’s done (even though he already told him what he’d done) then wouldn’t THAT imply Norman has actually tricked Peter? That what Peter doesn’t realise Norman has ‘taken’ is his baby, as in he’s physically stolen their child and his chance to be a father. I mean why would Peter have no idea that Norman’s killed the baby when he pretty much implied that and Norman knows that Peter’s gonna be told the baby is dead soon anyway?
Then we get Ben’s death. I am blessed to have never lost a parent or close relative. So when I read ASM #400 I have yet to get truly teary eyed (I pray I never do frankly). This being said…because I’ve followed him and loved his character so much, when Ben dies…the tears come my friends. They come. When he says Peter has to take care of his niece and has to tell her about her Uncle Ben…I well up, I’m not ashamed to admit that. It’s emotional stuff, which twists the knife further because WE know Peter can’t fulfil Ben’s dying wish because the baby (dead or not) is gone (FUCK YOU NORMAN SHE’LL LEARN ABOUT HER UNCLE BEN IN SPIDER-GIRL, oh sorry I got too drawn in there for a moment). The scene brings in the supporting cast, old and new to witness Ben’s death. Apart from Jonah, Robbie, Flash, Glory and Betty (who doesn’t seem to care her new boyfriend is dying), we have Ben’s own supporting cast in Shirley, Devon, Buzz and even Jimmy Six. They’re all there to watch a Spider-Man die, to see their friend die just like us, the readers. And Peter…oh Peter…he’s just like us too, he’s saying “No” over and over again because he doesn’t want Ben to leave either. There are lots of ways for it to be retconned that Ben Reilly didn’t really die, e.g. “because this wasn’t actually Ben Reilly, it was ANOTHER clone LOLS”…but that’d really cheapen his actions and death here. I WANT Ben back but don’t just say it wasn’t him in this issue. Find a way to say he did died here and then resurrect him or something. Ben’s degeneration was a way to cement that Peter was the one true Spider-Man but it does raise head scratching questions since the issue of degeneration is very iffy in the Clone Saga. No one knows who degenerates and who doesn’t. This is why there are so many theories about Ben not actually being dead or how he could come back out there. Also, Ben dies in Peter’s clothes which is very ironic and just a perfect symbol of their relationship and what the message of the Clone Saga is about.
And the heartbreak doesn’t stop with Ben’s death. Oh boy. Then…we finally, at the very end of this story, have Peter and Mary Jane reunite, having been separated since the start of part 1. This is…this is by far and away the single worst moment in their relationship. I don’t mean it’s badly written, far from it, I mean emotionally for these characters this is the worst tragedy in their relationship, the worst thing to happen to them in their lives as individuals and as a couple. A full term miscarriage is a horrible thing which no act by a fictional comic book super villain could ever come close to. It is something which happens in real life so in a sense having it happen to Spider-Man of all characters made sense. And if you like Peter and/or Mary Jane (especially if you’ve been reading them for years)…your heart literally hurts when you read this scene.
It is in its own unique way a victory for them as well. It’s the greatest tragedy of their lives but they survived it. Because, just like Norman said, Peter can survive anything; he even listed off things he’s done to Peter which he’s survived, starting off with Gwen’s death. Here is a secret Norman (and other readers) might not realise: Peter survived all that stuff because of Mary Jane. MJ was there when Gwen died, when he found out he was a clone and when Norman threw all this other stuff at him. It isn’t Peter who’s the survivor, it’s him and MJ togetherwho thrive and survive (as Spectacular Spider-Man #241 will show us). And if they can survive this real world horror…they can survive anything.
Sorry to break my review for a moment but I honestly think as soon as this issue happened, and as soon as Peter and MJ obviously weren’t gonna break up as a result of the miscarriage, the creators’ window of opportunity to end the marriage officially closed. If they went through this and stayed together then nothing else short of mind control or mind wipes or unrealistic comic book stuff like that was actually going to break them up. That’s why when they forced them to separate in the Reboot and in OMD it was so utterly fake because you wouldn’t believe it of them after this. Glen Greenburg who writes a blog about the behind the scenes stuff on the Clone Saga said it best when he basically said that part of the Clone Saga’s remit was to end the marriage and they were working on ways to do that in Revelations, to have MJ and Peter break up at the end. But what happened in reality was that the Clone Saga ended with them being closer than ever before. Dunno if that’s good or bad writing really.
