Saturday, October 18, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #399 (Part 2 of 3!)

Proving yet again why mad scientists should stop getting government grants.

For those just joining us, I direct you back to part one of this three-part review taking a look at a section of the Spider-Man Clone Saga!

Like the previous cover, we have fairly decent artwork. Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider are at opposite ends, which could’ve worked as a great visual metaphor of the two of them at odds if not for the fact that the cover is a little too busy. I mean, just look at it! I like detailed backgrounds as much as the next guy, but the random equipment and tubes and lines just hurts the reader’s concentration and focus. It’s made worse by the fact that there’s no free space on the cover. Of course you need the logo of the book and the barcode, but the Jackal (who apparently has taken to swimming around in butter during his twenty year absence) takes up a good chunk of the page and his reappearance doesn’t exactly composite well with the opposing Spider-Men. You add in some drab coloring and it makes what could’ve been a great cover look bad.

Considering this part of the storyline is also about how the Jackal apparently has been manipulating the both of them, you know what would’ve made a much better cover? The 1995 Fleer Spider-Man trading card depiction of this storyline:

Now that looks like a cover.

Anyway, when we last left off, Scarlet Spider had been knocked unconscious by the Guardian and Spider-Man had decided to go swinging around New York in the middle of winter wearing nothing to keep him warm save for his spandex jammies. We open to Scarlet Spider laying in the snow. Kaine suddenly shows up and... poses over his body. I’m not sure why he’s doing this, but he spreads his legs over Scarlet Spider’s torso and then bends over slightly as if to look down at him, but it looks really weird. If I were a lesser man, I’d probably make a toilet joke out of this. Instead, I’ll make the joke that he’s going to hump his face. That’s just how I roll.

Anyway, while Kaine looks over the body, a voice from off-panel informs him that Scarlet Spider’s “not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking.” As much as I love the Scarlet Spider, I wish he was – it’d probably save us from this whole thing. The voice reveals itself to be Scrier, another character who was introduced during the Clone Saga. Scrier was some mysterious albino who suffered from Youngblood’s Syndrome (no eyes) and would say and do cryptic things and he appeared to be all-powerful to everyone around him. I’ll spare you the pointless revelations about him, but allow me to explain what he’s doing here in the first place.

Another reason why the Clone Saga started in the first place was because Marvel wanted to duplicate the success it had had with its Age of Apocalypse storyline for the X-Men by doing something like that for Spider-Man. As such, we suddenly got mysterious new characters up the whazoo, including Scrier, Kaine, and Judas Traveler and his Host (a group of losers who followed Traveler around). Besides for Kaine, none of these characters made a lick of actual difference in the storyline, and having mysterious magic power people just doesn’t really fit in with Spider-Man’s universe (and alien symbiote costumes do? said the back of my puny human brain).

Scrier does what he always does – he makes some veiled threat against Kaine, who’s scared of the guy even though we don’t know what their relationship is supposed to be (jeez, just imagine picking this comic up for the first time and not knowing what the heck is going on). Scrier then vanishes back to wherever he goes whenever he’s not doing anything... or, wait, he never did anything while he was in the regular panels, so I guess he’s just as effective off the page as on. Kaine’s internal narration starts up: “My God! If he’s involved in this, then there’s even more going on than I realized!” Care to expand on that, Kaine, because the audience sure as hell hopes there’s more going on than we realize.

But no, Kaine hears someone approaching and so it’s “Time to fade back into the shadows...” And wow, Kaine makes about as much impact in the story as Scrier just did. Now that we’ve wasted four pages, how about we finally have story, eh, comic? Spider-Man arrives and, like Kaine, decides to spread his legs over Scarlet Spider’s head! What the hell is with these people?! Admittedly, the artwork makes it look better than it did with Kaine, and being Spider-Man I expect his stance to be more limber and all, but why does Mark Bagley keep drawing them doing this?!

Scarlet Spider wakes up and the two compare notes, realizing that they both got the same visions of Peter Parker floating in a tank. After trading some banter about their costumes, to the collective groan of the audience it seems the Mini-Jackal Jack has decided to make his return. “Listen to you two! So insecure and uncomfortable with each other that you’re reduced to trading juvenile insults!” Seriously, guys – web his mouth shut. You do it all the time to J. Jonah Jameson, so why not to Jack?! “Just wanted to let you both know that I know why you’re here -- and I’m not telling!” Jack just insulted them about juvenile insults and now he’s reduced himself to the seven year-old who shouts, “Nyah, nyah, I’m not gonna teeeeell!” Did anyone proofread this thing?

Spider-Man sums up my own shock about the very concept behind Jack in one sentence: “A midget -- in the Jackal’s costume?!” The two chase after him and Spider-Man analyzes in his head how he knew the clone had survived an earlier story arc and now he’s worried about what the flashbacks might mean. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace to have dialogue that actually serves a purpose, but at the same time jarring due to the overwhelming amount of suckage surrounding it. The two arrive at the door from the previous issue, but discover that it’s just standing in the middle of the snow without anywhere to go. Scarlet Spider has his own internal narration that also continues his own characterization. All right, maybe this comic won’t be as bad as I thought! Okay, they see two handprint scanners on the door and- oh, for crying out loud, they put their hands on the scanners, but they don’t take off their gloves. Well it’s certainly nice that the Jackal’s handprint scanners are so accurate they can read through cloth!

