Writers appeal to me for different reasons. Some dazzle you with their style or ideas, their sheer virtuosity or genius. You know you’re not likely to write anything like Alan Moore, or David Foster Wallace or Bob Dylan. Others are more approachable; when you read Robert Kirkman or Nick Hornby, or listen to Tom Petty, it’s more a feeling of being next to that person on the barstool, having a friendly conversation. Chad Nevett’s writing has that kind of feel to me, and it’s a style I tend to favor in my own reviews. It’s not that there’s no style or ideas, nor that it’s easy, but that it’s uncluttered, the main purpose being communication in as direct a way as possible. And while it has the confidence that good criticism requires, there’s still a very honest and appealing degree of self-doubt. Sometimes when we review something, we just aren’t sure how we feel about every part of it, or why something affects us in a certain way, and I like that Nevett doesn’t gloss over those unsettled areas.
— Christopher Allen
Spider-Man: The Clone Saga #1-6
Written by: Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie
Drawn by: Todd Nauck, Victor Olazaba
Coloured by: Javier Tartaglia
Lettered by: Dave Sharpe
Published by: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 ea. (USD)
I can’t deny that part of me is somewhat ashamed for buying all six issues of this series. I’m not a believer in the term “guilty pleasure,” since I don’t feel guilty about what I enjoy, but Spider-Man: The Clone Saga would come pretty close to being my “guilty pleasure.” I bought and read every issue in an effort to appease and feed my inner 11-year old. While I’ve grown up a lot since then, he’s still inside of me and he’s the part of me that made me hand over $24.00 for these comics. Since that childish voice doesn’t dictate what I read/watch/listen too much, I figure this little trip into nostalgia isn’t too bad.
Unfortunately, like most things nostalgia, it wasn’t close to satisfying.
In critical circles, there’s much said about authorial intent. Usually, the intention of the author is an interesting fact that you account for in your discussion of a work, but something that’s ultimately meaningless because, when looking at a work, it’s impossible to distinguish between what an author intended and what’s there. Things emerge that the author didn’t purposefully do and, yet, it’s impossible to deny that they’re there. Themes and connections that may or may not have worked their way in subconsciously or unintentionally. So, that’s authorial intent and how it really means nothing.
But, what about reader intent?
When thinking about Spider-Man: The Clone Saga, I can’t help but wonder what I expected to get out of the series. I was never truly under the delusion that it would be good. I knew going in that these would be bad comics. Look at the basic structure: take a story that was originally intended to be, at least, six months long spread out over four monthly titles plus a quarterly book and, possibly, one-shots and mini-series, and tell it in six issues. It wasn’t going to work in the hands of the best writers and artists let alone Tom DeFalco, Howard Mackie, and Todd Nauck, all skilled creators in their own right, but none exactly the sort to win extensive critical acclaim — and rightly so. They’re workman creators. People you stick on books when you want an average, not-too-good/not-too-bad superhero comic.
So, what was I hoping to get out of the series?
Nostalgia certainly played a factor. I was enraptured with the original Spider-Clone Saga, buying as many issues as I could, usually leaning toward the stories focusing on Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, and clone of Peter Parker. Being a fan of alternate versions of characters, a Spider-Man that’s not quite Spider-Man was intriguing to my younger self. How was he different? And what did those differences say about Peter Parker? While the Scarlet Spider’s costume was kind of lame, it was also appealing. I could retroactively say something about it being a criticism of creating superheroes at the point where all the best looks, powers, and names are taken, but that’s 27-year old Chad, not 11-year old Chad. It was just cool to see a variation on Spider-Man. There was a joy and wonder that I took in reading those comics at the time — in reading all comics as kid, honestly — that just isn’t there anymore. Going back and re-experiencing things loved as a child is always a dangerous thing to do, because it can ruin memories, so a new comic telling a variation on those original comics is a way to revisit them without actually revisiting them. If it sucks, that’s because the execution sucked, not the inherent concept or idea. It’s the same and yet different.
If that’s true, why wasn’t I satisfied?
