Note: To save space, titles in this article are abbreviated:
ASM = The Amazing Spider-Man
PPTSS = Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man
SM = Spider-Man
SMU = Spider-Man Unlimited
SSM = The Sensational Spider-Man
WOS = Web of Spider-Man
Background in the Books
In ASM 121 (June 1973), Gwen Stacy died after the Green Goblin threw her off a bridge. In the next issue, the Green Goblin died when his own glider hit him in the chest. It was a landmark event in comic-book history: not one but two major characters died in very permanent ways.
Then a clone of Gwen Stacy appeared. Spider-Man eventually learned that Professor Miles Warren had created her, along with a clone of Parker himself. Warren (calling himself the Jackal) and the Parker clone died in an explosion, and Spider-Man dumped his clone's body in a factory smokestack (ASM 151 (December 1975)). The Gwen clone left town. One sliver of uncertainty remained: the real Parker might have died in the explosion, and the survivor only thought he was the original. Parker realized, however, that the clone could not have his recent memories.
A clone of Warren appeared as the first Carrion but also seemed to die (PPTSS 31 (June 1979)).
The Stacy clone returned years later. The High Evolutionary wanted to duplicate Warren's success at cloning; instead he found, through examining Stacy, that Warren had created a virus that only simulated cloning. "Gwen Stacy" was really a woman named Joyce Delaney, not a clone (PPTSS annual 8 (1988)). A second Carrion surfaced, also a victim of the virus (PPTSS 149 (April 1989)).
Background in the Bullpen
The same person, Gerry Conway, wrote all the preceding stories. Reader reaction, although divided at the time, has confirmed the decision to kill Stacy and Osborn as a good one. A mark of the story's impact is that Stacy has never been brought back; the clone was Conway's way of warning later writers to leave her be, and his "cloning virus" retcon should have tied up all the loose ends.
Act 1 in the Books
Aunt May had been seriously ill. A mysterious figure came to her bedside, revealed in PPTSS 216 (September 1994) as a twin of Peter Parker named Ben Reilly. Also, Parker (never a picture of mental health) had been edging into schizophrenia, even thinking of his Spider-Man persona as a separate person.
The event began with several crossover stories. In Power and Responsibility (WOS 117, ASM 394, SM 51, PPTSS 217 (October 1994)) Parker almost went insane. At the Ravencroft asylum, two mysterious figures, Judas Traveler and Scrier, forced Reilly to fight Parker. Reilly and Parker briefly teamed up against Traveler, but Reilly was caught in an explosion and disappeared.
The Exile Returns story (WOS 118, SM 52 (November 1994); WOS 119, SM 53 (December 1994)) focused on Reilly. He became the Scarlet Spider and defeated Venom, unaware that Parker and Venom had made a nonagression pact.
In the Back from the Edge story (ASM 395, PPTSS 218 (November 1994); ASM 396, PPTSS 219 (December 1994)) Parker began a painful journey to regain his sanity. He consulted Daredevil, who had his own troubles with his secret identity, and then got poisoned.
The Web of Life crossover (WOS 120, SM 54 (January 1995); WOS 121, SM 55 (February 1995)) showed Reilly settling into his new (old) life, encountering Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson. He met Kaine, another mysterious figure.
The Web of Death story (ASM 397, PPTSS 220 (January 1995); ASM 398, PPTSS 221 (February 1995)) continued Parker's climb back to sanity. Doctor Octopus, his mortal enemy, counteracted the poison. Kaine then killed Doctor Octopus. Parker's wife, Mary Jane Watson, told him she was pregnant.
Smoke and Mirrors brought the two story lines, as well as Parker and Reilly, back together (WOS 122, ASM 399, SM 56 (March 1995)). They battled a new Jackal and a mysterious figure called the Guardian, who both turned out to be clones of Parker. Another Jackal appeared and claimed to be Miles Warren, because the other Jackal (the one that died) was not the original Warren but a clone. Not only that, but Parker and Reilly (one of whom had to be the original) might both be clones, and the original Gwen Stacy might be alive. The Jackal escaped in yet another explosion.
In Players and Pawns (PPTSS 222 (March 1995); WOS 123, ASM 400 (April 1995)) another Parker clone (later known as Spidercide) appeared from the rubble of the Jackal's lab. The Jackal attacked Reilly and got sent to the Ravencroft asylum. Aunt May recovered from her coma, told Parker she knew he was Spider-Man, and died. Shortly thereafter, police lieutenant Jacob Raven of Salt Lake City, who had been tracking Reilly, appeared and arrested Parker for the murder of his partner.