The door opens, revealing a hallway behind it... as well as Jack. “Two for dinner? Do you have reservations?” However, in what might possibly be the greatest moment in the history of comics, Scarlet Spider punches Jack! YES! Okay, I take back almost every nasty thing I said about this comic! Suddenly it’s freaking sweet!

Scarlet Spider continues to rough up Jack, asking if the Jackal is alive and behind all of “this.” This what? The visions? “Aren’t we in a foul mood today! What’s the matter--get up on the wrong side of the web?” At long last, just snap his neck, Reilly! The door closes behind the two, trapping them in the hallway. Speaking of which, was this place covered with a hologram or something? Like I said before, it was just a big metal door standing in the middle of nowhere. Jack says that if they want to get out, they’ll have to let him go (*Sigh*). Jack leads the two down the hallway into a huge, and I do mean huge laboratory.

Seriously, the place has high ceilings, gigantic machines, and even a pit that extends down out of the sight of the reader. Time-out here, comic! Professor Miles Warren was a college Professor. I can accept that he had enough money and funds (even a little extra) to have the resources necessary to clone other human beings, but come on! How the hell could he afford all of this crap?! And it’s apparently all been running for a few years now, so where in the heck is it getting power?! Furthermore, he was a biology teacher! Even if we accept that he had training in other mechanical areas, where did he get the know-how to assemble all this and even build a cloaking device to hide it all?!

Jack reveals that Miles Warren is indeed alive, but Spider-Man is dubious about this since he saw him die. Before Jack can explain, the Guardian makes a reappearance. The Guardian’s body is covered in even more of the weird blue veins than before, something Jack notices and suddenly gets worried about. “H- His body... It’s more scarred... More distorted... than ever!” Yeah, I mean how do you get proportions like that in real life, even among bodybuilders? The Guardian collapses down to the ground and Jack mourns the death of the Guardian. Oh, for the love of Heidegger, you can’t suddenly make me feel empathetic to the little freak now, comic!

Jack takes off his Jackal mask, remarking that “He’s gone. And... one way or the other... so am I.” Yaaaaaay! “And so... are both of you.” Well, nothing’s perfect, but I think I can live with it. Jack is revealed to be a little bald guy who has the same blue veins covering his face. He says the same fate eventually awaits them all due to them being from the same genetic soup, though they’re not sure how long it will take, be it days or years or decades (this does seem to be taking decades). A voice suddenly is heard coming from an intercom and the three look to a single mechanical pod nearby. “To even mention yourself in the same sentence with these two is the height of arrogance... and stupidity.” Finally, someone in this comic who isn’t a complete idiot!

As the pod begins to open, the voice continues: “You and the Guardian were two of my earliest failures -- while these two finely sculpted specimens--” Umm... Ew? Turning the page, we get a full-page spread revealing a tall, lean, and rather nude Jackal emerging from the pod. “--are the Jackal’s greatest triumphs!” By the way, even though we have liquid from the pod leaking out to cover up the Jackal’s naughty bits, it’s clear from the proportions and the amount of liquid that he’s either really small or he doesn’t have a batch at all. “Hello, boys--” Oh, sweet Jesus, I hope he doesn’t do a fan dance! “--Daddy’s back!”

The two Spider-Men launch themselves at the emerging Jackal, but he knocks them away with ease. “Can you believe it? Wimpy old Professor Warren-- and look at me! Able to take on not one, but two Spider-Men at the same time!” Okay, first of all, Professor Warren wasn’t “wimpy,” he went through training to make sure he could do at least a little bit of physical fighting. Next, the Jackal was so named because he overheard another professor describing a jackal as a “cowardly predator.” If he plans to still call himself the Jackal and he’s suddenly all “Hahahaha, I can punch Spider-Man!” then it’ll be very... well, stupid. As Spidey narrates, “This whole mess keeps getting weirder...”

The Jackal sends Jack off to get him some clothes and the two exchange banter about a pun. The Jackal suddenly notices the Spider-Men again: “I forgot about you two. Look at you-- fists at the ready... jaws clenched...” Does the Jackal have X-Ray vision or something? First the handprint thing and now he sees their jaws clenched even though they’re wearing masks that cover up their whole heads! Alrighty, flip the page and...




BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, sweet merciful crap, the good Dr. Warren is now fully dressed and all I can do is laugh and laugh. He’s decked out in a black leather trench coat with chains hanging down from it, plus straps wrapped around his arms and little pointless chains hanging down from the suit! I don’t know how it’s done it, but a comic made in 1995 has somehow ripped off The Matrix! I mean, seriously – he’s a green-furred, genetically-enhanced supervillain with Lee Press-on nails and now he’s walking around in an outfit that’d make Keanu Reeves blush and yet somehow this is all supposed to be taken seriously.

