[Warning: SPOILERS for The Clone Conspiracy #1 ahead.]
The lead-up to The Clone Conspiracy hasn’t given Spider-Man much of a break from the madness, putting further stress on Peter Parker’s already tenuous personal life. If that wasn’t enough, the machinations of The Jackal and cyber-brained Doctor Octopus are creating war of shadows all around him. As things wind up tighter than Magneto in a scrapyard, Spidey’s snooping is about to uncover the full depths of The Jackal’s deviant genius.
The Clone Conspiracy #1 also brings the Web-Head face to face with his past in a major way, literally. Old friends and foes alike have started popping up at an alarming rate. However, unlike prior clone events, this time it seems like The Jackal has discovered a means to his ends that is far more unholy.
Death of a Step-Uncle
As the issue opens up, Peter is wracked with guilt over the death of his step-father Jay Jameson. While dealing with his own grief and his bereaved Aunt May, he’s also getting raked over the coals by his step-cousin J. Jonah Jameson for not allowing New U to step in and save his father’s life. Peter steps away from the ire and is joined by Parker Industries and Spider-associate Anna Maria Marconi.
He runs her through his concerns about the mysterious medical company, revealing that his initial ominous feelings about New U came after an encounter with his Oklahoma-based employee, Jerry Saltere. The Parker Industry worker was on the verge of death after the company building was destroyed and underwent the mysterious procedure. New U saved his life, but when Peter met with Jerry afterwards, his employee set his spider senses a-tingling. Anna Maria pushes Peter to investigate his disturbing feelings, and he takes her advice, heading to Sooner turf to check on his employee.
Right in the Breadbasket
Once in Edmond, Oklahoma Spidey finds out from Saltere’s wife that Jerry is now in the custody of New U. After forgetting his meds on a camping trip, the ones provided by the mysterious medicos, he began having very some disturbing reactions. Spider-Man instantly recognizes Jerry's condition as cellular degradation, something he'd faced with The Jackal's clones. More disturbed than ever, Peter heads to New U HQ in San Francisco, hot on Jerry’s trail thanks to a subdermal spider-tracker.
As he snoops about the state-of-the-art facility, he stumbles across the living remnants of Mr. Saltere, floating in a tank. Before he can further dig for clues, he’s interrupted by none other than former Empire State University Professor Miles Warren – or at least a clones of him. Clearly displeased by the Spider-presence, Warren summons his security squad, who naturally are packing a few extra goons for the occasion.
A Few Familiar Faces
Once Spider-Man has been discovered, his investigation rapidly becomes a confrontation with some old favorite baddies. The Rhino rushes in, flanked by Electro/Francine Frye (“Electra? She-lectra…” Spidey could go on.). As the action-packed scene plays out in Jim Cheung and John Dell’s nimble panels, it’s revealed that Aleksei’s wife was returned to him by New U at a price. However, the most disturbing business is yet to come, as the reveal that everyone (a least everyone who's playing along at home) knew was coming, save for Spidey. Gwen Stacy lives. Again.
Unlike his other close encounters of the clone kind, though, Gwen doesn’t tic his spider-senses, causing him to wonder if she’s really back from the dead this time. Of course, the Web-Head doesn’t get the chance to find out, as the all-too-familiar metallic arm of Doc Ock coils tightly around him. As the chapter fades to black, the real question is, could Gwen Stacy still be alive?
“The Night I Died”
The answer, which raises a dozen more questions, turns up in a nifty prologue/epilogue to the story. “The Night I Died” is a takeoff of Gerry Conway’s “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” from Amazing Spider-Man #121. By way of Slott’s redux, rendered lovingly through Ron Frenz’s nostalgic inks, the wall-crawler, the Green Goblin, and Ms. Stacy are returned to their perch atop the Brooklyn Bridge. This time there’s a twist. The entire story is told through Gwen's eyes.
Exploiting the overall assumption that Gwen was unconscious during the original storyline, Slott’s revisionism explores the idea that Gwen was actually awake, which is even more heartbreaking than the prior version. As she fluctuates in and out of consciousness, Gwen realizes that her longtime beau Peter Parker has been hiding a whopper from her. He's been operating as Spider-Man the whole time. In this fashion, she also views Peter also partially responsible for her father’s death.
After events play out to their tragic end, Gwen awakens as if from a nightmare in the clutches of The Jackal. And he has a proposition for her: Take one pill a day and live. The bonus prize is that she's also reunited with her now-living father. While she does debate attacking her savior/captor, she reluctantly chooses to side with the twisted geneticist. Slott’s clever little retcon both handily explains Gwen’s aide-de-camp role with The Jackal and also hints at possible abominations to come.
To Build a Better Clone Saga
One issue in and Spider-Man has already come face to face with several specters from his pasts, as well as moments in time which have haunted him for decades. The coming events of The Clone Conspiracy will provide plenty of new challenges for Peter, in addition to a cavalcade of nemeses (and maybe even a few more shocks). Hopefully, Slott will also be able to undo some of the damage done by previous Spider-clone epics.
Most importantly, Dead No More could permanently – at least as permanently as comics get – resurrect a character who was once a central players in Spider-Man’s world. Is it possible Gwen Stacy could return to life in the pages of Spider-Man? Her recreated status doesn’t bode well, but it would be great if Slott bring her back into the MU. After decades resigned to a plot-point, Gwen deserves a chance to reclaim her name.
What do you think should happen with Gwen Stacy? Will her return from the grave keep, or will she remain a plot device?
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The Clone Conspiracy #1 is currently available online and in stores.