Act 1 in the Bullpen
In 1994, the staff responsible for the Spider-Man titles began planning for the 400th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Management wanted an event to compare with Age of Apocalypse, which had boosted sales of the X-Men titles. Terry Kavanagh proposed bringing back the Parker clone from 1975. The idea might have died if J. M. de Matteis had not championed it. Lacking anything better, the team ran with it.
The event would have three acts: Reilly and Parker learn that they switched lives five years ago, i.e. Parker is the clone; they struggle with the question of who deserves to be Spider-Man; Parker dies nobly, and Reilly takes over as Spider-Man. The fans might not like it at first, but it would shake up the status quo and let the staff reinvent the character of Spider-Man.
Marvel Comics, however, was undergoing a process they called Marvelution. Ronald Perelman had bought Marvel in 1989, when it was making money, and set about maximizing the return on his investment: Marvel comic books became a commodity; prices went up, quality went down. Comic-book fans are better educated, more brand loyal, and more sensitive to quality than the typical consumer. If you buy Spider-Man titles, for instance, you do not switch to Batman if the price is lower. If the quality of those Spider-Man titles drops below a certain (subjectively determined) level of quality, though, you will stop buying them. Perelman and the rest could easily have learned those facts about their new customers, but they either didn't bother or didn't care.
The new management clustered titles under teams of editors. All the Spider-Man books, for instance, fell under the control of Danny Fingeroth, Eric Fein, Mark Powers, and Mark Bernardo. The editor in chief was Tom de Falco. In this "profit or die" atmosphere, no job was safe, and the marketing department had a veto over creative decisions. Their first directive was to stretch out the event to maximize sales. The clones, like the schedule, began to multiply. The obligatory "shock ending" in ASM 400 became the death of Aunt May, something that nobody wanted and that was later reversed. Once again, though, they lacked anything better.
Act 1 1/2 in the Books
The first casualty of the enforced delay was tight plotting. The story Aftershocks (SM 57, PPTSS 223 (April 1995)) explored some aspects of the new characters but did not advance the Clone Saga in any meaningful way.
The next chapter, Mark of Kaine (WOS 124, ASM 401, SM 58, PPTSS 224, SMU 9 (May 1995)), started to develop a side character, Kaine, who kidnapped Watson. Traveler helped Parker escape from prison to rescue her. Parker, along with Reilly and Spidercide, battled Kaine. Spidercide suddenly became a shape-changing maniac and apparently died (in an explosion, of course). Reilly took Parker's place in prison.
In another loss of cohesion, the next issue did not belong to a crossover but stood alone. It also demonstrated that no part of Conway's stories could escape retconning. In WOS 125 (June 1995) Parker tracked a Warren clone and the original Stacy clone to a house in New Jersey. They tried to escape, but while crossing that bridge (where Stacy died), their car crashed. A new Green Goblin rescued Stacy, but when she fell off the bridge, Parker rescued her. Warren met the fate of every clone and degenerated. Stacy learned that she was not another woman pretending to be a clone (as the High Evolutionary had claimed) but a clone pretending to be another woman pretending to be a clone; in other words, the retcon was retconned.
Crossfire (ASM 402, SM 59 (June 1995)) starred Traveler, who apparently had power over space and time.
Another one-issue story (PPTSS 225 (June 1995)) brought in a fifth Parker clone.
The Trial of Peter Parker (WOS 126, ASM 403, SM 60, PPTSS 226 (July 1995)) dropped hints about Reilly's time away from New York. Kaine was revealed as yet another Parker clone, protecting Parker from Reilly, and as the real killer of Raven's partner. Seward Trainer, an old friend of Reilly's, tested Parker and Reilly and announced that Parker was the clone.
Act 1 1/2 in the Bullpen
The central revelation of the Clone Saga came out three months behind schedule. Following the marketing department's orders, the staff began to put out limited series and one-shots to boost sales even further, although by design they had nothing significant to do with the story.
Act 2 in the Books
Spider-Man: The Jackal Files (August 1995) was little more than a collection of pinups. On the other hand, Spider-Man: The Lost Years (August-October 1995), a three-part miniseries, began to fill out Reilly's and Kaine's backstories. The readers, of course, would want to know more about the new Spider-Man, even if they didn't know it yet. For instance, he once fell in love with a woman named Elizabeth Tyne.
