Amazing Spider-man 399: Where do you find green jackals normally?

Credits: Written by J M DeMatteis, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Larry Mahlstedt and edited by Danny Fingeroth.

Cast:  Ben ‘Scarlet Spider’ Reilly, Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker, Kaine, Scrier, Jack, Guardian & Doctor Miles ‘The Jackal’ Warren.

Plot: Smoke & Mirrors part 2 – Resurrection opens where it left off with Ben Reilly unconscious 100 miles from home. He it watched by Kaine who is disturbed by Scrier who questions Kaine’s need to keep harassing Ben. Kaine leaves and Peter arrives. He wakes up Ben and the two verbally spar until Jack shows up and leads the two of them to a door, standing alone in the countryside. Both Spiders use their left hands to open the door and it somehow leads them to an impossibly long corridor which leads to some kind of hi-tech lab. Jack informs them it belongs to the Jackal, who Jack claims is still alive.

Before we get any evidence of this, Guardian shows up again, this time screaming in pain, which he is begging to stop. He collapses and dies in Jack’s arms. Jack then reveals that both he and the Guardian are both clones of Peter Parker and will all die of the degenerative disease that comes from the cloning process. A voice from the lab tells them all that isn’t true. That early prototypes do suffer degeneration, but the two spiders are success stories of the Jackal. The voice indeed belongs to the Jackal, who emerges from a hi-tech pod, naked and covered in some unnamed fluid.

He looks different, this isn’t the middle aged 70’s-tache sporting man in a green spandex Jackal costume (yeah green, like how jackals aren’t) but a more formidable looking man with thick green hair, sharpened teeth, elongated canines and light green fur over his entire body. This new and improved Jackal is dressed by Jack and then attacks Peter and Ben.

He then goes full on villain monologue. He explains how both Spiders are clones of Peter Parker. The shock of this news drives Ben and Peter to blows and the argument around it includes Peter revealing he is an expectant father. Just as they are on the very edge, Jackals opens another pod and out walks a naked Gwen Stacy. According to the Jackal, not a clone, but the real Gwen Stacy.

Notes: There are two ways to view stories like this. One is to enjoy the twisty weirdness and go with it and the other is too see the whole thing as the ridiculous mess it is.

I have read this a few times over the last week and I still honestly don’t know which way is right.

Part 2 of 3 is always a tricky proposition. Part 1 gives you the set up, part 3 gives you a hopefully satisfying payoff and so part 2 if not done right becomes something of the middle child as well as the middle part of the story. But this doesn’t fall into that category. With so much of part 1 being just getting Ben and Peter to the door, there’s still a lot of setting up of things to do, so part 2 does a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard. And as far as I can tell, it does it well.

There’s no getting around the fact that everything people hate about the Clone Saga in particular and this kind of event in general are here for all to see. It fetishises it’s own continuity and can be pretty damn impenetrable to a new reader. It also depends too much on last minute twists and everything you know is wrong revelations.

But the thing is that I am nostalgic for this era, I was the newer reader at the time. I did like the Scarlet Spider and a lot of the stuff that came with it, so I did enjoy this. The Jackal coming back as a moustache twirling villain, replete with arch dialogue and monologuing makes no sense at all but you just sort of go with it. 

So apart from the ridiculous soap opera tone, does it work? Yes, playing with Peter and Ben’s concept of reality and watching it come between the two is handled very well here. Seeing Guardian die and Jack telling them that all of the clones suffer this same fate adds some stakes to all of this, cranking up the tension. Peter flipping out as he is only just now putting his life back together, makes sense as his very sense of self is so very tenuous. Dropping this live grenade into their lives opens up all sorts of possibilities both for the characters and for the writers to take this story in different directions. Peter and Ben are locked onto an emotional rollercoaster, lurching this way and that and then Gwen f****ng Stacy shows up at the end and through all of this the Jackal is having the time of his life. What happens next? I remember reading this when it originally came out and you never know what crazy stuff was coming next. 

Verdict

Writing 4 out of 5: J.M. DeMatteis excels at the psychological elements of Spider-Man’s life. So he has a lot to play with. Here he gets to play with ideas of identity and memory. Together with the domino effect of revelation and revelation we get our minds messed with as much as the characters themselves. A lesser writer would have messed this up and to be honest, during this era, some of them did but Matteis does well. The dialogue is also fun, this version of the Jackal has almost completely left Miles Warren behind and has jumped head first into being a villain. He’s not driven by revenge or tortured by what he has done, no, he’s jumped right onto the megalomaniacal train and disabled the brakes. He’s having fun and the dialogue gets that so very well across. As this issue stands, it looks like there’s a plan to this whole event.

Art 5 out of 5: If there is a list of influential creators on Spider-Man you have to start with Ditko, Romita and you can very much include McFarlane there too, but after that list are those that took those influences and run with them. Bagley is one of those. He takes the character design and gangly proportions of Ditko, the glossy sheen and storytelling that Romita added as well as McFarlane’s expressive qualities and you get Bagley, one of the best all around pencillers of Spider-Man. He did it all and the pages look beautiful. He was the artist who’s parts of the stories you looked forward too and this was no exception. If the Jackal emerged in any other part of this story, it wouldn’t be anywhere near this powerful a moment. Everything looks great from the action to the designs (despite how 90’s they were) and the colouring is also bright and well lit giving the whole thing a slickness and mass appeal that a flagship comic series needed to have. 

Overall 9 out of 10: From seeing both Spiders’ points of view, to the game changing revelations and the cool art. This was a great issue of this era. I genuinely didn’t expect to enjoy it so much and I guess after writing this, I realise that I did just go with it. Not all of the stories are this good and there’s some ropey stuff coming, but honestly this has got me back into the Clone Saga in a big way and I am looking forward to whatever comes next.

Next Time: That will have to wait as we go back to the Age of Apocalypse and see what the bad guys have been up to in Factor-X

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