First she was Superman’s cousin (on an alternate Earth; don’t ask). Then she was the descendent of an Atlantian Sorcerer. She has a baby who grows up at a rapid rate, becomes a hero, then vanishes from continuity. She’s weak against Kryptonite, against wood, against nothing at all. Now she’s back to Superman’s cousin from another universe.Which is a lot to take in all at once. Makes me glad I haven’t found Hawkman as interesting. Hawkman’s continuity issues been known to drive DC fans insane. Really.
But my hero Spider-man had a straight forward history. Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains a wide variety of super powers. He starts off trying to exploit these powers, but after indirectly causing the death of his Uncle Ben (by not stopping a crook when he could), he changes his mind. Instead, he uses his powers and his scientific knowledge to fight crime. Thus Spider-man is born. Real simple. Too bad it couldn’t last.
As I said last time, the Nineties weren’t the greatest of times for comics. Everything went all grim and gritty. I generally blame Batman for this, as Batman was also sorts of successful with the grim and the grit, but maybe it was the decade. Who knows?Sadly, this wave of “Gritty Stupidity” swept up my boy Spidey. At one point his parents, long thought dead, return. Only they’re not his parents; their robot assassins create to cause further pain and anguish to Peter Parker. This was done by an old friend named Harry Osborn, who had recently died trying to emulate his father, the mad super criminal known as the Green Goblin.
I seem to recall additional traumas, but the net result is Peter having a nervous breakdown. He enters a cocoon made out of his own webbing and spends some quality time there while his wife, Mary Jane, watches helplessly on. When he emerges, he sheds his Parker identity, becoming just Spider-man. Or, as he put it, “the Spider.” And by “put it” I mean literally. Ever sentence he uttered or thought from that point was “the Spider this”, “The Spider that.” Seriously. Someone actually thought this was a good idea and ran with it. Through multiple titles. On this, he became more violent, darker, grittier, and pretty much unreadable.
Nevertheless, I kept on reading. Because I was a Spider-Fan. And surely this couldn’t last, right? We’d get back to basics, right? In time Peter does come back to his senses. Can’t remember how, but he does. Right in time to go through the “Clone Saga”. Which was a mistake that the character has never fully recovered from. On the web, there’s a site devoted to this portion of Spider-man’s history called Life of Reilly, named after the clone Ben Reilly. It covers every aspect of the story, but it’s a very interesting analysis of a story line going bad. It consists of thirty five good sized parts, so you might see why I’m hesitant to go into detail. However, in a nutshell, the over-all plot of the “Clone Saga” includes:
- the return of a clone of Spider-man (created by the villain known as the Jackal because he could)
- the revelation that said clone was the actual Peter Parker, who’s place had been taken by the one we thought was the real deal (because “Gritty Stupidity” had “ruined” the character.)
- a pregnancy for Mary Jane and Peter
- The death of Doctor Octopus in the lamest manner possible (he gets better)
- God-like beings of power whose purpose never really gets any clearer
- the death of Aunt May (she doesn’t get better, but she does come back in an achingly stupid manner later on)
- Peter being accused of mass murder then having his name cleared (another clone what done it!)
- Peter losing his powers, retiring, then having everything come back to him and him returning to action (wheee!)
- the death/kidnapping/who knows of Peter and Mary Jane’s child
- The revelation that the whole Clone Saga was caused by the Green Goblin (who also recovered from death quite nicely)
- And, finally, the death of the now confirmed clone Ben Reilly (who hasn’t returned yet but is feeling much better.)
Oh, and a re-enactment of the death of Gwen Stacy in which Spider-man actually saves the girl. This happens twice, once for Reilly, once for Peter. Just in case we missed it the first time. That last bit is important. We’ll go into great details later.
I quit reading Spider-man maybe half way through the… I guess “story” is the word. Figured I’d come back when things get better. Only they never did. Competent writers would write the titles and it was like they were newbie hacks with delusions of grandeur. As if all of their skills at the craft were sucked away. They even ended the series, restarted it, and it still was no good. At one point, I was reading the Manga Spider-man thinking that this was as close to my Spider-man as I could come. And the Manga Spidey is nothing like the original… Sounds a bit grim, for a fan, doesn’t it? And yet I look back on those days with a bit of fondness. I had no idea how bad it could get…
The included image is © by DC if no one else It is in no way the work of Cullen M. M. Waters