Since the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.

When Steve Rogers was forced to either blindly serve the government or give up his identity as Captain America, he chose the later, and was replaced by John Walker. When Bruce Wayne’s back was broken by the villain Bane, leaving him unable to continue being Batman, he handpicked Jean Paul Valley, previously known as Azarel, to take over the cape and cowl. When Tony Stark succumbed to his alcoholism, he asked long time friend Jim Rhodes to take over his role as Iron Man. When Superman perished in battle with Doomsday, no less than 4 successors showed up, each either claiming to be him or wanting to pick up where he left off.

If there is one thing comics teaches us, it’s that no one is anybody until they’ve been killed, crippled, or forced to retire under dubious circumstances, only to be replaced by a younger, cooler, sexier, more badass version of themselves. However, there is another side of the coin as well. Usually this replacement doesn’t last very long, maybe a year or two, until the successor is killed, goes insane, or is revealed to be a pawn of a sinister plot, and the original hero is either resurrected (or revealed to not have been dead at all), recovered from their ‘crippling injury’, or is forced to come back out of retirement and resume their identity. Indeed, John Walker’s stint as Captain America was revealed to be a plot by the Red Skull, and soon Steve Rogers resumed his identity as Captain America. Jean Paul Valley had gone off the deep end, forcing Bruce Wayne (whose spine was miraculously healed) to retake his identity of Batman. Iron Man recovered from his alcoholism to battle Obadiah Stane after Rhodes was injured by the villain, while Superman recovered in the Fortress of Solitude and reclaimed his identity after the Eradicator sacrificed himself to restore his powers.

Thus, it would be only a matter of time before Spider-man befell a similar misfortune. In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of events such as Batman Knightfall and the Death and Return of Superman, and getting increasingly desperate due to their financial problems, Marvel attempted to drop a bombshell on readers: the guy they’ve been reading about for almost 2 decades isn’t the real Peter Parker, but a clone. By the way, this features assumes you have some knowledge of who Spider-man is. For the few of you who don’t, here’s the short version: Boy gets bit by a spider, gains the ability to shoot webs, is able to climb walls, and gains the proportionate strength and agility of a spider. Boy used new powers to gain fame and fortune until his Uncle Ben is killed and then he decides to become a superhero. The Clone Saga is one of Spidey’s more infamous storylines. The story was masterminded by a group of writers and was intended to be a three-act story. Unfortunately, thanks to the wishes of the editorial staff, marketing, and constant changes in the creative department, the Clone Saga instead became one large mess that took a nice warm defecation over 20-plus years of Spider-man continuity. I’m not going over the whole thing, just some of the main bulletpoints.

The Clone Saga starts way back in 1974, although no one, not even then-writer Gene Conway, knew it. Empire State University microbiology professor Miles Warren was secretly infatuated with his young student Gwen Stacy. Naturally, her death during a battle between Spider-man and the Green Goblin sent him over the edge. Blaming Spider-man for her death, Miles Warren dons a green suit and calls him the Jackal, and the proceeds to set out to make his life a living hell. His schemes include an alliance with the Punisher (which quickly dissolves), an attempt to start a gang war between Doctor Octopus and Hammerhead, and sending the Grizzly to assassinate J. Jonah Jameson. He also has a fascination with clones, as he has created clones of himself and Gwen Stacy. One of his clones would take on a monstrous appearance and gained the ability to spread a deadly virus, becoming the villain known as Carrion. His most infamous scene however, sees him kidnap Peter Parker’s friend Ned Leeds, then creating a clone of Spider-man, in the process learning his true identity of Peter Parker. He then straps a bomb to Ned Leeds, and forces the two Spider-men to do battle at Shea stadium, and only the real Spidey can diffuse the bomb Ned is attached to. However, the aforementioned clone of Gwen Stacy implores Miles to cease his agenda after removing his mask. Miles then frees Ned from the bomb, although both he and one of the Spider-men were killed in the explosion. The remaining Spider-man dumped to body in a smokestack and took off, believing himself to be the real deal, as he hypothesized that his feelings for Mary Jane couldn’t be duplicated in a test tube. He then takes off and has numerous other adventures, putting this whole affair behind him. In the meantime, we learn that Miles Warren had worked with the being known as the High Evolutionary for a while, and that his clone of Gwen Stacy was actually a woman named Joyce Delaney who was transformed by a genetic virus, of course years later it was revealed that the High Evolutionary falsified this info because his ego couldn’t take that Miles Warren had perfected cloning and he hadn’t. Uh, okay, whatever.

