Superheroes never have an easy life, and that's particularly true of Peter Parker. Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #1 is the start of Dan Slott's latest #SpiderMan event, and it promises to be a tragic one!
Revisiting a Tragedy
The death of Gwen Stacy is the stuff of comic book legend. In Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, Marvel subverted all the tropes of superhero comics; Peter Parker's girlfriend was kidnapped by the Green Goblin, and, in a tragic twist, he failed to save her. In fact, his very attempt to save her was what caused her death — as she fell, he launched a web-line to snag her body. Sickeningly, at the moment the web caught her, readers saw a sound-effect too quiet for Spider-Man to hear.
The clear implication was that the webline caught her, arresting her fall with such suddenness that poor Gwen's neck was broken. For all his great power, Spider-Man had not only failed to save the love of his life; his effort to save her had in fact been the cause of her death.
That moment redefined Spider-Man, and is seen as a landmark in comic book history. It was the moment when comics grew up, and began to take on the real world. It's revisited to devastating effect in Dead No More, in a second story that frankly has more impact than anything I've read in a long while.
The central conceit of the "Dead No More" event is that an old Spider-Man foe, the Jackal, is up to his old tricks — cloning Spider-Man's friends and foes alike. But these clones are different; their memories and experiences continue on from those of the originals. Has the Jackal somehow learned to incorporate the souls of the dead into his clones?
Whatever the case may be, The Night I Died revisits Gwen Stacy's death from her point of view. It's heart-wrenching, because we see Gwen's thoughts as she overhears the confrontation between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. As she learns that Spider-Man is in fact Peter Parker. Dan Slott once again shows his knowledge of Spider-Man lore, digging deep into Gwen's experiences of Spider-Man to give her a devastating emotional reaction. For Spider-Man fans, this second story is like a punch in the gut.
The simple truth is that Dead No More is easily #ComicOfTheWeek just for this second story. Dan Slott intends to take us on a rollercoaster ride through Spider-Man's history, and he's started by hitting all the emotional buttons.
The Main Story
The main plot of Dead No More is just as emotive. We've just witnessed the death of Jay Jameson, the man who actually married Peter's Aunt May. In a deeply emotional plot, Peter chose not to allow him to be saved: he suspected that the technology being used was dangerous. Now, as he comforts his aunt, Peter wonders if he's done the right thing. This investigation soon makes him confront the reality that whatever's going on involves cloning, and from there it's no leap to deduce the Jackal's involvement. Before long, though, he's learning just how bad things have gotten...
The plot begins as a slow-burn, rooting this event in the ongoing arc Dan Slott's been working on over in Amazing Spider-Man. It speeds up when Spider-Man investigates, and is soon brought face-to-face with the resurrected Gwen Stacy.
Long-time readers will approach this comic with a sense of caution. In the 1990s, the infamous "Clone Saga" — which featured the Jackal, and involved a lot of Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy clones — got out of control; it dominated the Spider-Man line for nearly five years. As a result, until Dan Slott, most Spider-Man writers had desperately tried to avoid clones. For Slott, this is actually the second time he's revisited ideas from the "Clone Saga" — you've gotta hand it to them, the guy's got guts!
Jim Cheung's artwork is as beautiful as ever, with John Dell as inker and Justin Ponsor as colorist. Together they create a beautiful, vibrant first issue that truly conveys the emotion of the story. The strange use of perspective in the opening scene is somehow terribly, devastatingly effective, and a flashback reminds us of just how many people Peter Parker has lost over the years. The use of darkness and shadow when Spider-Man breaks into the Jackal's labs is superb, dovetailing perfectly with the emotional place Peter is in at that time. The team is firing on all cylinders.
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I don't mind admitting that I wasn't sure what to expect from Dead No More; another "Clone Saga"? I should have relaxed; Dan Slott has earned my trust. This story is no "Clone Saga"; it promises to be an intense and emotional ride, one that faces Spider-Man with the reality of human mortality in a way that's never been done before. For a character shaped by death - who became a superhero after the death of his Uncle Ben — this could be one of the most important Spider-Man stories in years.
Are you excited for "Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy"?
All images: Marvel Comics