[Contains SPOILERS for The Clone Conspiracy and Spider-Man #25.]
It’s been a rough year for Peter Parker. After doing his best to avoid the madness of Civil War II, Parker still wound up embroiled in an earth-shattering calamity of his own. A surprising face from his past arose from the ashes, continuing up The Jackal’s good work and making life a living clone-filled hell for Parker and his allies. After he managed to halt production at New U, with the help of a few old friends (and foes), Peter's daze is finally starting to lift, and his physical wounds are beginning to heal.
Unfortunately, his mental damage cut far deeper. The return and subsequent death of so many of his allies and adversaries took an incredible toll on his psyche. Rather than taking a moment to relax, Spidey runs with a tip (a favor courtesy of his old nemesis the Kingpin) and turns his emotional anguish into a quest to find his age-old enemy, Norman Osborn. The return of the former Green Goblin isn’t the only surprise for Spider-fans stuffed into the 70-plus page Spider-Man #25. The latest chapter also gives another old foe a new lease on life, as well as a major upgrade from a surprising ally.
Desperately Seeking Mr. Osborn
Of all the tragedies to wrench at Spider-Man's heart during The Clone Conspiracy, including watching his one-time love Gwen Stacy return from the dead and then die again, one of the worst might have been catching his own madness reflected through the looking glass. Uncovering the true identity [spoiler alert] of The Jackal, his own tormented clone, Ben Riley, proved detrimental to his mental health. It was a reminder of how easy it is for someone essentially identical to himself in every way aside from his uprising to distort the values he holds most dear. Most of all, Peter’s sick of the fallout from his superhero world intersecting into the lives of those he cares about (for instance, the resurrected clone of Ned Leeds calling and freaking out his widow, Betty Brandt).
The constant reminder of his life gone awry, and the subsequent spillover, leads Peter to become more proactive, aggressively tracking down Norman Osborn the country of Delvadia. Working with SHIELD and several local superheroes, Spider-Man and Mockingbird (aka Bobbi Morse) pick apart Osborn's forces only to realize that major drug lord/gun runner “El Facoquero” (or the Warthog) was just a figurehead. Failing to catch Osborn in South America, Spidey and Bobbi uncover additional links to him across the world. Acting on a hunch, they decide to set a trap for Osborn in Hong Kong, using a benefit for the Parker Industries-funded, Aunt May-headed Uncle Ben Foundation. In light of her husband Jay Jameson's recent death (and the possible risk of a sting operation unfolding around her), Peter relieves Aunt May of her Foundation duties, deciding to preside over the event instead.
En route to China, Peter finds out the hard way (after asking out Bobbi), that his aunt and Harry Lyman nee Osborn decided to tag along anyway, putting them both potentially at risk. Once they've landed, Harry and May head off to attend to business, and likewise, Bobbi and Peter shake down some local gun-runners, uncovering Osborn's plan to do a little business at the “oobie yeff” or UBF, the Uncle Ben Foundation event. The heroic pair speed over to the fundraiser only to catch a cloaked sniper taking aim at the crowd. They manage to take down the shooter, and Spider-Man’s electro-magnetic webbing shorts out their camouflage, revealing Silver Sable. Not only did Peter think she was dead, but she's lashes out at them, because they stopped her from killing Norman Osborn once and for all.
A Superior Octopus?
To say that Spider-Man’s life is chaotic, in the aftermath of the Clone Conspiracy, is a dramatic understatement. His company, Parker Industries, is experiencing some hiccups due to Peter's sacrifices and as a result of recent events. His preoccupation with catching Norman Osborn is also endangering his ability to make smart decisions at times. To make everything just that much more complicated, Doctor Octopus is not only back, but better than ever with his new clone body.
Gifted or cursed with all of Peter's memories, Ben Reilly as Jackal not only tried to make a name for himself, but he engaged in a twisted quest to make good on Spider-Man's vows to never loose another life by cloning everyone that died during Spider-Man’s lengthy career. Ben managed to restore numerous friends, acquaintances, and foes including Otto Octavius (who previously died after traveling into the future during the Spider-Verse event, equating to a very long story). Ever the one-upper, Doc Ock actually made improvements to Ben/Jackal's upgraded clones, helping him create a “proto-clone,” one impervious to the cellular degeneration all other clones before it have suffered, which also could have lead to the carrion outbreak. Once again, Otto surprised readers by battling Ben to the death after his beloved Anna Maria Marconi (who he dated briefly while in Spider-Man’s body – also a long story) is infected by the carrion virus and faces death.
Although both men are believed dead, unsurprisingly they survived, with Ben escaping to start his own confused run as the Scarlet Spider and Otto walking out with the proto-clone. He catches a ride to one of his old secret headquarters, only to find its condition a little too neat and orderly. It seems his old haunt has been infiltrated by Hydra goons. Now blessed with spider-powers – and with a little help from his built-in defenses – Octavius handily defeats the goons. He’s about to bid farewell to his former lair when he’s halted by “Hydra super-scientist” Armin Zola.
Instead of looking for a fight, the robotic researcher has a proposal for Octavius. He wants him to sign up with Hydra and is willing to equip him with a team of agents and a shared goal: vengeance against Parker Industries. Doc Ock reluctantly agrees, putting aside his disgust with the fascist organization and becoming “Superior Octopus,” at least for now.
As usual, the more things change, the more they stay the same for Peter Parker. His plans in Hong Kong certainly have taken a turn for the worse, as Norman Osborn is now under attack and within striking distance of several of Peter's favorite people. If that isn't bad enough, he’ll also have to deal with a Hydra-powered Doctor Octopus in the not-too-distant future as well. Already getting stretched to all corners of the Earth, cleaning up after the former Green Goblin in "The Osborn Identity," it also looks like Spider-Man is about to get sucked into the resistance when Captain America’s "Secret Empire" takes over in Spider-Man #29 (and beyond).
Spider-Man #25 is currently available in stores and online.