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Monday, May 1, 2017

Trade Tales! - Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 17: Clone Saga

Well, it’s May and you know what that means: Cinco de Mayo! Also, it’s Sci-Fi Month, a time where I pretty much praise (or wreck) one of my favorite fictional genres. This month is different in that this is the first time where I won’t be looking at any Star Trek shows or movies. I’ll still fit it in though. The thing I like about Trek is that it’s not just contained to movies or TV.

This time though is a return to the Ultimate Universe. I’ve been wondering when this day would come. Now that it’s here, I’m a little sad. I thought about ending this long look at Ultimate Spider-Man with the next volume but I may continue to its end. Besides there are really only a few volumes left in this iteration of the series. It does mean I will have to browse the horrible subject known as Ultimatum, but I’ll get to that stuff later.

Today's post is about the Ultimate Clone Saga. Now, my history with the Clone Sagas (Sagi?) is a little limited. I never read the original Clone Saga from the 1970’s. Back in the day, I did peruse a few issues of the pretty infamous 1990’s version at grocery stores. I know this may be sacrilege, but I kind of liked Ben Reilly. His costume was kinda cool. Hey, I had to do something while my mom was getting groceries! This trade also marks an important time for the series. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley together made it past 100 issues. That’s actually pretty rare in the comic book industry.

This 9-part story takes place in Ultimate Spider-Man #97-105. As usual, Bendis does the writing. Bagley is on the pencils. Inks are handled by John Dell and Drew Hennessy. They also get some help from John Sibal and Matt Ryan. The colors were done by Justin Ponsor, Richard Isanove, and Andy Troy. The letters were done by Cory Petit and Chris Eliopoulos. The trade I have also has some interviews from Wizard Magazine with Bendis and Bagley. So, let’s see what happens when Spider-Man meets a crapton of people who look like him!

Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 17: Clone Saga
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: John Dell, Drew Hennessy, John Sibal, and Matt Ryan
Colors: Justin Ponsor, Richard Isanove, and Andy Troy
Letters: Cory Petit and Chris Eliopoulos

SYNOPSIS
Life for the Parker boy is a little complicated right now. He and Mary Jane Watson are talking again which leaves Kitty (the current girlfriend) understandably miffed. Then, there’s the fact that his lunch with MJ is ruined when the Scorpion wrecks it all. He changes into costume and not only has to subdue this new foe but also not get shot by the NYPD. When they’re alone together, Spidey removes Scorpion’s mask and finds out that he looks exactly like him. Meanwhile, MJ makes it home she is then kidnapped by someone who is later revealed to be a disfigured clone of Peter.

Since the villain literally has his face, Spidey knocks Scorpion out and takes him to the Fantastic Four. He also reveals his identity to the four (take a drink) and Johnny recognizes Peter from his time at Midtown High. Peter realizes it’s getting late, so he heads back home and finds out that MJ’s missing. He first heads to the warehouse where they’d sometimes hide out and instead finds a young woman in a spider costume. Thinking she’s behind MJ’s disappearance, he attacks her and is effectively taken out by her. After she checks his vitals, the girl leaves.

Peter wakes up and heads back to his house where he finds someone else who’s supposed to be dead: Gwen Stacy. She’s wondering what’s happened and remembers little. Then, Aunt May shows up and sees Gwen. Obviously, she flips out but Peter is able calm her down. He also tells her his secret about being Spider-Man. May angrily tells them both to leave but they then get another visitor: Richard Parker, Peter’s father. It turns out that he didn’t die on the plane crash. Agent Henry Gyrich of the FBI found him and had him working for their Research Dept. He’s also behind Gwen’s resurrection. Then, things go from bad to worse when SHIELD shows up outside. Reed Richards told Nick Fury about the clone since cloning’s illegal, so Fury and a legion of new Spider-Slayers have come to take Peter in.

Because of all of this, “Gwen” transforms into a symbiote-like creature (a lot like the one that killed her) and attacks SHIELD while May has a heart attack. This enrages Peter who also attacks SHIELD. Ultimately, they are both stopped. Then, the Fantastic Four show up and try to defend Peter. Sue Storm goes into the house and takes May and Richard to the hospital. Peter surrenders himself to SHIELD when the woman in the Spider costume (I’ll call Spider-Woman) shows up and takes Peter out of the area. She reveals herself to be a female clone of Peter and tells him everything about how she and other clones were created. She also tells him that one of the clones (I’ll call Kaine) may have kidnapped MJ. They end up heading to the disheveled Oscorp where it all began.

At Oscorp, they find Kaine, a multi-armed clone, and MJ who has been transformed into a Goblin creature. Kaine entered the OZ formula into MJ so she could protect herself. Seeing Peter causes her to transform back to normal and Peter knocks out Kaine. Suddenly, Nick Fury, the Fantastic Four, and SHIELD shows up and they have Otto Octavius with them. The Fantastic Four leave and take MJ back to their lab. It’s ultimately revealed that Octavius is the true creator of the clones and “Gwen.” They were created so that the FBI more could have super soldiers that weren’t under Fury’s hand. It’s also revealed that Richard Parker did die and that the man Peter met is another clone with fake memories. Kaine tries to attack him but is killed by SHIELD agents.