Maximum Clonage (Maximum Clonage Alpha, WOS 127, ASM 404, SM 61, PPTSS 227, Maximum Clonage Omega (August 1995)) brought the Jackal back to center stage. With an aerosol bomb, he hoped to mutate all of humanity into an ideal form. Parker and Reilly stopped his plan, and Warren fell to his death trying to save the Stacy clone. During this story, hundreds of Parker clones chased Reilly through the city and then degenerated.
The Exiled story (WOS 128, ASM 405, SM 62, SMU 10 (September 1995)) appeared to resolve the question of who would be Spider-Man. Reilly tried to leave town again but had a wreck. That left Parker as the only real Spider-Man.
Time Bomb (PPTSS 228 (September 1995); WOS 129 (October 1995)) was a postscript to Maximum Clonage. Before he died, the Jackal activated a command he had implanted in the clone's mind: kill the one he loved most. Parker tried to kill Watson, so he was definitely the clone.
In The Greatest Responsibility (ASM 406, SM 63, PPTSS 229 (October 1995)), Parker realized that his responsibility to his unborn child outweighed his responsibility to use his powers. He left the job of Spider-Man to Reilly.
Act 2 in the Bullpen
The title Maximum Clonage obviously came from Maximum Carnage, an earlier Spider-saga. The Alpha and Omega one-shots were supposed to remind readers of the recent Age of Apocalypse epic. No one had any better ideas. This six-part event within an event was supposed to wrap up the Clone Saga and replace Parker with Reilly. Instead, it graphically illustrated what happens when you take a marketing maxim, "If some is good, more is better," to its logical conclusion. However, the story did reach the planned end of the second act: Reilly would take over as Spider-Man.
During this time, de Matteis became frustrated with the delays and quit, to be replaced by Tom de Falco. Kavanagh left because of creative differences with Fein and was replaced by Todd Dezago. Remember that Kavanagh and de Matteis were responsible for the Clone Saga in the first place. Fingeroth also left.
Act 3 (Fake) in the Books
In the chapter Virtual Mortality (Web of Scarlet Spider 1, Amazing Scarlet Spider 1, Scarlet Spider 1, Spectacular Scarlet Spider 1 (November 1995)) Reilly started to settle into his new role.
Scarlet Spider Unlimited 1 attempted to explain away some of the inconsistencies that had crept into the saga. Reilly, taken to Wundagore, learned that the High Evolutionary had lied to Parker and Delaney (in PPTSS annual 8) because he was jealous of Warren's success. Warren's clones were real (already shown in WOS 125), meaning that the "cloning virus" was fake.
Cyberwar (Web of Scarlet Spider 2, Amazing Scarlet Spider 2, Scarlet Spider 2, Spectacular Scarlet Spider 2 (December 1995) continued with the new Spider-Man.
A new title, The Sensational Spider-Man, replaced the least popular spider-book, Web of Spider-Man. The next few issues (SSM 0, ASM 407, SM 64, PPTSS 230 (January 1996)) showed Reilly starting his new life.
A one-shot, Spider-Man: The Parker Years, flashed back to the highlights (and lowlights) of Parker's career. In a four-part miniseries, Spider-Man: The Final Adventure, Parker and Watson moved to Portland. In a final irony, the corporation that was responsible for giving Parker his powers took them away. Everything was ready for Reilly to take Parker's place permanently. The Clone Saga was over.
Act 3 (Fake) in the Bullpen
During the Age of Apocalypse event, all the X-Men books had changed their titles for four months. The marketing department wanted all the Spider-Man books changed to Scarlet Spider for four months. In a rare compromise, they settled for two months.
As originally plotted, The Final Adventure was supposed to culminate in the birth of Parker and Watson's child. After the usual delays and wrangling, the ending changed.
de Falco was fired as editor in chief but stayed on as writer on ASM.
Act 2 Do-Over in the Books
Media Blizzard (SSM 1, ASM 408, SM 65 (February 1996)) continued to establish Reilly as the new Spider-Man. He took on Mysterio, who had incorporated new technology into his powers of illusion, and beat him.
Although centered on Kaine, The Return of Kaine (PPTSS 231 (February 1996); SSM 2, ASM 409, SM 66 (March 1996)) introduced another Spider-Man clone. This one was a skeleton found in the smokestack where Parker dumped Reilly's "body," way back in ASM 151.
PPTSS 232 (March 1996) brought Parker and Watson back from Portland.
Web of Carnage (SSM 3, ASM 410, SM 67, PPTSS 233 (April 1996)) shoehorned a popular foe into the Clone Saga.
Act 2 Do-Over in the Bullpen
No better example shows the chaos going on in the Bullpen than the skeleton. Someone had the idea, so it went into the pot. Nobody had any idea where it had come from or what it meant, but someday it might contribute to the final result. No one had the time or imagination to work it into the story in a plausible way, so it became one of many loose ends.
