Archive Panic: Taking into account the number of issues, miniseries, and one-shots that make up the Clone Saga, it'd take you some time to catch up on the series in its entirety. Indeed, Linkara once lifted up all seven omnibuses for the Clone Saga and has pointed out that, even with him bouncing around storylines, he'll never actually run out of stories to talk about.
In the case of the First Clone Saga, Gerry Conway who was worried that his over-the-top story about clones and Jackal were a little too quirky for Spider-Man, later wrote in The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8 during the crossover event "The Evolutionary War" that Miles Warren never actually cloned anyone. What the Jackal did was create a drug and experimented on a woman who had some of Gwen Stacy's attributes, with his cocktail altering her to genetically resemble Gwen. In other words, Jackal never actually cloned anyone, what he did was mutate subjects into clones. Conway saw this as a way to handwave how exactly the Jackal, a lowly college professor at ESU, was able to make a breakthrough in human cloning (he didn't), clarify and explain away the fate of the missing Gwen clone, and once and for all put to rest the idea of Spider-Man being any kind of clone. note Years later, this too was retconned to "Jackal actually did create legit clones, and all the stuff that said he didn't was made up by the High Evolutionary, whom Warren had worked with in his earlier years, to discredit him because some of his beast men were viewing him as a god-like figure and he didn't want that." Glenn Greenberg, who wrote the "Life of Reilly", expressed frustration at Conway for, as he put it, going "to great lengths to undo his own stories", plainly ignoring the memo that Conway felt that clones and the Jackal were both bad ideas beyond one-and-done stories.
A few were built into the story, but they were never used properly as the collection of writers and editors battled for turf. A lot of ideas were bandied around and it's debatable if any of this would have truly worked in any capacity:
Seward Trainer, the geneticist who claims that Peter is the clone, was mentioned as having past history with the Jackal; therefore, everything he says is unreliable. (Incredibly, Editorial vetoed this seemingly obvious exit route.)
Ben Reilly is revealed to be the clone and melts away. Mary Jane also disintegrates, revealing that the Jackal had replaced her with a clone long ago, and that Peter was never married to begin with.
Ben and Peter get caught in an explosion; one of them dies; the surviving one has amnesia and can't be certain if he's the fake or not. Repeating what they thought was the situation in 1974, except without the larger thematic point that ultimately won out there.
Predestination Paradox: Peter is sent back in time five years, loses his memory, and is led to believe that he's a clone, thus becoming Ben Reilly. Judas Traveler and Scrier (actually Mephisto) are revealed to be responsible for the loop, as part of a Cosmic Chess Game to see whether good or evil win out.
Peter and Ben are both clones. The real Peter Parker has been held in cryogenic captivity by the Jackal since the first Clone Saga ended.
Ben dies saving Peter's life at the hands of the Big Bad. Back in Portland, Mary Jane miscarries, blames Peter, files for divorce.
Base-Breaking Character: For some, Ben Reilly typifies '90s comics industry excess, while for others, he's a fascinating look into What Could Have Been: a new Spider-Man, with his own set of struggles and supporting characters.
Broken Base: Arguably the entire Saga, except you'll find very few people who thought the whole thing was good, and nowadays most agree that it had some good ideas, but they could have been done better.
Glenn Greenberg (editor/writer): I feel the need to point out that, despite popular belief, the Clone Saga significantly boosted sales on the Spider-Man books. At a time when the comics industry was starting to head downward, with sales dropping across the board on every title, the Spider-Man line was bucking the trend, with sales holding steady and even increasing each month. Of course, the downside to it was that everyone on the business side of Marvel was pushing us to keep the Clone Saga going for as long as possible, to milk it for all it was worth.
Dork Age: This is widely considered by most fans to be the start of a decay in Spider-Man's general quality that it never recovered from:
One of the things that may not be immediately apparent is that before the Clone Saga, Peter Parker was going through some changes in an attempt to make him Darker and Edgier. Among other things, he was abandoning his Peter Parker identity and calling himself "the Spider". It's likely that the initial interest in Ben Reilly was because at the time, he was more like Spider-Man than Peter Parker was. No wonder some thought Peter was the clone. Oh, and the event that caused this dark turn was another story that went on too long: the supposed return of Peter's parents (the trend was already in place). It has been alleged that the writers did this on purpose to make people accept Ben as the original and Peter the clone. Danny Fingeroth, the edtior/writer behind the "Peter's parents" story, said that he started that plot without any idea where to take it and spun wheels until the writers got tired of it. Which did set a pattern for the Clone Saga's worst practices.
The story also featured one for Lizard. Someone got the idea for Curt Connors to be stuck in mutated-Lizard form. No one—not even a lot of people involved in the Clone Saga—liked it, so near the end, it was revealed that Connors didn't mutate and the "mutated" Lizard got retconned into being an experiment that Connors did in an attempt to rid himself of the Lizard.
