Perhaps no Spider-Man storyline has proven as divisive as the epic “Clone Saga” which ran for over two years in the mid-1990s. It chronicled the replacement of Peter Parker by his clone Ben Reilly, who had spent the last five years in exile. During the tumultuous event, Peter’s beloved aunt died, he discovered his wife was pregnant, and for a time he even thought he was a clone. The sprawling epic, which spanned over two hundred comics, ended with a return to the status quo when Ben died and Peter’s baby was abducted and never seen again. Fans seem to either love or hate the saga, but a closer look at the stories within it reveals a mix of good and bad stories.
While many of the “Clone Saga”‘s stories are convoluted to the point they turn off readers, others feature interesting character dynamics and emotional milestones that help this milestone event endure as a memorable and intriguing chapter in Spider-Man’s history. Whether it’s the loss of a parental figure or the struggle to forge one’s own distinct identity, many of the saga’s stories demonstrate that greatness can still be found within an epic that’s been dismissed by critics and fans alike.
Since his first appearance in 1962, Spider-Man has almost always been Marvel Comics’ most popular character. Known for his sense of humor and bad luck as well as his selflessness and super-strength, Spider-Man has helmed countless titles over the years, Spider-Man’s most prominent comics include The Amazing Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man.
Peter Parker was the original Spider-Man but the Spider-Verse has become an important part of the character’s lore in recent years. Multiversal and future Spider-Men include Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, Miguel O’Hara and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. This provided the premise for the popular Spider-Verse film trilogy, which makes Miles its primary hero.
Spider-Man is also the basis of several live-action film franchises and numerous animated television series. He is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. While he’s changed a lot over the decades, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee gave the world an unforgettable hero when they created Spider-Man.
10 The Exile Returns Is Scarlet Spider’s First Battle With Venom
Ben Reilly couldn’t resist the temptation of playing the hero when he returned to New York from exile. In his first solo adventure as the Scarlet Spider in Web of Spider-Man #118 (Terry Kavanagh, Steven Butler, Randy Emberlin, Steve Dutro), he faced Spider-Man’s deadly nemesis, Venom. Peter had made a deal with Venom not to pursue him, and Ben was personally offended by this abdication of responsibility and even compared it to not stopping the burglar who would later kill his Uncle Ben. Venom taunted Ben by calling him a “fake,” but the Scarlet Spider proved he was the real deal by taking down his foe despite nearly being disemboweled by him.
Scarlet Spider’s first foray into heroism also demonstrated the various weapons Ben used to compensate for his rusty fighting skills. He defeated Venom with the help of his impact webbing, rapidly expanding balls of webbing, and tranquilizing “stingers.” Between his attitude toward Venom and his innovative approach to crime fighting, he established a contrast between himself and Peter Parker.
9 Ben Reilly, The Sensational Spider-Man
Sensational Spider-Man #0 (Dan Jurgens, Klaus Janson, Richard Starkings & Comicraft) heralded not only the start of a new series but also the arrival of a new Web-Slinger. Peter Parker had retired to raise a family with Mary Jane, leaving his double Ben Reilly to carry on the Spider-Man legacy. Ben accomplished this by putting his own spin on the costume and its updated design theoretically reflected the book’s modern attitude. The issue also introduced Ben to a new supporting cast of characters when he found work at a coffee shop. While they were no replacements for the Daily Bugle cast, they were still compelling and one of Reilly’s love interests was even the daughter of the burglar who shot Uncle Ben.
Most importantly, Sensational Spider-Man #0 reintroduced a sense of fun for the Spider-Man books. They’d been bogged down by grim and gritty angst and overly convoluted plot twists for too long. This issue took a break from the melodrama to show a Spider-Man who actually enjoyed swinging over the city and fighting crime. He had found his passion again and the books reflected that, at least for a little while.