Finally and fatefully, Budiansky made a decision, possibly the only one that readers would accept: Peter Parker would remain Spider-Man. More than a year of preparation and hard work instantly became invalid. Not only did the staff still have to find a way to end the Clone Saga, they would have to undermine, even contradict, much of the groundwork they had already laid for it.
Act 2 1/2 in the Books
Blood Brothers (SSM 4, ASM 411, SM 68, PPTSS 234 (May 1996); (SSM 5, ASM 412 (June 1996)) promised some answers. Yet another mysterious figure, Gaunt, appeared, with a connection to Trainer. A new Hobgoblin also appeared, with a connection to one more (and the last) mysterious figure.
SMU 12 "explained" the skeleton in a way that didn't explain anything. A forensic specialist reconstructed the face, which matched Parker's.
Management wanted yet another delay. The rest of June (SM 69, PPTSS 235) and the month of July (SSM 6, ASM 413, SM 70, PPTSS 236) began a long stretch of unconnected stories.
Act 2 1/2 in the Bullpen
The staff still faced a huge problem: how to finish off the Clone Saga in a plausible way. Months went by, hundreds of memos traded hands, but Budiansky couldn't make a decision. He was sure about one thing: the mastermind could never be Norman Osborn. That would create more problems than it solved, leave the fans feeling cheated, and undo a classic story. Jurgens quit, frustrated by the delays, by differences with Budiansky, and by his sense that he wasn't working with the "real" Spider-Man. The other writers felt almost as frustrated. Without knowing where Spider-Man would be in a year, or even being sure who would be Spider-Man, it was nearly impossible to start new projects.
Then another reorganization took place. Bob Harras, who had been head editor of the X-Men group, became editor in chief. To keep the Clone Saga from interfering with Onslaught, an event taking place in the X-Men group at that time, he decreed a six-month delay for the Clone Saga. Budiansky and Fein got fired. Ralph Macchio became editor of the Spider-Man group.
Act 2 3/4 in the Books
In the August titles (SSM 7, ASM 414, SM 71, PPTSS 237) Parker appeared to sicken and die, but he revived with his spider-powers, albeit spotty at first.
Another limited series, Spider-Man: Redemption (4 issues, September-December 1996), a sequel to Lost Years, resolved the story of Reilly and Kaine. Knowing now that Reilly would die, the staff must have felt like they were wasting their time.
September brought a crossover with the Onslaught event (ASM 415, SM 72). The rest of the six-month delay simply marked time through September (SSM 8, PPTSS 238), October (SSM 9, ASM 416, SM 73, PPTSS 239), and November (SSM 10, ASM 417, SM 74). The only concession to the Clone Saga was to reveal Traveler as a mutant illusionist and Scrier as a cult instead of one person.
Act 2 3/4 in the Bullpen
Whatever skills Harras had as an editor or manager, he knew little about writing comic books. He issued decrees concerning the Spider-Man books, decrees that contradicted continuity, the advice of the staff, logic, and common sense. First, he decreed that the mastermind would be Norman Osborn.
Act 3 in the Books
At long last, Revelations (PPTSS 240 (November 1996); SSM 11, ASM 418, Peter Parker: Spider-Man 75 (new title) (December 1996)) brought the Clone Saga to an end. Watson went into premature labor after getting drugged. The child was allegedly stillborn, but Alison Mongrain (who gave her the drug) took the child (or its body) to Europe. The final mysterious figure was unmasked as Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, long thought dead. In the ensuing battle with Parker and Reilly, the Goblin's jet glider killed Reilly.
Almost as an afterthought, Spider-Man: The Osborn Journal (February 1997) tried to tie up some loose ends.
Act 3 in the Bullpen
Harras continued to micromanage, going so far as to dictate specific lines of dialog for Revelations. He decreed that Foggy Nelson should appear at the Daily Bugle massacre, even though he had no connection to Spider-Man or to the story. He decreed that Osborn was not responsible for Aunt May's death, even though he later decreed that he was. He decreed that the fate of Watson's child would deliberately be left a mystery, even though that would leave readers feeling cheated. He decreed that Reilly would turn to dust when he died, even though every other clone degenerated into a puddle of goo.
The original plot of Revelations included a journal written by Osborn that would have explained the most embarrassing loose ends of the Clone Saga. This key element got pushed so far into the background that, for certain parts of the saga to make any sense, it became necessary to publish The Osborn Journal separately.