“Y’Know boys... I was monitoring you the whole time I was tanked up.” He was monitoring them while he was drunk? “Well, with a little time out for CNN and the Playboy channel!” Now there’s a thought I never needed to have in my comics: the Jackal watching the Playboy channel. “Quite an interesting half a decade you’ve had!” I mean what was the deal with Beverly Hills 90210, anyway?! “But I want to hear about it all in detail. That’s why I’ve summoned you back here.” Because obviously watching CNN and porn didn’t give me nearly enough information about the world!

The Jackal’s lengthy and completely humorless exposition continues: “Y’see, when last we met I surreptitiously programmed you boys to return here when I reawakened.” So now not only is he a genetics expert, master construction worker, but apparently he can install psychological triggers, too. What is it about comic book scientists who apparently have degrees in every field imaginable? The Scarlet Spider reiterates how he can’t be Professor Warren because he’s dead. “Warren is dead? *Sigh* Didn’t Jack go over all this with you? Ben, my dear boy, my specialty is clones... As you well know. The Jackal who died that momentous night at Shea Stadium-- was as much a genetic imposter as you are!”

Well, there you have it, folks! Instead of thinking up one of the various ways that characters were brought back to life in those days, they instead decided to invalidate an older, better story! In the original Clone Saga, the Jackal wanted revenge on Spider-Man for his involvement in the death of Gwen Stacy. However, the clone of Gwen Stacy told him on no uncertain terms that he was a murderer and a monster. Realizing what he had become, Miles Warren sacrificed himself to save the life of Spider-Man supporting character Ned Leeds. So, a story that ended with redemption for an evil-doer is now about some clone who was merely a “genetic imposter” while the real guy sat in a vat of butter and watched Andy Rooney and porn.

During all this, Spider-Man has an internal monologue where he feels bad for Ben because of how this must be a painful reminder that he isn’t the real Peter Parker. As such, after this latest revelation, Spidey throws himself a good old Heroic Spaz Attack and starts beating the crap out of the Jackal. Scarlet Spider stops him, since the Jackal’s the only one who has the answers to their questions. The Jackal, looking like some sort of half-melted Troll doll, goes over to the Guardian and continues his completely unfunny and uninteresting soliloquy: “Alas, poor Guardian... I knew him well, Horatio!” Yes, I’m serious, he actually said that. I think I’m going to call up Jack, because suddenly he’s looking like a much better alternative.

The Jackal reveals that the Guardian and Jack are, in fact, other clones of Peter Parker. He says that they’re both earlier experiments that suffered physical deformity and mental impairment. He then wiped their minds of their old memories, reprogrammed them to protect the hideout, and put froze them (so now he’s a cryogenics expert, too!) until Ben and Peter showed up. Wow, what a twist! This ice cream I’m eating, I mean – a twist of chocolate and vanilla. Yum!

While leading them through the laboratory, the Jackal explains that sadly most of the clones suffer from a degeneration factor that makes them deteriorate over time. Spider-Man asks if this means Scarlet Spider is going to eventually deteriorate, but the Jackal interrupts: “Your clone? Oh, that’s rich!” Yes, upon arriving at another pod, the Jackal reveals that, in fact, both of them are clones and that the real Peter Parker is in the pod he’s standing next to. Spidey of course has another spaz attack and knocks the Jackal into a wall, saying he won’t listen to any more of his lies. Wow, what a twist! This old dance I’m doing, I mean. It’s so much fun!

Scarlet Spider tries to calm him down, but Spidey won’t have any of it and punches him while shouting, “You’re a living lie! You’re everything I hate!” So much for that whole “brothers” thing from the previous issue. “For the first itme in my life, I’ve got happiness within my reach! I’ve fought my way back from the edge-- my wife and I are expecting a child-- and I won’t let a genetic fraud like you take it all away from us!” Oh, boo hoo, we’ve all got problems, Spidey.

Scarlet, while flabbergasted about the fact that they’re going to have a baby, still retorts that Spider-Man must be afraid of turning out to be a fraud like him. Oh, for crying out loud, you both are alive and have had different experiences! Get over it already! “Venom tried to break me... and I came back! The Green Goblin dragged me into madness... and I came back! Kraven the Hunter buried me alive-- and I came back!” I came back from the jaws of the dragon! I came back to your heart again!

Spider-Man demands proof of the Jackal’s claims and tells him to open the pod. The pod opens up, but the Jackal suddenly realizes that he “opened up the wrong chamber... that’s the girl of all our dreams! Miles Warren and Peter Parker’s “late,” lamented true love!” Yes, the mists clear and *gasp!* “Gentleman, may I present, not a clone... but the one, the only, the original-- Gwen Stacy!!


Could this nude woman be the real, original, Gwen Stacy?! Well, no. Because you can only ruin one good story per issue here. And while it’s certainly possible that some people may have bought this ruse, the majority of fandom sure as hell didn’t. It made no sense in the contexts we were provided, and frankly it would be skeevy enough to have the real, original Gwen Stacy suddenly show up and be completely nude, but it also wouldn’t make sense unless she was a clone. So, yeah, this story has now taken a major turn for the stupid. Come back on Halloween and we’ll debut a very special ending to this monstrosity of a three-parter.

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