8 Web of Death Finds The Good In Doctor Octopus
The “Web of Death” storyline ran through Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man and starred Peter Parker as he struggled to survive. It served as an interesting counterpart to the concurrent “Web of Life” arc, which featured Ben Reilly rediscovering his desire to be a hero in two other ongoing books. While both stories are excellent, “Web of Death” is superior for the dynamic it introduces to the relationship between Peter Parker and Doctor Octopus, and the revelation that Peter’s wife Mary Jane was pregnant. It begins in Amazing Spider-Man (vol 1) #397 (J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt, Bill Oakley) when Doctor Octopus chooses to save Spider-Man from poison because he believes it isn’t a death worthy of his long-time foe.
“Web of Death” interweaves haunting scenes of an astral Peter Parker wandering in and out of the afterlife with his rare lucid moments where he confronts his mortality. This arc reveals another side of Doctor Octopus and shows Peter embracing life again after a period of dark cynicism that nearly forced him to give up. This story is also known for its shocking and tragic conclusion, which would be worth the price of admission on its own.
7 Blood Brothers Was The Beginning Of The Clone Saga’s End
This 6-part storyline, which began in Sensational Spider-Man #4 (Dan Jurgens, Klaus Janson, Richard Starkings & Comicraft) and ran through all of the Spider-Man titles, could be considered the beginning of the end of the “Clone Saga.” This is where subplots came to a head and a shadowy figure behind all of Spider-Man’s troubles began to emerge. The arc also highlighted Peter Parker and Ben Reilly’s growing brotherly bond as they worked together to uncover a series of painful truths. Ben Reilly’s life was systematically destroyed as he was framed for burning down his workplace while both Scarlet Spider and Peter were brutally beaten within inches of their lives. Their search for answers led them to a mysterious shell corporation called Multivex, which was overseen by Oscorp.
The tension in the Blood Brothers arc is palpable and neither Parker nor Reilly knows who to trust or why they are being targeted. It also introduced Gaunt, a formidable figure who relied on an environmental suit to survive and whose allegiance to an unknown benefactor hinted at greater secrets to come.
6 Spider-Man: The Final Adventure Wasn’t Quite Final
When Peter Parker discovered his wife was pregnant and “learned” he was only a clone of the real Spider-Man, he chose to hang up his webs and move to Portland to raise his family in peace. In the 4-part Spider-Man: The Final Adventure miniseries (Fabian Nicieza, Darick Robertson, Jeff Albrecht, Bill Oakley), Peter found work at a research facility, but while he was trying to treat a terminally ill patient, he unintentionally created a web-like monster named Tendril. It was fascinating to watch Peter navigate a wildly different urban environment than he was used to and work to stop a new villain he helped create.
The Final Adventure miniseries had great pacing, snappy dialogue, striking art, and an engaging plot, but it was almost canceled before it began when Marvel’s editorial team decided that Peter would be restored as Spidey after all. When editorial interference started affecting his plans, writer Fabian Nicieza threatened to walk off the book if he couldn’t see his story through. They reached a compromise where Peter would be allowed to lose his powers at the end of the miniseries, giving his journey a sense of finality but leaving room for it to be undone. Originally, the book was supposed to conclude with Mary Jane giving birth to the couple’s baby, which would have been harder to retcon.
5 Web of Carnage Fused Ben Reilly With Marvel’s Cruelest Symbiote
Carnage, the result of an unholy union between a ruthless serial killer and a murderous alien symbiote, represents nothing but chaos and death. While Peter Parker had many deadly encounters with the twisted monster, Ben Reilly had no idea what to expect as the new Spider-Man in a 4-part storyline that began in Sensational Spider-Man #3 (Dan Jurgens, Klaus Janson, Richard Starkings & Comicraft). Unfortunately for Ben, the Carnage symbiote left its host Cletus Kasady to latch on to him when it sensed his similarity to Parker. The readers gained a twisted insight into how the Carnage symbiote warps minds and distorts reality as it slowly took over Reilly and drove him into a murderous rage.
Web of Carnage not only depicted a tense inner struggle as Ben desperately tried to suppress the symbiote’s evil impulses, but it also introduced the iconic Spider-Carnage look that has appeared in cartoons, toy lines, and video games. It also started the trend of the Carnage symbiote seeking out new hosts, which culminated in the “Absolute Carnage” storyline where the titular murderer sought to kill everyone who had ever hosted the alien, including Norman Osborn.
