There have been multiple Clone Sagas over the years. The original was written in the 1970's by Gerry Conway. However, the sequel written in the 1990's largely eclipsed it and has become an extremely important event in Spider-Man's history. This second Clone Saga was written by Terry Kavanagh and Howard Mackie. The executive editors involved were Tom DeFalco, Bob Budiansky and Bob Harras.
Originally, the story arch was intended to conclude within less than a year. However, when sales exceeded expectations, Marvel decided to prolong the saga, stretching it out over almost three years. Unfortunately, the changes made in the aftermath of this decision proved largely unpopular and ultimately caused the story to seem somewhat convoluted.
Since then, there have been a couple of additional attempts to revive and reboot the clone saga, including the 2006 Ultimate Clone Saga and a 2009 storyline called the Real Clone Saga.
The Original Clone Saga
The original Clone Saga began in "Amazing Spider-Man #144” (May 1975). The story takes place in the aftermath of the death of Peter Parker's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. This event was an extremely traumatic experience for Spider-Man and almost led him to quit being a superhero. However, only a few months later, after finally coming to grips with his loss, he would have to go through emotional turmoil once again when Gwen Stacy seemingly returns from the dead.
As he would come to discover, her return was the work of a new super villain named Jackal. Jackal’s real identity is that of Miles Warren, a biochemist at Empire State University where Peter and Gwen studied. It was here that Miles fell in love with Gwen. However, after her death, he was driven mad by grief and desperately sought to clone her. After a number of failed attempts he finally succeeded in perfecting the formula and created identical copies of both her and Spider-Man.
Jackal blames Spider-Man for Gwen's death and so, commands the clone to battle the original. Capitalizing on this opportunity, he also places a time bomb nearby. However, the fight between Spider-Man and the clone rages too long and the bomb goes off before Jackal can escape. In the end, the explosion kills both him and the clone, leaving Spider-Man the only one alive.
Unnerved by the experience and worried that he may actually be the clone, Spider-Man conducts some genetic tests in an attempt to confirm his identity as the original. However, afraid of the truth, he ultimately avoids the results. Instead, he convinces himself that his love for Mary Jane Watson is proof enough of his identity. He remembers having feelings for her before the clone appeared, and thus concludes that he must be the real Spider-Man.
The clone of Gwen Stacy moves on with her life. She leaves Empire State University in hopes of starting over somewhere new.
Jackal's Genetic Weapon
Years later, Spider-Man encounters Carrion, a clone of Warren who is suffering from genetic degeneration. After visiting Jackal's old laboratory, he discovers the professor's notes, which explain that Carrion is actually a genetic weapon created to infect all man kind with the degenerative disease. Deciding to put an end to Warren’s scheme, Spider-Man fights Carrion and defeats him. However, before the clone goes down, he manages to infect a student of Empire State University named Malcolm McBride with the plague, transforming him into a new Carrion.
The New Clone Saga
Many years later, it is revealed that the clone that Spider-Man had thought dead, had actually survived. Deeply depressed, he had left New York and taken on the name Ben Reilly, a combination of Uncle Ben's first name and Aunt May's maiden name. He had all the memories of Spider-Man, but knew he was a clone, and so, decided to keep his distance from Peter Parker. Moving to a different town, he made a new life for himself and started fighting crime as the Scarlet Spider.
However, when Aunt May becomes ill and is hospitalized, he decides he cannot keep away any longer and goes to visit her. This leads to a confrontation between him and Peter. At first, the two fight, but eventually they come to an understanding and become friends. Unfortunately though, Ben and Peter aren't able to rest easy for long. Soon after Ben arrives, a mentally unstable man named Kaine shows up and challenges the two to a fight. Kaine reveals that he was the result of Jackal's first attempt at cloning Spider-Man. Unfortunately, something had gone awry in the cloning process and he had developed the degenerative disease. This caused a large black mark to appear on his face and forced him to wear a specially designed black suit that kept the disease at bay.
Working together, Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider are able to defeat Kaine. Deciding they need to investigate further, they revisit Jackal's old lab. However, to their great surprise, he is revealed to be alive. He explains that the time bomb had actually killed a clone of himself, while he had lived on to continue his genetic experiments. Now ready to inflict the degenerative virus on the populace, he begins to put his plan into motion and commands a third Spider-Man clone named Spidercide to keep Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, and Kaine at bay.
Fortunately, they are able to defeat Spidercide and stop Warren's mad scheme. However, before escaping, Jackal reveals that Ben Reilly is actually the original Spider-Man and that Peter Parker is really a clone. After conducting their own genetic test, Peter and Ben realize that what he said is true and are forced to rethink their lives. Peter is particularly distraught over this revelation. Feeling he has stolen Ben's life, he decides to stop being Spider-Man and move to Portland with Mary Jane to start a more humble life. With him now gone, Ben moves to New York permanently and becomes the new Spider-Man.