Two decades, and several changes in the creative team later, we find Peter Parker in a rough spot. Things have not been going well for him. Carnage, Shriek, and their surrogate ‘family’ have been running amok, his Aunt May is dying, and his parents whom he thought had returned, were revealed to be robots built by the late harry Osborn as a means of getting final revenge. It’s all gotten so stressful for him, that he’s abandoned his civilian identity of Peter Parker, and has become “The Spider”. Welcome to the 90s folks. Before I go on, I should mention that Marvel, like much of the comics industry at the time, was busy making ill-advised attempts to make their characters appeal to the so-called “Generation-X”. During the period of the clone saga, Doc Ock and Scorpion would be replaced with female versions of themselves (with the former being killed off), Venom and Carnage would be joined by 5 new symbiotes, and the Avengers all got new uniforms that in many cases, made them look like He-Man characters. DC was similarly following suit, and one of the things they did was make Superman into a lightning energy form of himself then splitting him into two. Thankfully this wouldn’t last long, as by 1998, the Avengers would be back in classic costumes, Superman would be back into his familiar red and blue uniform, Doc Ock was resurrected and both his and Scorpion’s female counterparts were written into comic book limbo along with any symbiotes not named Venom or Carnage.

Anyway, in the midst of all this, Peter’s clone returns. It’s then revealed that he didn’t die after all. After climbing out the smokestack Parker left him in, he left the city, taking the name Ben Riley (Ben being his uncle’s name of course and Riley being his Aunt May’s maiden name). The Jackal also returns, revealing that the Miles Warren who died back at Shea was a clone. Jackal hints that Peter Parker is actually the clone, and Ben is the original. This would later be confirmed by medical test administered by a man known as Seward Trainer, who we’ll learn more about shortly.

It was also revealed that before Jackal made the guy that Spidey fought at Shea Stadium, he created another clone named Kaine. Kaine was flawed and suffered from clone degeneration. Thus, he would develop scars all over his face, although his powers would become even greater than those of Parker of Rielly. He would be even stronger than either of the spider-men, his agility was amplified, and his spider-sense allowed him to see into the future for brief glimpses of time. He also wielded the “Mark of Kaine” which left his hand imprint on anything, or anyone, that he used it on. Ben Rielly went on the run, and met a man known as Seward Trainer, who helped him gain a new identity so he could find work. He had ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, Kaine had also tailed Ben to Salt Lake, eager to make his life hell (you see, Kaine wanted to give Peter Parker the life that he and Ben could never had). He did this by framing Ben for several murders and seemingly killing Ben’s lover Elizabeth Tynne (it would later be revealed that she was alive and her death was faked).

Ben had made his way back to New York (with Kaine following closely behind) after learning of Aunt May’s illness. After her death, Peter is arrested for the murders in Utah (which were committed by Kaine), and Ben (who had put on a gray sweatshirt and took up the name Scarlet Spider) agreed to take his place in jail while Peter attempted to clear his name. A third Spider-Clone by the name of Spidercide makes his debut, claiming that both Peter and Ben are clones. After he is killed in battle between Peter, Ben, and Kaine, he is bought back by a mystical entity known as the Scrier and given the ability to change his form. In the midst of all this, some another mystical guy named Judas Traveler gets caught up in things. It’s all screwy because we don’t know the motivations and abilities of either power, and they both show up deus-ex-machina. Towards the end of the clone saga, it would be revealed that Judas Traveller was just a criminal psychologist who had a breakdown that activated his mutant power of altering people’s perception, and that the Scrier wasn’t one person, but rather a cult of people which was controlled by Norman Osborn. Anyway, Jackal’s latest scheme, detailed in the Maximum Clonage crossover, involves killing off all humanity with the intent to replace them with clones. The Spider-men stop him, but not before Kaine and Spidercide seemingly kill each other. Peter decides to retire from being Spider-man in order to take care of Mary Jane and their unborn child, leaving Ben to take over the mantle of Spider-man.

But not before Marvel decided to do a special event. For four months, all the Spider-man books are replaced with Scarlet Spider books. Thus Spider-man became Scarlet Spider, Amazing Spider-man becomes Amazing Scarlet Spider, Spectacular Spider-man becomes Spectacular Scarlet Spider, and Web of Spider-man is replaced by Web of Scarlet Spider. Some of you may recall that this is similar to the Age of Apocalypse event that went down in the X-men books. While AOA was well planned and conceived, you can tell that Scarlet Spider event was thrown together. It didn’t make much sense either. Peter Parker already gave up being Spider-man and gave Ben the okay to take the Spider-man identity, so why would Ben take one last stint as the Scarlet Spider? Also, the storyline centered around someone using a Scarlet Spider robot to frame Scarlet, and this is the basis that Ben uses to become Spider-man. So what happens when Mysterio frames Spider-man for something or a Skrull impersonates him? Would Ben have gone back to being Scarlet?

