Spider-Clones are bioengineered copies from Peter Parker who share his same genetic code. Designed by Professor Miles Warren and funded by the Brotherhood of Scrier – a secret society that seeks world domination.

From a violent mental collapse triggered by the death of Gwen Stacy, Warren dons the identity of The Jackal to seek revenge on Spider-Man.

A clone from Gwen Stacy was made, conditioned to believe she was the real one. The first clone from Peter Parker was a failure, due to his cellular degeneration; not only his body was affected, but also his mind. Warren rejects him immediately, sending him off to the world. This flawed Spider-clone names himself as Kaine.

The second Spider-clone was made to believe he was the real Spider-Man. He and the original engaged in battle.  A time bomb goes off, and the clone takes most of explosion. Believing he is dead, the original Peter Parker disposes of the clone by throwing his body down in a smokestack with hopes to be burned into ashes.

The clone survives.

The year is 1975 and with the 149th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru unknowingly create a future storyline that would make Spider-History twenty years later, and mark the character’s continuity forever: it was called The Clone Saga – the ultimate superhero identity crisis story.

But that was the nineties, and the Spider-Man editorial group, eager to replicate the success from Maximum Carnage across all the published Spider-titles at the time (also inspired by the X-titles) carved deep into the character’s history with one single question in mind: What makes a person? His identity or his actions?
The first Spider-Clones would provide the answer in Peter Parker’s world; consuming his life and nearly driving him (and his loyal readership) insane.

This question alone begs a reexamination of the superhero comics landscape at the time.
Thanks to Frank Miller and Alan Moore, DC Comics presented a new approach to tell superheroes’ tales by the end of the preceding decade: in their universe, they see evil incarnated in many forms. This experience takes its toll, if one add up the fact the real world itself was becoming a place more difficult to understand. Hence the sadness, the upheaval of visual violence through media and entertainment, depicting pessimistic, brooding and darker characters. In comic books, these characteristics should belong to Batman alone and the villain demographic in Gotham City. However, his psychological profile was depicted with such depth and sensibility that young readers felt more mature by reading his intimate thoughts – along with some lines from Rorschach‘s Journal. These readers wanted to learn more about superhero psychology, and the market was ready to supply: this trend would permeate an entire decade of superhero comics filled with dark perspectives of their own reality and job occupation. The Dark Age of Comics was there to stay and not even the most human of superheroes would be left immune to it.

If the Clone Saga’s goal during the nineties was to present a philosophical and psychological perspective into Peter Parker’s thoughts, identity and actions, it didn’t fail to deliver either. In fact so much, that his own identity crisis was taken to a whole new level. Not even his vast experience as hero could make him stand his mental ground and deal with what was happening in his life. This saga was in full gear and Spider-readers were hungry for more. Gone were the days of the friendly neighborhood attitude and his jokes.
There was a price to be paid, though. In order to achieve this brooding maturity readers were eager for, the character had to deviate from the friendly neighborhood persona he used to be. Spider-Man vol.1 #50 by Howard Mackie, Tom Lyle & Scott Hanna not only shows but proves in one single panel how far off track the character of Peter Parker was – losing the grip of his mind -, and the length of absurdity that the Clone Saga was reaching for:

One can only wonder how the 21st century digital fandom would react upon seeing this. Probably, the Clone Saga wouldn’t last as long as it did in the age of social media; the backlash would be tremendous. Because simply put, that is not Peter Parker, although it’s really him and not a clone.
That was the trend at the time: readers wanted brooding behavior and psychological darkness. The closest any other superhero thought and acted like Batman on a bad day, the better. Image comics spearheaded the trend with excellence, depicting how cynicism and no holds-barred actions were justifiable in a more violent world. Evil shall with evil be expelled. As result, Anti-heroes became all the rage in the market, with Sin City by Frank Miller and Spawn by Todd McFarlane teaching new rules. And if the hole made of rage was to deep to come out from, the solution would be reinvent the characters.

DC Comics, in response, killed Superman and replaced him John Henry Irons as Steel and Conner Kent as Superboy – a younger clone from Superman sporting a leather jacket. Superman would even wield guns and pouches full of ammunition when he returned; Hal Jordan went too deep in his angst as a collateral damage from Superman’s return and was replaced by Kyle Rayner; Aquaman lost his hand, grew a beard and changed to a bad-ass attitude; Bruce Wayne was broken mentally (overstressed) and physically, leading to Jean-Paul Valley to become a new and more violent Batman.
Meanwhile at Marvel, Iron Man went full-crazy villain and the Avengers had to go back in time and replace him with a younger version of Tony Stark (yes, there’s a precedent); James Rhodes became the hardcore version of Iron Man – the War Machine; Eric Masterson was the new Thor as Thunderstrike (also with a jacket); Daredevil donned a combat armor and got rid of the Matthew Murdock identity; Jack Monroe, The Nomad, changed his flashy blue and yellow uniform and throwing stun discs for a longer hair, sunglasses, black kevlar jacket, a motorcycle and a sawed-off shotgun.

