In the vents of New U Headquarters, Peter and Gwen hold off the Lizard and escape the facility. Peter is glad to have the help, but he is a little miffed about her never contacting him when she’s here. He knows Gwen regularly has brunch with Spider-Woman. That’s right. They talk.
Outside, the resurrected George Stacy has the many formerly deceased villains look for Spider-Man quietly. The clones still cannot be seen, as they aren’t ready to go public just yet. The various groups are unable to find the fleeing duo, who gives them the slip.
At Horizon University, the Gwen clone is given a small dose so she doesn’t… transform. Without the Jackal’s drugs, the clones turn into highly infectious carriers of something called the Carrion Virus. Even Kaine is infected, but, as an original clone, he’s made of sturdier stuff and is not contagious, like the new clones will be. They call the police, but the woman in charge of the investigation is a clone, herself.
She contacts the Jackal and informs them of the real’s Gwen’s location. The Jackal then goes to an important meeting with members of the FDA, armed forces, and media moguls, all of whom the Jackal has helped by bringing back dead loved ones. The Jackal says they are ready for phase two. More factories, less government oversight, and free procedures for fallen soldiers. Jackal is certain J. Jonah Jameson can handle this, and, in exchange, Jackal promises to bring back Jonah’s father.
Jackal then goes to visit Octavious, who is preparing a new generation of clone. He is frustrated, as they have to change locations. The villain explains that this place has been compromised, and refuses to turn Spider-Man into one of his clones. That would make Peter a slave, and he wants the hero to come over to his side willingly. Otto scoffs at this. He’s been inside Peter’s mind. There’s no way he’d ever consent to this.
But Jackal isn’t worried. He has exactly what Peter wants. Spider-Man lends Gwen one of his web shooters and they head out. At New You, Electro and the Vulture arrive to forcibly retrieve Gwen, knocking Kaine out as they enter. As they leave with Kaine and Gwen, Anna insists on going with them. She’s been studying the clones’ drugs and thinks she knows just how big of a problem they have on their hands.
With a Spider-Cycle stashed nearby, Spider-Man is able to retrieve it and quickly make his way to Horizon university. This impresses Gwen, who has been working out of a beat up car with Kaine this whole time. She changes into her costume, and Peter asks why he’s been kept in the dark about all this New U stuff. Gwen says the ugly truth is that they’ve seen this go down on a dozen worlds, and every time, every time, Peter ultimately switches to the Jackal’s side and helps cause the downfall of humanity.
Peter’s friends explain what happened and everyone agrees something must be done. However, they know that going back to New U’s headquarters is a mistake, and likely to be a trap. Luckily, they have an ally in this fight. The Kingpin appears and is none too pleased after New U disturbed his late wife’s grave. He freely gives the Jackal’s location, saying that Spider-Man will owe him for this. However, our hero disagrees. The Jackal cloned Kingpin’s wife and son. He messed with Fisk’s family, and no doubt wants the Jackal taken down as bad as Spider-Man does. So, if he takes the file, Kingpin will owe him a favour for acting on it.
The Kingpin pauses at this, and hands the file over. Gwen wants to go and save Kaine and Anna, but Peter knows this is a rare opportunity. He has her go save their friends, while he sets out to end things with the Jackal once and for all. Outside of town, the Jackal is in the midst of a deal with some men for an important inbound shipment. As they settle the deal, Spider-Man appears and attacks. The Jackal proves to be a match against Peter and is even able to outmanoeuvre him, shocking Spider-Man. Miles Warren could never move that quickly… but he’s not Miles Warren. His name is Ben Reilly.
This shocks Peter, but Ben insists that the New U cloning process has refined things. He remembers dying. He remembers burning up in Peter’s arms. But he’s back. Anyone can come back. With Parker Industries’ resources, they can go global with the cloning process. Nobody would have to die, and together, they could even bring back… him: The man in this container. They can save Uncle Ben.