4 Revelations Brought The Green Goblin Back To Life
After two years, the sprawling “Clone Saga” was finally winding towards a conclusion. Readers had persevered through all its twists and turns, and some had even come to accept Ben Reilly’s new status as the one and only Spider-Man. However, this would change with a 4-part storyline that began in Spectacular Spider-Man (vol 1) #240 (Todd DeZago, Luke Ross, John Stanisci, Comicraft) and ran through all the books. Finally, the comics revealed Norman Osborn, long presumed deceased, as the mastermind behind Peter Parker’s woes.
While the Green Goblin’s revival after his iconic death was controversial, his first battle with the Wall-Crawler in two decades in Spider-Man #75 (Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna, Richard Starkings & Comicraft) gave fans a must-read event. The original Green Goblin’s presence had been sorely missed in the books, and he returned by almost destroying the Daily Bugle, killing off Ben Reilly, abducting the Parkers’ baby, pushing Peter to yet again don the Spider-Man outfit, and definitively ending the “Clone Saga” once and for all.
3 Spider-Man: Redemption Pits Ben Reilly Against Spider-Man’s Most Savage Clone
The 4-part Spider-Man: Redemption miniseries (J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod, Jim Novak) reunited the team behind the classic “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and reintroduced the character of Janine Godbe into Ben Reilly’s life. Ben had assumed Janine was long dead, but her death had been staged by his fellow spider-clone Kaine to torture Ben, resulting in five lost years for the Scarlet Spider.
Through Janine and Kaine’s journey, the Redemption storyline explores how difficult it is for anyone to truly make a clean break from the past. Similar to Spider-Man: The Final Adventure, this miniseries was almost canceled due to imminent plans to restore Peter Parker as Spider-Man, so it’s a small miracle it made it into print.
2 Spider-Man: The Lost Years Fills In The Blanks In Scarlet Spider’s Story
The 3-part Spider-Man: The Lost Years miniseries (J.M. DeMatteis, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Richard Starkings & Comicraft) is set during Ben Reilly’s years in exile and explores how Ben forged his own identity and found purpose through his love for fellow lost soul, Janine Godbe. It also shows how far his envious clone Kaine went to stalk and torture him. Ben, Janine, and Kaine all deal with their pain in different ways and while Ben and Janine can overcome the ghosts from their past, Kaine is consumed by them. The miniseries ends in tragedy when Kaine murders his lover, the corrupt detective Louise Kennedy, causing years of trouble for Ben and Janine since the two clones shared the same fingerprints.
By avoiding the convoluted plot twists of the “Clone Saga” and instead focusing on identity and overcoming trauma, The Lost Years transcends the complicated continuity of the overall saga. It also contains some of John Romita Jr’s best work, such as a fantastic scene of Ben, disguised with only a few rags, brutally taking down the Utah mafia in a raging rainstorm.
1 The Death of Aunt May
Even fans who dislike the “Clone Saga” can’t deny the raw emotional power of Amazing Spider-Man (vol 1) #400 (J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt, Bill Oakley). In this tour de force, Peter shared a tearful goodbye with the only mother figure he had ever known, his beloved Aunt May. She was not murdered by one of Spider-Man’s enemies but simply passed on from natural causes. Before she died, May revealed that she knew Peter was Spider-Man and gave him her blessings. She wanted him to know she was proud of him, and that was the greatest parting gift she could give her nephew. Further compounding Peter’s grief was the fact his clone, Ben Reilly, could not say goodbye in person and mourned out of sight on the rooftop of the home his aunt had raised him in.
Most readers can relate to the loss of a loved one, and Spider-Man’s bittersweet parting with his Aunt emphasizes his humanity. Ultimately, Aunt May would be resurrected a few years later thanks to a complicated retcon that remains controversial today. However, at the time, it was a big step forward for the books and for Peter Parker, who was maturing and about to have his own child, demonstrating that life goes on, even in the eternal now of Marvel Comics.
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