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When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review

Comic Books

When the Wheels Fell Off: ‘Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4’ Review

Looking back on the “Clone Saga” there are a lot of fond memories, which is possibly due to my childhood brain not understanding the convoluted nature of the story. That said, after reviewing book 3 I found a lot of great storytelling and much of that volume didn’t go quite off the rails yet. Then there’s book 4, out this week from Marvel Comics. To say this is where things got a bit messy is an understatement. Alas, a review is in order however difficult it may be, and in the words of Mark Pellegrini, “Let’s just get through this!”

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When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4
Writer: Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, Terry Kavanagh, Mike Lackey, Tom Lyle, Howard Mackie and Evan Skolnick
Artist: Stephen Segouia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

The Clone Saga continues as Peter Parker is put on trial for murder! A new Green Goblin debuts! The mass murderer Kaine is killed! The Jackal unleashes an entire army of Spider- Man clones, including the new and deadly Spidercide! The Gwen Stacy clone returns! Spider-Man is hunted by the Punisher! Judas Traveler and the Scrier pull Spider-Man’s strings like never before! And what will Peter do when he finds out that Ben Reilly is the one, true Spider-Man? Guest-starring the New Warriors!

Why does this book matter?

Given Dan Slott has heavily written the Jackal and Ben Reilly back into the Marvel universe as of late (hell Ben Reilly has his own comic now!) this series feels as pertinent as ever. Certainly a lot of it was dropped in the name of reader sanity (things get quite confusing in this volume), but there are still a lot of cool elements writers Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Todd DeZago, Terry Kavanagh, Mike Lackey, Tom Lyle, Howard Mackie and Evan Skolnick infused into this series. Plus, Mark Bagley took on the art much more so in this collection.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
Dun dunnn dunnnn!

In the first tenth of this book (it all comes in at a whopping 480 pages), there’s a strong storyline involving the clone of Gwen Stacy. Peter Parker is now donning the Scarlet Spider costume and on a hunt to clear Ben’s name (who is pretending to be Peter in prison). It adds a layer to Jackal’s plans that humanizes the character and also integrates a close loved one for Peter that cranks up the emotional meter. This plays a part in the finale of this collection which ends up being a suitable nod to Gwen’s untimely death.

Two stand out characters in this volume are Kaine and Traveler who get substantial scenes throughout the volume. Traveler in particular directly influences Peter, first by showing him the rubble of future NYC due to his actions and later forcing him to be judged by a bunch of supervillains. The courtroom scene is a highlight, especially for those looking for a bit of nostalgia, because it’s incredibly drawn by Bagley, and juxtaposes well with Ben’s courtroom drama of his own. Given how boring a courtroom drama can be I think Marvel does a great job increasing the drama with the way they have two trials at once. Kaine meanwhile is finally revealed as the first Peter Parker clone and gets more character work here. You know the multiple clones story arcs are working when there’s a lot of drama with them in the same room. There are some interesting bits of jealousy between them too, which creates some tantalizing character moments.

When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
The opening pages have Scarlet Spider do some fun dedective work.

There are also some iconic moments that pop up in this book, like when Ben Reilly turns to see hundreds of Spider-Man clones ready to beat him up. Spidercide, however silly the name, is a much better monstrous villain than in the last book, though he does have some questionable powers. Jackal’s maniac vibe works well in this volume too and you can certainly see the influence on Dan Slott’s current run.

The art can be a mixed bag, though Bagley’s work stands out as the best and feeling the most modern. There’s some muddy looking art that can look unapealing, though it does capture the negative vibes the series was going for. Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin team up on portions of the book and they do a stellar job. Butler does breakdowns and Emberlin finishes and together they offer a highly dramatic and clean look to the series.

The end of this volume ties well into the recently released Spider-Man by by Todd DeZago & Mike Wieringo Vol. 1 as it begins to flesh out the brotherly bond Ben Reilly and Peter Parker will have in that. It’s clear Marvel was attempting to play around with character relationships in this volume and it’s admirable they were willing to take chances with arguably their most popular character.

When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
This volume commits some character assassination with Peter Parker that is for sure.

It can’t be perfect can it?

This certainly isn’t the best chapter in the “Clone Saga” history. In fact, it might be the collection where the wheels fly right off the wagon. About midway through it’s discovered the real Spider-Man, the one we thought was the original all along, was in fact the clone. This not only pissed off fans, but made the series confusing. After this information is discovered it became increasingly difficult to understand who was what to who and how they should be feeling. Of course, the heavy use of captions–a very 90’s thing–reminds you often who is who, which ends up slowing the pace to a crawl. That further makes the frustrating nature of who is the clone last longer and feel more frustrating. It’s also worth noting it’s common to have Spider-Man say what powers he has–like that he has a spider-sense…duh–which can get a bit obnoxious.

When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
Such a boring villain made worse because he had so much potential!

Speaking of obnoxious, the emotional drama is really too much throughout this volume. Peter finding out he’s actually the clone for instance, has him react with so much rage and fury it’s laugh out loud ridiculous. With these emotions flying it makes Traveler, a rather zen like character, all the more frustrating. His powers are nearly godlike and seem to change as the story needs them. He’s also frustratingly obtuse why he does things, making his plan entirely confusing and pointless.

It’s telling there’s a “Jackal Files” issue thrown in which details who every character is and goes into more detail on Spider-Man’s gizmos. You have to wonder if editors wanted this to come out simply to get all the many threads to make sense in readers’ minds.

Speaking of Jackal, he and Traveler are some of the worst written villains in ages, who are flat and without purpose. They seem to want to test Spider-Man because he’s always so good at doing the right thing, or simply to make his life hell. There isn’t much done to flesh these characters out besides their desire to screw over Spidey’s life, which makes them boring.

Is It Good?

The first half of this volume is enjoyable and well worth a look. The courtroom drama in the middle of this book is also well done, but when Marvel decided to flip who the clone was this story become convoluted and difficult to follow. It’s also incredibly melodramatic and characterizes Peter Parker in negative ways that are really just hard to swallow. On top of this, the villains are not very interesting; in fact, they’re very boring. If you’ve read this far I’m sure you’ll want to see how this all ends, but if you had to skip one volume this one would be it.

When the Wheels Fell Off: 'Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4' Review
Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Book 4
Is it good?
About half of this work is entertaining, but then the already convoluted nature of the story falls off a cliff and can't recoup.
Mark Bagley draws much of this volume, which ends up being a highlight
Opens with Peter as Scarlet Spider uncovering some surprises involving Gwen Stacy
The courtroom drama, juxtaposed between Peter and Ben's trials, is entertaining
Marvel flips who the real clone is and it completely annihilates the coherence it was maintaining
Some character assassination is going on here and characters like Peter and Mary Jane sure do a lot of screaming
The villains are rather boring and never make a strong case for why they're doing any of this

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