After hearing all is, Fury has had it with… well, Doc Ock and leaves Peter and the remaining clones to “deal” with him. Unfortunately, it’s revealed that Octavius actually has the power to control metal and creates new arms for himself. The multi-armed clone is killed but Peter and Spider-Woman are able to take Octavius down. Spider-Woman leaves while Peter stays and is eventually picked up by Johnny Storm. At Baxter Building it’s revealed that Reed and Franklin Storm were able to cure MJ. Peter professes his love for her and they kiss. Reed also reveals that they could also make Peter normal if he wanted to be. Peter ultimately declines the offer, though.

At the hospital, Peter finds out from Sue that his cloned dad has died of old age. Peter stays with Aunt May and is visited by Fury who apologizes for all that went down. After he leaves, May wakes up. Kitty (who got the X-Men to see what was going on) is in the hospital with Jean and wants Xavier to erase Peter’s identity from May’s mind. Xavier doesn’t do it and it turns out that’s it a good thing since May is glad to see Peter safe. In the end, Peter stays at MJ’s house while May is in the hospital. Kitty also finds those two kissing later too. Fury holds on to “Gwen” and Scorpion. Then, this Clone Saga comes to an end.


OPINION
So, what did I think of this 9-part saga? This thing was long but it doesn’t read like that. Other than that, this was really good in my opinion. Bendis really gets to put Peter through the wringer this time. Not only does he have your stereotypical teenage problems, he’s got problems with “The Man,”man! It was interesting to see Peter deal with all of the crap being thrown at him. I also liked seeing this concept modernized. It’s like Bendis grabbed every small idea from the other Clone Sagas and threw them into a blender with some octopus meat. It also felt like a nice continuation of all that came before in the series with Peter’s dad, Doc Ock, Oscorp, and Nick Fury.

The drama gets ratcheted up to 11 with the dead returning and May finding out about Peter’s secret. I did feel it was weird for May go rail on Peter like that when she found out. Luckily, it was only a moment of madness since she’s fine with Peter at the end of the story. I also liked the heroic additions to the story with the Fantastic Four playing a major role and the X-Men cameoing once again. Probably the best addition to the series is Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman. She was actually pretty cool and she was even cooler than Peter was. It was also cool to see Doctor Octopus return in the way he did. The “Magneto” powers were weird but they did make sense in a way.

The artwork is pretty good overall. As usual, Bagley and team put in some good work. The quiet moments between everyone were pretty good. The action was awesome as usual. Seeing Peter and Spider-Woman tag team Doc Ock was pretty cool. I also liked the designs of the clones. They hearkened back to similar things we saw in the 616-universe. While I thought some of the art was a little sketchy at times (mostly the first issue), it was overall good.

I actually don’t have many problems with the story as a whole. I’ve said before that it’s weird for Peter to be the ultimate players of women’s hearts, but he is a teenager. Aunt May’s outburst felt pretty out of left field but when you consider all she’s gone through in the year, it makes sense. Plus, she’s accepted Peter at the end. I did think MJ turning into a Goblin creature herself was way out of left field though. Add the other weird elements of Gwen-Carnage and an aged Peter clone and you get one weird story.  At least it’s a well-written, well-drawn weird story that doesn’t get as weird as the 90’s Clone Saga was. It doesn’t take 3 years to complete either!


Unmaskings/Reveals of Spider-Man: 3
This time, we got 3 reveals of Spider-Man’s identity. I thought about including the FBI and their research team, but they’re a part of the government, so they already knew. The Fantastic Four find out Peter’s identity when he tells them at the Baxter Building. Later, Franklin Storm (Sue and Johnny’s dad) finds out his identity. Then, there’s Aunt May’s reaction to his identity. I’ll just leave it at three since that sound like enough to get drunk or gain calories on.
Uh... May? You okay? Missing your meds again?

Total Unmaskings/Reveals of Spider-Man: 18


HIGHLIGHTS
Finally, here are the highlights. While a lot of cool stuff happens, here are my favorite bits.

-Professor Xavier… is okay? – This occurs at the end where Kitty pleads with Xavier to erase Peter’s secret from May’s mind. Now this is an Xavier who isn’t a complete douche, Mark Millar! By the way, I know regular Xavier could be a d-bag too at times.

-Tag Team against Doc Ock – the fight between Peter, Spider-Woman, and Doc Ock was pretty cool.

-Meeting the Fantastic Four – It was about time he met up with the other four.

-Together Again – While Kitty being thrown to the curb is harsh, it is nice seeing Peter and MJ get back together.

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Overall, this was a really nice arc. It definitely made up for the last few issues I’ve read. I felt the series had been a little off before this moment. Hopefully, this momentum continues from here. Well, I’ll stop here with my gushing over Ultimate Spider-Man. I do have something else coming later that involves Spider-Man and it may not be too good. Let’s just say that it involves skateboards, Emma Stone, a bewildered Jamie Foxx, and lizard cops. For now, Peace, God Bless, and watch out for my clone. He’s a bit… rough.

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