Even as one of the Spidey fans who will happily admit that there are things to like about the ill-fated Clone Saga (although much of that is no doubt down to nostalgia over it being one of the first major “runs” on a character that I got into; not to mention one of the first about which I could read a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, courtesy of the excellent Life of Reilly online columns), this retelling feels kind of pointless. There’s no denying that, yes, mistakes were made, and the story didn’t turn out the way it should have, and all the rest of it – but is the way to fix that really to have another go? Would it not be better just to… leave it alone? Get on with telling good stories in the here and now? Still, I suppose there are enough people like me with enough of a passing interest in the whole sorry saga to want to buy anything to do with it (or, at least, anything that sticks good old Ben Reilly on the cover), so in a way, the concept sells itself.
But if you’re going to try to convince people that you had a really great story to tell if only you could have been left alone without editorial interference… well, it needs to be better than this. All this reads like is a distinctly average Howard Mackie comic from a decade or more ago. There’s reams of exposition – some of it necessary in a sense, given that we’re picking up on plot threads that many readers will never have encountered; but even Claremont didn’t feel the need for quite this much in the similarly-pitched (and far superior) X-Men Forever. It’s often fairly insulting to its readers’ intelligence – with that curious ’90s habit of painfully spelling everything outm including a really quite inordinate amount of time being given over to the relevation of Mary Jane’s pregnancy, played in such a way (repeated visits to the doctor, throwing up in the toilet, “I have… some news for you”) that I’m inclined to believe we were meant to think it a surprise. There’s no zip or sparkle to the dialogue, anywhere – everything is functional, doing a job without ever inspiring or exciting.
And you wonder quite how the whole “saga” is supposed to fit into six issues, considering how slowly this one goes – it’s true that a number of plot elements are touched upon, but they’re all background and setup; and it feels like about as much time is spent on Peter and Ben’s first meeting as was done so in the original story. Clearly, a lot of superfluous elements are being cut out, and that’ll almost certainly be a good thing – but on the other hand, there was a certain level of richness of depth given to Ben and Kaine’s world and background (most notably in The Lost Years, the callback to which in the opening pages serving as a reminder that the writer-from-back-then who it’d be really nice to see tackling this is J.M. deMatteis) that you feel simply won’t be squeezed in here.
It’s not completely rotten, or anything. It does a successful job of recalling the style of the Spidey books back then – it’s just that, set against the current Amazing run, you begin to realise how little fun there was at the time. And it’s true that there’s a mild nostalgic glow in seeing Kaine pop up again – but if his role’s going to be as drastically changed as the early hints suggest, it feels like a bit of a waste. On the art front, meanwhile, it’s an uncomfortable mixture – Todd Nauck is clearly trying to bring a ’90s style to things, but stops short of the full-on Bagley/Buscema/Lyle look of the time, and the result is something that’s weaker than his recent work has tended to look elsewhere.
At the end of the day, though, it is still a comic that holds appeal for those of us interested in the story and wondering if it could maybe be told a bit better. It’s a book to which a probably-misguided sense of loyalty means I’ll still keep buying despite being underwhelmed by this issue – and I suspect that, in contrast to the surprise critical acclaim doled out to X-Men Forever, that’s about as much as Marvel might have hoped for. Unless they really thought Howard Mackie had suddenly become a genius in all that time away. But that would just be silly.