Okay, let’s refocus. Even though Maximum Clonage Alpha is I think undeniably Peter at his lowest, most vulnerable point, this story is the worst night of Peter’s life bar none. Take your Civil Wars and Back in Blacks and One More Days and your Dying Wishes and shuv em where the sun don’t shine. In this issue, on this one night, Spider-Man’s worst nightmare in the form of his greatest enemy arose to hurt him and kill his brother and his baby in one stroke. THIS was the greatest tragedy of his life. THIS was the characters most painful storyline. But at the same time it was a story which did get to the core of who Peter was. Hell the entire damn Clone Saga could be said to do that in an abstract sense. Here we see Spider-Man as the proper, adult, flawed, human hero that he is, who fights until the end.
Getting onto the bonus pages from the Revelations trade paperback, these pages are seamlessly integrated into the original version of part 4. The epilogue has a minor hiccup because two characters who haven’t been introduced yet appear (although you could just say they’re random people) but otherwise it’s a really touching scene as MJ and Peter mourn Ben and their baby amongst their friends and family. Also surprisingly touching, is the scene where Jimmy Six remembers Peter was Ben’s cousin and promises to make Ben’s killers pay for harming his friend, also offering Peter any assistance if he needs it. Again, this was why I liked Jimmy Six, a noble gangster. Peter scattering Ben’s ashes from the bridge where Gwen died was a nice touch because it called back to the 1970s. Not only was Gwen’s death the catalyst for the Clone Saga in many ways but all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #151, Peter disposed of Ben’s body in a smokestack saying that, since it was his desire to be cremated when he dies he figured Ben (who back then was just ‘a clone’) would want that as well. Well, he wasn’t cremated but now Ben Reilly is dust and so Peter scatters his ashes.
Finally, the bonus pages contain a profoundly terrifying scene where Norman rises from the ashes of his and Spider-Man’s battle (once more coming back to life) and looks all burnt and beat up. Romita’s art once more sells that Norman has transcended what he was once upon a time and is now almost a force of pure evil that is once more arising from the dead. His words about letting ‘Norman Osborn’ battle Spider-Man from now on shall have a profound impact in the Post-Clone Saga era (especially Spectacular Spider-Man #250, so watch out for that). Unintentionally or otherwise Romita Jr’s art also makes Norman in this scene bear a striking resemblance to the villain Carrion, a clone of the Jackal (well there’s much more to it than that but just accept that Carrion was a clone of Warren). Bill Mantlo who created Carrion allegedly had the idea that Carrion (who looks like a zombie and carries a bag around with him, not dissimilar to Norman’s bag of goblin gadgets) would be Norman Osborn arisen from the dead so maybe Romita was referencing that.
Looking at some points about the storyline more generally, I really liked how each issue moved the actual time of the story along as well. Part 1 was bright and sunny (perfect for Luke Ross’ art), part 2 was still bright and still happens in the day but night is falling, part 3 was darker still and night falls as tragedy strikes the Parker family and then part 4 happened, which was entirely at night, was indeed named Night of the Goblin, and had very fitting moody Romita Jr. art to go with it.
Additionally it’s been said that part 4 is the great issue in Revelations and don’t talk much about parts 1-3, claiming they’re kind of ordinary at best. I have to disagree. Yes part 4 was the best part but parts 1-3 are its foundation. You need them to support and hold up part 4 to make the overall storyline work as well as it does and to make it as good as it is. Again, would Ben’s death be as sad if in part 1 you hadn’t seen him and Peter being so friendly to one another? Would the miscarriage sting as much as it does without Peter and Mary Jane being as happy as they were in part 1? No. These parts by themselves might be only okay but together they form something really special.
The Clone Saga had its ups and downs but my lord did it end with one helluva up. Read THIS story if you never read any other Clone Saga story in your life. And you know what, I WILL get on my soap box right now and say it. If you hate this issue (as many do) you’ve either not read it, not read it in context or…you are a goddam narrow minded fool, because this story is OBJECTIVLY one of the absolute best Spider-Man stories of all time.
And with that we’ve concluded the Clone Saga. Now let us push forward as we leave behind the darkness of the Clone Saga and embrace a more upbeat tone. We now enter my favourite era of Spider-Man in the Post-Clone Saga era. But don’t think the Clone Saga will be forgotten. Oh no, there’s more than a few plot threads carried over. We might even be seeing some old faces pop up. Maybe even…some from this very arc????? Read on True Believers.
Most carelessly I reblogged this to the wrong place. Sorry about that. If you are reading these chronologically this takes place before the Spec #241 review