On an overall sense, in the scheme of Spider-Man's comics publication history, the Clone Saga undermined the integrity of the main continuity. While not all stories between 1962-1993 were good and not everything published during the Saga was bad, Spider-Man was a corner in Marvel where realism reigned. Characters who died stayed dead, stories and status-quo changes had consequences and moved organically from one era to the next. There was Character Development and growth, and there were never any large-scale continuity-destroying retcons. Not everyone necessarily liked these changes, or approved of the direction of the stories, but there was a sense that nobody would just undo something by saying something never happened and that new shifts would organically build on what existed. The Clone Saga absolutely destroyed those norms for good. The major point of the Clone Saga, was telling at least three or four generations that the Spider-Man they had read for 20 years based on a story only a few of them knew or remembered and even then in a form that has nothing to do with the original, didn't happen. Characters who were dead (Jackal) were revived in a way that was unrecognizable. The overall conspiracy and arcane clones of Peter went entirely against the kitchen sink/Small Steps Hero nature of Spider-Man's story. The one great story from the era (Issue #400, Aunt May's death) was retconned in an absurd way two years later that most fans saw as vandalizing a great story.
Ending Fatigue: One of the main strikes against the Clone Saga. It was supposed to last about six months, but dragged out for two years. The comics were selling well (a stark contrast to others at the time) and Executive Meddling forced them to drag it out. "The Trial of Peter Parker" storyline eventually reveals that Peter is the clone and Ben the original, leading into the six-part Maximum Clonage story. That story ends with the Jackal's death and his plans foiled... but the overall saga keeps going because neither Peter nor Ben can decide "who will wear the webs." Eventually, Peter and MJ get Put on a Bus, leaving Ben the sole spider hero in town... but he stays as the Scarlet Spider. Marvel decided to milk it by printing Scarlet Spider issues for a couple of months (basically taking a cue from Age of Apocalypse) before finally having him become Spider-Man (albeit in a modified costume). That would've been the end of it, but fans hated the reveal of Ben as the original and sales kept going down. So, Peter and MJ came back, a Spider-Man skeleton was discovered to create ambiguity about the results and a mysterious villain named Gaunt turned up. Things were going to be settled during "Blood Brothers" (another six-parter), but Onslaught was coming up and Marvel didn't want either story stepping on the other's toes. Some months down the line, the "Revelations" four-parter happened and finally put an end to things. Even people that feel the Clone Saga's reputation has been blown out of proportion admit it's longer than it needed to be.
Ensemble Dark Horse: The Scarlet Spider's Civvie Spandex hoodie costume is still well-liked today for its simple, yet cool design. Whenever there's a new Spider-Man game coming out, the outfit is usually on several fan costume wishlists.
Jack, who was intended to be the Plucky Comic Relief of the story, is also subject to attempts at humor that just feel forced and inappropriate.
Misblamed: Since the most well-known or rather proverbial and famous version of The Clone Saga is the one in The '90s, and it claimed that they were picking up a dangling thread from the story from The '70s, many blame the Kudzu Plot of the latter on the first saga and for its decision to pull an Ambiguous Clone Ending. The fact is as anyone who read the first story or re-reads it can tell you is that the original clone saga gave an ironclad reason why Peter was the real deal at the end and there was never any ambiguity intended by writer or perceived by the readers, and the entire premise of the second clone saga is a giant bizarre retcon and comical misreading to start with:
For one thing, the first clone saga was published in 1976, and for nearly twenty years in-between characters like the Jackal and so on were forgotten and buried, to a large extent it was a plot point entirely forgotten about by most comics fans and general readers until The '90s revived it. Gerry Conway's first clone saga began as a response to the backlash of Gwen Stacy's death and was commissioned by Stan Lee as a backdoor to potentially bring her back. Conway and Romita created the idea of a Gwen who returns being a clone as a compromise. If fans didn't like Peter and Mary Jane's romance, then this Gwen would have been made the real deal then and there. Since they did like it, Conway was able to spin a story that mostly served as a big Take That! to Gwen Stacy's posthumous fans. Since Conway wanted to develop Mary Jane and Peter as the love story of the series, he wrote the story as a Deconstruction of fans not being able to deal with death, fixating on Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest and otherwise liking Gwen just because she died (as Conway pointed out in interviews hardly anyone has a shred or clue how she really was like as a character when she was alive and largely fetishize her for her death) which he illustrated in the villain Jackal who was a stand-in for, to use a modern phrase, "salty Gwen fans" and painting their stand-in as a creepy necrophiliac professor.
The climax where the villain Jackal summons a clone of Spider-Man to fight the real Spider-Man illustrated this since the clone, like all of Jackal's clones are fixated on the past, on Gwen, and as such are incapable of true growth and change, and it was established that Miles built the clones after Gwen's death. The reason Peter knew he was the real deal was because since he had moved on and was now in love with Mary Jane, he can't be the clone otherwise he'd be stuck in the past. It was fundamentally an action-comic metaphor and plot point to illustrate the love story of Peter and Mary Jane, which also made a larger point about grief, toxic nostalgia, and thinking about the future and not the past. The second clone saga practically ignored this, and the entire role of Gwen's death in the motivation leading up to it, and it ended up proving, on account of the writer's motivations for going back to the days of "single Pete" the same mentality of toxic nostalgia that the first one was deconstructing. Conway found the unfurling of the second Clone Saga darkly comical and in fact saw it as a backhanded compliment and a pretty hilarious case of people missing the point:
Gerry Conway: "When I did find the gist of the story, that the previous ten years of Spider-Man stories didn't happen, I thought, this is a wonderful thing for a writer, because it means when I left the title, the book stopped."