This became the status quo for close to a year. However, when Jackal reappears, Peter moves back to New York and works with Ben to investigate. Eventually they find the criminal and have another explosive battle. However, they would experience a huge shock when the long thought dead Norman Osborn reveals himself and explains that he had been secretly manipulating events all along. He tells them that he had switched the test results and that Peter really was the original Spider-Man, with Ben being the clone.
At first, they aren't sure if they should believe the former Green Goblin. However, after a climactic battle with the criminal, Ben is stabbed by the Goblin's Glider and dies. As he breaths his last breath, his body disintegrates, succumbing to the degenerative genetic disorder that all the clones suffer from. This finally proves that Peter is the original, and after defeating Norman Osborn, he returns to his old life as Spider-Man.
Ultimate Clone Saga
A rebooted version of the Clone Saga was later written by Brian Michael Bendis for Marvel's Ultimate imprint. In this telling, Spider-Man, after catching the Scorpion, learns that the villain is actually a clone, sharing 94.2% of his DNA with our hero. Soon afterward, Mary Jane is abducted. However, in his quest to find his missing girlfriend, Peter encounters several other clones of himself, including one with a disfigured face named Kaine , one with six arms named Tarantula , and a female clone named Spider-Woman. In the course of this adventure, he reveals his secret identity to Aunt May and the Fantastic Four, and encounters both an amnesiatic Gwen Stacy and his long thought dead father, Richard Parker.
After talking to Spider-Woman, he learns that each clone has inherited his love for Mary Jane. As a result, they each set out to protect her in different ways. Spider Woman and Tarantula both try to defend her from the other clones. However, Kaine eventually gets past them and administers the super human drug OZ to her in an attempt to make her more resistant to injury. Upon waking and discovering what has happened, Mary Jane is enraged and transforms into a large, red monster.
As the story continues, Spider-Man discovers that the masterminds behind the creation of the clones are Doctor Octopus and a scientist named Ben Reilly. It is revealed that Reilly stole a sample of Peter's blood shortly after the death of Gwen Stacy and with the help of Doc Ock and the consent of the FBI, had set out to create the duplicates. This leads to a confrontation between the villains and clones which ends with both Tarantula and Kaine dead, and Dr. Octopus captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. In addition, Gwen reveals herself as Carnage and Richard discovers that he is yet another clone of Peter Parker, aged artificially and implanted with false memories. In the end, the clone posing as Richard Parker dies from rapid aging, Spider-Woman helps Peter defeat Octavius, and Reed Richards finds a cure for Mary Jane's affliction. Peter's relief at her safe condition leads him to rediscover his true feelings for her and resume their relationship. Spider-Woman runs away to start a new life somewhere else, and the Scorpion and Gwen Stacy are left in the custody of Nick Fury.
The Clone Saga was also adapted by the 1990's Spider-Man television series in a storyline known as the Spider Wars. This version, however, differs in some significant ways. In a departure from the comics, the other Spider-Men are not clones, but are alternate reality versions of Spider-Man.
The story begins in a distopic alternate Earth. In this Universe, a version of Spider-Man who has bonded with Carnage sets off a massive bomb that turns his world into a barren wasteland. However, unsatisfied with the destruction he has wrought, he decides to build an even larger bomb that can do the same to other alternate worlds. To thwart this menace, the cosmic being known as the Beyonder gathers six Spider-Men from different Universes to stop him.
In addition to the mainstream Spider-Man, his other champions include the Iron Armor Spiderman, the Octo-Spiderman, the mutant Spiderman, Scarlet Spider, and an actor who, in his world, plays Spider-Man on television. The Spider-Man from the animated series was made leader of the team, and, together, they travel to confront Spider-Carnage. There is an intense fight. However, the villainous Spider-Man escapes with his bomb to the world of Iron Armor Spider-Man.
Unfortunately, the Beyonder has been weakened and is only able to teleport one person to pursue the villain. As leader, the mainstream Spider-Man volunteers and so, is sent to track down Spider-Carnage in this new world. He quickly finds him. However, after a short fight, he realizes he isn't strong enough to win. Thinking the matter over, he realizes that the only way to stop him may be to appeal to his good nature. He finds Uncle Ben, who, in this Universe, never died, and, with his help, tries to convince Spider-Carnage to abandon his plan.
His idea works, and the alternate Peter is able to fight the influence of Carnage. Desperate to stop the monster, he uses the weapon to kill himself and Carnage, thus saving the Multiverse. As thanks, the Beyonder allows Spider-Man to meet Stan Lee and then sends him back to his world.
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