Spider-Man: The Clone Saga didn’t feed that need. I knew it wouldn’t after reading the first issue. I’m not even sure that need is there. After all, I have revisited things I’ve loved as a kid without any negative side-effects. “The Death and Return of Superman” is something I reread not too long ago and enjoyed for various reasons, able to recognise its faults without it damaging my memories. Perhaps I don’t have nostalgia for the original Spider-Clone Saga. Maybe it came too late or maybe I’ve reconciled myself with how it didn’t work and why that was the case. I went into The Clone Saga knowing the original intent of the creators on the Spider-Man titles. I knew what they had wanted to do and what changes were made. My sense of wonder and nostalgia had been killed long before this book was even conceived.
If not nostalgia, what drove me to buy the series?
Spider-Man: The Clone Saga doesn’t tell the “true” original story as intended by the writers. In the first issue, it deviates from the plan in a way by having Kaine shown working for some mysterious figure, a character twist not done until much later, well after the story had been extended beyond its originally planned run. While I didn’t think the first issue was that good, that change gave me a small piece of hope: DeFalco and Mackie could have anything happen in this story. They may not tell the story as originally intended, but they could go one better and tell a story that couldn’t have been told. There were no limits to this story since it doesn’t “count.” They could do anything they wanted. And they did just that. And it still sucked. But, I never seriously expected it not to suck, even with the promise of things happening that couldn’t happen in the regular Spider-Man books. Here, Peter Parker has a kid that lives and gives up being Spider-Man (sort of, by the end, it’s not clear what’s going on with him and Spider-Man) and that would never truly happen in the Spider-Man books. Even during the Clone Saga, that idea was teased but never executed. DeFalco and Mackie do it and it doesn’t make this series any better. They swerve the readers by making the mastermind Harry Osborn instead of Norman and that doesn’t make it any better.
Then why did I keep buying it? Why?
Writing this “review” has made me think of something: I bought it to write about it. Spider-Man: The Clone Saga is a fascinating comic for a few reasons. Firstly, it has made me think about why I bought it. Not many books do that, because I don’t keep buying many bad books. I kept buying this one, so that required examination. Secondly, it’s one of the new breed of nostalgia superhero books that Marvel are producing and they’re flat-out interesting as concepts: comics that look to give readers the ‘proper’ version of the comics they already read, whether it’s a rewriting of the story like this series or supposedly what would have come next had the writer not left the book like in the case of Chris Claremont’s X-Men Forever. It’s not enough for characters and ideas to be brought back in continuity, rewritten and reimagined by new creators, satisfying our need to have every character to ever appear to constantly reappear, appeasing everyone since their favourites are all on display, but, now, we want to go back literally and have the creators of that time rewrite history for us. We want them to create offshoot continuities that we can imagine are what would have happened despite obviously not being the case. It’s an odd mixture of the creators trying to swerve the readers since they’ve all talked about what they would have done differently. With that information out there, they can’t exactly just do what they originally intended to do. That would be boring. Who wants to read a comic written by Chris Claremont where Wolverine is killed and resurrected by the Hand to be their killer? Not only has Claremont stated a thousand times that that’s the story he wanted to tell but Marvel wouldn’t let him, but Mark Millar wrote it already. Of course, the mysterious figure with the trademark Osborn hair is Harry, because we already had the version where Norman was back from the dead and masterminding the whole thing! Of course, Peter and Mary Jane’s baby lives along with Aunt May, but Ben Reilly still leaves town, because that’s totally different! These are nonsensical surprise comics. They’re books that have to both stick to our expectations of what the story should be while providing enough twists and turns that we’re not bored. They have to simultaneously recreate history faithfully and deviate from it extensively. Too far in either direction and it doesn’t work. None of the books to do this yet have been creative successes, but they’re interesting failures.
I knew Spider-Man: The Clone Saga would be a bad comic, but I also knew that it would be an interesting comic. And I was right.
Chad Nevett lives in Windsor, Ontario with his girlfriend and her cat. He writes about comics online at his blog, GraphiContent, Comic Book Resources, and Comics Should be Good. He does some wrestling writing for 411mania, and also does the Splash Page Podcast with Tim Callahan weekly. You can follow him on Twitter for more self-involved ramblings.