Jesus, this comic… I don’t even know what is going on, anymore. Let’s just start with the good. The first thing that comes to mind is the art. Since this even has started Jim Cheung has been doing some great work on pencils, and with Justin Ponsor’s nice use of colours, we have a great comic the art team should really be unapologetically proud of. It’s a great… looking comic.
And there are some decent moments in the writing. I really like Gwen and Peter teaming up, they had some great moments like the one part of the comic I found funny, where we learn Gwen can casually come to this universe on a whim, but she doesn’t talk to Peter because, well, he’s her dead boyfriend in her universe. That was a great little character moment, and it wasn’t the only one. Kaine was fun here even if he’s all messed up again, and I really liked the little cameo we got with the Kingpin. The way Peter just stood up to him and turned the table on Fisk was so cool and a great moment in this issue.
The shame and problem in it all is that, yeah, surrounding the excellent art and a handful of neat moments are whole bunch of nonsense. Starting with Jackal being Ben Reilly, a rather boring twist a lot of people smarter than me saw coming, and ending with the whole Uncle Ben tease that I referred to sarcastically in my review of the first issue, there’s a lot of stuff in this comic that only seems to exist to deliberately troll a reaction out of the audience. Like the Uncle Ben thing. They aren’t doing that, or, at least, I seriously doubt they have the balls. But they’ll tease it just fine, in an effort to grab some headlines and earn some attention this story simply doesn’t deserve.
I gotta say by this point I had seen something like this coming a mile away but thought that they were going for a clever twist or were going to hand wave Uncle Ben away as having died too long ago. In this, there is a gem of a good idea – that modern Peter Parker is just selfish and stupid enough that he might actually switch to Ben’s side, but I’m sure Peter will ultimately betray Reilly or something and the whole thing will probably be resolved without resorting to… that. Hopefully. Maybe. Who knows at this point?
This whole event – naming it after the Clone Sage, bringing Gwen back, and now this – it all feels like an effort to just sell some comics and get more people reading this ongoing Spider-Man titles. Every issue of Clone Conspiracy so far has had pointless references to other Spider-Man issues just so they can put a little note saying – hey, buy this $5 comic if you care about this stupid, unimportant detail. The way they keep teasing things that they probably aren’t going to actually do is a bit cynical and leaves me not feeling angry like I was in the first issue, but rather… apathetic.
I’m increasingly just becoming numb to what they’ve done to Spider-Man over the years, so this cheap, gimmicky, aimless event doesn’t upset or surprise me. It seems par for the course at this point. And, to top it all off – zombies. I mean, how unaware of the current climate in pop culture do you have to be where zombies seem like a good idea for a flagship comic book title? I just don’t get it. I don’t get any of this. Don’t buy this comic. Don’t encourage Marvel to get away with this crap. If you like Spider-Man, I recommend you check out Miles Morales’ current series, Renew Your Vows, or even Spider-Gwen’s own series, because those are so much closer to what Spider-Man should be. This… this isn’t even a decent story, much less one that’s appropriate for Marvel’s best.
For the couple of cool moments there is way more that read as clumsy or shockingly amateur. Lizard is brought up at the end like a threat last issue and subsequently taken down on the second page. Exposition is delivered poorly as Dan Slott seems almost to be throwing in plot details left and right to explain things away and moves characters wherever the story needs them next. And cool ideas, like the fact that Peter can’t be trusted or the power Jackal has over his clones and their loved ones are glossed over and not explored in nearly enough detail. Meanwhile, while I don’t particularly care, I can only imagine how Ben Reilly fans are feeling right now, and I can hardly blame them. They have every right to be upset over what feels like a prime example of blatant character assassination.
Maybe I’m being too mean. I feel like I gave this a fair chance but it’s just so dumb. If you like it, you’re not stupid. I can see the value in this, but I can also see the weaknesses. I wish I could just ignore them, but there isn’t enough offered here that I can get past all the… salesmanship and soulessness that I see in this comic. It’s heartbreaking to see this happen to one of my favourite heroes. This bums me out in a way that reminds me of the comic that must not be named… and that’s the scariest thought I’ve had all day.