Started out good.
Five years ago Spider-Man had a clone of himself that was created by Miles Warren aka the Jackal. The two battled to save the life of Spider-Man's friend Ned Leeds. When the clone was killed in the battle, Spider-Man disposed of the remains when he attempted a cremation. The clone survived. Now, calling himself Ben Reilly, the clone travels the country in an attempt to make sense of a life that was never his to begin with. -summary
DC Comics struck gold back in the early 90's with two storylines that shook the comic book industry in an attempt to gain some momentum over its rival Marvel Comics; The Death of Superman and Knightfall. These storylines took two of their most lucrative properties and put them through the grinding machine, Superman and Batman respectively, by killing the former and sitting the latter in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down. The two stories were incredibly huge and DC enjoyed the profits. Marvel wanted a little bit of that too, and they found a way to compete with two storylines of their own, The Age of Apocalypse where the X-Men would have their moment, and Spider-Man: The Clone Saga where the wallcrawler's life would become far more jumbled than it has ever been before. Most serious fans know how this thing turned out and it seriously ruffled some feathers, so bad to the point some people stopped reading Spider-Man altogether. I will admit that the latter half of the saga... well... did some things; but there's no doubt during the beginning it was an interesting and cool story, which did debut one of the coolest characters ever in the Spider-Man universe in the form of the Scarlet Spider, hell, I know of some folks who preferred him over Spider-Man. In any case, written by Tom Defalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Mackie and others, this Trade paperback(TPB) collects the Amazing Spider-Man 394, Spectacular Spider-Man 217, Spider-Man 51-53, Spider-Man Unlimited 7, Web of Spider-Man 117-119, and Spider-Man the Lost Years 1-3.
This TPB opens up very well. The story begins with the clone being awaken from his chamber by Miles Warren, and the questions it ask itself begins almost immediately. There's a brief recap on the climax to the Original Clone Saga, and from there the clone leaves New York City heavily depressed with the knowledge that he's indeed the copy, and the memories, the power, the love he experienced, the life, doesn't even belong to him. This leads into the first chapter The Parker Legacy. The clone struggles hard with his origin where he predictably contemplates suicide, however, due to being a complete copy of Peter Parker possessing all his memories as well as upbringing, he finds the strength to move on and in the process comes up with his own name; he calls himself Ben Reilly by taking Uncle Ben's first name and Aunt May's maiden name, because of their constant preaching and love they showed to Peter making them the basis of his existence. Even though he attempts to live a normal life and do away with everything that makes Peter Parker in regards to power and responsibility, he finds himself giving in using his power for good anyway.
I can understand why Ben Reilly fans loved the character so much. He was indeed sympathetic with the most tragic of origins. From the very moment of his birth, the Jackal physically and verbally abused him, and the new life he found didn't come without its problems. To complicate his life even further, he was being constantly attacked by another Spider-Man clone calling himself Kaine. This particular clone was consumed by hatred and rage for Reilly, due to him being an imperfect copy and slowly deteriorating while Reilly was perfect. The following story Spider-Man the Lost Years would chronicle their feud. There's a very good blend of drama, romance, and action during the first two stories, and I was never bored while going through them. Reilly is of course very well developed, and Kaine makes a good antagonist also as he tries to find some type of peace himself but due to his failing health, he can only walk the path of violence.
Later on, Aunt May falls into a coma after a stroke, and Ben Reilly whom was keeping in contact with her rushes back to New York, and this begins to build up the inevitable encounter between him and the real Spider-Man, whom is just not himself and has succumb to a violent streak due to past events which are explained. This next leads them into the Power and Responsibility story arc and a confrontation with a very powerful man named Judas Traveller. Although his intentions aren't completely clear at first, Judas is built up into a very serious threat. He takes over Ravencroft Institution which houses the deadliest super villains such as the offspring of Venom named Carnage and his demented side-kick Shriek. He forces Spider-man into a battle with him and later draws Ben Reilly into the fight. This chapter is also pretty entertaining as we get a brief battle between the two Spidermen, and later on a cool team-up when they join forces. The final storyline The Exile Returns, immediately pits Ben Reilly now dubbed the Scarlet Spider, against Spider-Man's deadliest enemy Venom.
I still find the stories gripping after all this time, and I always thought it was a great move to give the Scarlet Spider time to develop and win fans over. He's clearly different from Spider-Man, and the reader will notice that as he tries to take down Venom viciously. He still possesses the same witty personality as his predecessor, but he knows when its necessary to become serious.
I always did enjoy early to mid 90's artwork, especially for most of the Spider-Man books and these stories look very good. One of the things that always stood out to me was the very cool design of the Scarlet Spider, whom sports a completely red Spider-Man outfit with a blue, cut off sleeve hoodie. The action panels are plenty and are very easy to follow with very good action. Now when taking in consideration that this is a crossover, you have to expect that the artwork will have its lows, and it does here, with some titles not looking as good as others.
I must mention that earlier in the book the dialog can be hard to follow. It takes a bit of time to get accustomed to the perspective changes between Reilly, Kaine, and a detective named Raven. This eventually becomes a small issue but its a pain at first.
Some of the only issues I can think of are the small clips of earlier stories building up the Clone Saga. New readers will get every last bit of info they need sure, but they would probably want to see what exactly drove Spider-Man mad, because I'm sure those events would sound very interesting. I think Marvel could have built up these TPB's better had they presented all the storylines leading up to this, such as The Return of Peter Parker's Parents, Life Theft, and Pursuit. This way the slicing and dicing could have been avoided. Knowledgeable fans wouldn't have any trouble at all flowing through this.
This first volume of Spider-Man: The Clone Saga is a solid batch of issues. The debut of the Scarlet Spider is worth the price of admission alone. I can't say he was a breath of fresh air from Parker because there was nothing wrong with him. Still, it was nice to see someone else swinging around in red and blue for a change. Recommended only to serious Spider-Man fans.
Pros: Character development, Easy to get through
Cons: Small issues with the formatting, not all the artwork is good