Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Via The Hurting, and Anton Hernandez on the TCJ Message Board, a 35(!)-part history of Marvel's "Spider-Man Clone Saga" by Andrew Goletz and Glenn Greenberg. This was a lengthy storyline from the mid-90s in which it was revealed that a clone of Peter Parker, who had been introduced and seemingly killed off in a Spider-Man story twenty years previously (five years in the Marvel Universe's timeline) was not only still alive, but was actually the character who'd been walking around as Peter Parker and Spider-Man in the past twenty years of Spider-Man comics. Of course, nothing in those comics had even hinted at this. Marvel originally intended to stick to this revelation--the guy who'd been Peter Parker for the past twenty years would fade out, and the "real" Peter Parker would take his place as Spider-Man and in the comics--but changed its mind partway through, with the result that the second half of the Clone Saga was devoted to reversing the effects of the first half. In an extraordinary labor of love, Goletz, a fan of the Clone Saga, provides detailed plot summaries of what must be over a hundred individual issues. Greenberg, who was working on the Spider-Man books during much of the Saga, provides a running look at what was going on behind the scenes at Marvel, and at the convoluted process by which the Saga came to take the shape it did.

Greenberg's commentary, in particular, is a fascinating look at how the largest American comics company operated in the '90s, and is essential reading for anyone interested in mainstream comics either as an art form or as an industry. Mainstream superhero comics are sometimes derided as comics written by committee. But going by Greenberg's portrayal, they're more like comics written by a series of committees, each intent upon undoing the work of its predecessors, while being pressed hard by the "business" side of the company, which is solely interested in milking the last possible buck out of the company's fans. The "Clone Saga" may be a particularly egregious example of these pathologies, but given the internal politics of corporations in general, I doubt it's an isolated case. I won't say it's impossible to produce great works of literature under these conditions, but clearly the odds are against it.

And the summary of the "Clone Saga" itself? Taken as a whole, and with apologies to Goletz and Greenberg, it's about the most idiotic thing I've ever read. Some of the stupidity is probably due to plain old bad writing, and much of it is the result of the pressures from the business side mentioned above. But much of it is the result of the contortions necessary to make "Peter Parker" being a clone consistent with Spider-Man's continuity, and then the further contortions necessary to make Peter Parker's not being a clone consistent with the contortions they'd just gone through. David Fiore loves to wax eloquent on the joys of Marvel and DC's endlessly ramifying continuities. As far as I'm concerned, he can keep 'em.

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