Anyway, Ben makes himself a new costume and battles against a host of old and new enemies. He dies his hair blond, and gets a job at a coffee shop. Over the next few years, he battles against several of Spider-man’s enemies such as Venom and Mysterio, and even dates Jessica Carradine the daughter of the burglar who killed uncle Ben. Peter Parker however is suffering from a mysterious illness which appears to be taking away his powers. However, after a near-death experience, his powers are restored, just in time to team up with his ‘brother’ against Onslaught’s sentinels. After that, Ben Rielly’s life is being systematically destroyed, as his bank account is frozen, his apartment is ransacked, and he is framed for several acts of arson against his former employers. It is then revealed that Hobgoblin is behind these attacks, and that he had been ordered to do so. It is then revealed that Norman Osborn was behind the whole thing He survived that fateful encounter years back due to a healing factor in the goblin formula. What’s more, he had blackmailed Seward Trainer into falsifying the tests, and thus Ben was the clone while Peter was the real one. A waitress named Allison Mongraine slipped a drug to Mary Jane which caused her to go into induced labor, causing her baby to be stillborn (it was suspected that the baby was actually kidnapped by Mongraine, as she is seen receiving a mysterious package). Ben dies when he is impaled by Osborn’s goblin glider and then dissolves into ashes shortly after he dies.

After Ben’s death, the clone saga is referenced a few times. The package that Mongraine received (that everyone thought was the spider-baby) actually turns out to be a relic required for the Gathering of Five Ceremony (less said about it, the better). More recently, during the Brand New Day era of Spidey, a man named Raptor comes after Peter Parker believing that Ben Rielly was responsible for the death of his family. Kaine also made a few reappearances as well. He was killed during the Grim Hunt storyarc only to be bought back as Tarantula at the end of the story. The fate of Peter and Mary’s baby was expanded upon in What-If 105, where the child grew up and inherited her father’s powers. Donning Ben’s Spider-man suit (modified for a woman obviously), May Parker became the Spectacular Spider-girl. Writer Tom Defalco used this to launch a series, and the book developed such a following that it was saved from cancellation several times. The book eventually did meet its end in 2008 sadly. In late 2009, writers Tom Defalco and Howard Mackie launched “The Clone Saga”, a 6-issue miniseries which depicted the clone saga as how they originally intended it. Although it added little to the actually story, at least this one had a happy ending as Peter and Mary Jane’s baby was returned to them, Aunt May survived her illness and was left alive and well, Ben continued being Spider-man, and Norman Osborn (revealed to be a clone) decided to end the cycle of hatred between him and Parker.

There is also an ultimate version of the Clone Saga, although thankfully it was just a six issue storyarc and was nowhere near as convoluted as the mainstream story. Ben Rielly (who is an African-American researcher and NOT a clone of Peter Parker) created a clone of Peter Parker using samples of both Peter’s and Curt Connor’s (The Lizard) DNA, along with traces of the Venom suit. This clone became known as Carnage. Miles Warren was introduced as a Harry Osborn’s therapist who was hired by Norman to remove any memories Harry had about the Green Goblin. During the arc, several other clones were created as well, among them a female Spider-woman known as Jessica Drew, a disfigured Peter Parker known as Kaine, a Six-Armed Spider-man known as Tarantula, and Ultimate Scorpion, who was revealed to be a 95 percent match of Peter Parker’s DNA. I won’t go through the whole thing, but the trade paperback is available pretty much anywhere you buy comics.

In the beginning, the Clone Saga seemed like a risky proposition that could payoff if it was handled right. Sadly, it wasn’t, and the writers and editors at Marvel kept digging themselves into a whole until there was simply no other way it could end well. These days, there are two different trains of thought that emerge when one thinks about the clone saga. There are those who saw it as a mockery of years of Spider-man history, and then there are others who enjoyed it, who miss the characters and concepts that it introduced, and want to see Ben return in some form. I think the introduction of the Clone Saga miniseries said it best and I Paraphrase: If there is one thing everyone can agree upon, it’s that the whole storyline lasted a lot longer than it should have.