Conway in The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8 did his best to bottle and tie up the loose ends of the first clone saga, insisting that the Jackal did not clone anyone, and that he was a lying hack scientist who tortured a poor woman, and that the so-called Spider-Man clone Peter fought was definitely not the real deal. He made it, as writer Glenn Greenberg complained, especially hard for the Second Clone Saga to get past out of his backdoors to undo the lingering loose ends of the First Clone saga which the writing team were insistent on reviving it.
Older Than They Think: For all the grief that the Clone Saga gets for being an executive and marketing driven stunt gone wild changed to later attempting to bring Spider-Man "back to basics", it's often forgotten that the so-called "first" clone saga written by Gerry Conway largely as a sequel to The Night Gwen Stacy Died was basically an executive mandated demand by Stan Lee to bring Gwen Back from the Dead and go "back to basics" not really a story that Conway wanted to write. He did so anyway, mostly to prove why Gwen can't come back, since the entire story showed why the clone as a Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest wasn't the true Gwen that Peter remembered but an embodiment of Peter's guilt and that his true feelings were for Mary Jane whose relationship helped him move past Gwennote And in the opinion of Conway, was far more real and meaningful than it ever was with Gwen. Conway pointed out that the first clone story was never intended to open a can of clones or really as a science-fiction story, it was a comic-book metaphor for dealing with grief, loss and moving onnote the denouement of the first Saga has Peter realizing that since he loves MJ, and that relationship happened after Gwen's death and him moving past it and experiencing Character Development, that meant he was the real deal as opposed to the clones who were fixated and stuck in the past which also motivated his refusal to check the results since he was going with his feelings.
Padding: See Executive Meddling. It led to complaints of Arc Fatigue, which was one of the bigger complaints of the Clone Saga. On the other hand, this was an unfortunate trend in the Spider-Man comics already.
Replacement Scrappy: Ben Reilly was generally well-liked in his Scarlet Spider days, but the moment he was declared the original Peter Parker, the fandom saw him as this. Things only got worse once he officially became Spider-Man. Crashing sales led to a reversal as quickly as possible.
Jack, the diminutive Peter Parker clone who dresses and acts like the Jackal, is also not well liked because, despite his being the designated comic relief, his antics feel forced and excessive - and, like Jackal, he seemingly never shuts up.
Seasonal Rot: Many feel that the saga started strong with an interesting hook, but a combination of Executive Meddling and the writers' inability to figure out a satisfying solution caused things to fall apart.
Take That, Scrappy!: Someone must've caught on that the audience didn't like Jack very much; in "Smoke & Mirrors," when Jack starts doing his usual antics, the Jackal backhands him across the room and shouts "You're annoying me!"
The death of Aunt May. Made less so when it was revealed she was a genetically-modified actor after the Clone Saga.
Ben Reilly gets impaled by the goblin glider saving Peter and falls several stories. Ben is still hanging on by the time Peter/Spider-Man is able to get to him.
Spider-Man: Ben! You've got to hang on. I'll get you to a hospital... Ben: Peter, come closer. I have things to say that we'd both rather keep from those looking on. From this day on... clone or not... you are Spider-Man. You have to carry on for me. Take care of my "niece," Peter... tell her about... her Uncle Ben. (dies) Spider-Man:No. No. No.
Wangst: Possibly justified, but a lot of it can also be considered bad writing. It would probably be more tolerable if the series was shorter and the angst moments weren't done to pad out issues.
What an Idiot!: Peter Parker is definitely at his stupidest here. He believes everything the Jackal says in Maximum Clonage, despite the fact the guy's already proven to be an utter liar.
Linkara:(after Peter thinks the Jackal may have been lying) Gee, I don't know, Peter. Maybe I should hit you with my CLUE STICK!
YMMV tropes associated with the Ultimate Clone Saga:
YMMV tropes associated with the 2009-2010 miniseries:
Angst? What Angst?: Peter writes off Jackal telling him hes a clone and Harry saying its not as the words of liars and lunatics and doesnt seem to worry too much about it. This is at least justified in Harry's case, since Harry immediately admitted he was lying to mess with them.
Author's Saving Throw: The entire point of the miniseries was to tell a more cohesive version of a three-year-long storyline that marked itself as theDork Age for the Spider-Man franchise.
Broken Base: Was the series an improvement on the original story that told the story as the original creators intended? Or is it ultimately still a lackluster story filled with Lying Creator moments due to behind-the-scenes commentary?