Whereas Ben Reilly, the Spider-clone left out for dead, brooding and resentful of his own existence and still imbued with power and responsibility, replaced Spider-Man as a response of this trend: becoming the Scarlet Spider.
And since a jacket would be impractical for a wall crawler, a hoodie did the job.

The mutant population reacted accordingly against all the prejudice they had to endure. The New Mutants for instance, had to be taught by a soldier from the future because Charles Xavier‘s coexistence philosophy could no longer be applied to these times; they became an X-Force. As if it that was not enough, the X-books showed how the world would be without Xavier with The Age of Apocalypse, beginning and ending the saga with special editions: Alpha and Omega – featuring chrome covers, also a gimmick at the time. The Spider-Man editorial group, seeking to replicate such success while undergoing the Clone Saga, publishes Maximum Clonage – Alpha and Omega – the  beginning and end of the saga, respectively, with the main story in between happening in Spider-Man’s core titles. Another attempt to repeat the commercial success of a multi-part event as it had been done with Maximum Carnage.
In fact, such strategy was also a constant trend from the Marvel and DC during the nineties to garner more readers: every major character like Batman, Superman and The X-Men had major events being divided into parts across their core titles. Age of Apocalypse, the Death of Superman, No Man’s Land, Onslaught – besides being the dawn of event fatigue, it erased the individuality and direction from each title; the Spider-ones, for example, had to come together and serve and the storyline, leaving the reader with no other choice but to purchase them all.

Retrocontinuity still remains as the main ingredient used to develop longer and deeper storylines for any Super-Hero character: Chris Claremont and John Byrne through the Days of Future Past storyline paved the way to Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell use the vastness of mutant characters to explore and redefine the X-Men timeline  (Here’s looking at you, Cable); Frank Miller created the Ninja-Assassin Elektra Natchios by inserting her into Matthew Murdock‘s teenage years. Jeph Loeb with Tim Sale romanticized the technique with any story from Marvel and DC they’d lay their hands on. Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting used the Civil War storyline to replicate the nineties’ trend wisely, crafting the return of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, causing the death of Captain America, with Bucky assuming the hero’s mantle and the return of Steve Rogers in his full glory.

As for Spider-Man, the ASM#149-151 (oct-dec 1975) issues were not the only stories used as a retrocontinuity plot to develop the Clone Saga storyline; ASM annual #5 (November 1968) – by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Mike Esposito provided an important and touching tale about how Peter Parker only as Spider-Man could uncover the parents was also used as a great retroactive story in The Untold Tales of Spider-Man / Flashback (July 1997) – by Roger Stern, John Romita Sr. and Al Milgrom. The UTSM title by Kurt Busiek, Pat Oliffe and others, provided exciting tales about the early years of Peter Parker. The short-lived monthly series complemented – without interfering – with the Ditko/Lee stories. A homage to their legacy; and probably one of the best Spider-Man comics produced in the last years of the 20th century.

While whithin the Clone Saga, the input of extra information in what happened between the ASM#149-151 issues seemed like a exercise of time travelling gimmick to create layer upon layer of elements and characters – a  maximum retrocontinuity. For instance: in issue #149, Miles Warren was not the original Jackal who perished in the explosion; in issue #151, this same Jackal clone replaces the unconscious (soon to be) Ben Reilly for another already dead Spider-clone. The past was constantly being reinvented,  events were told back and forth, thus stretching (not extending) the storyline to an unbearable limit.
As the sales numbers kept coming in, the receipt proved itself successful: more terrible secrets; more clones; more dark new villains; more dazed and confused Peter Parker. On the flipside, besides exhuming the worst existential answers as to what makes Spider-Man a superhero, the Clone Saga exemplifies the loss of (or lack thereof) editorial control against comic book trends and sales figures.

Peter David & Robert Greenberger, authors of THE SPIDER-MAN VAULT mention through Tom DeFalco‘s testimonial how it was conceived when he was Editor-in-Chief:

Danny Fingeroth was the group editor of the Spider-Man titles. Once or twice a year he invited all his writers and artists to New York for a few days. They would go off to a hotel and discuss all things Spider-related. Creators would pitch new storylines, figure out how to coordinate subplots, and show off their new supervillains. They would also brainstorm and try to come up with a big event. Events had become very popular with both the readers and the comic book retailers.
Danny found me in my office one night during the Spider-retreat and told me this guys had come up with a big event; he outlined the general idea of the Clone Saga – the Spider-Man clone from from Amazing Spider-Man #151 was still alive and the real Peter. I thought he was crazy. Danny was insistent. He convinced me to attend tomorrow’s retreat and talk directly to the guys.
I showed up and was surprised by the passion they showed me for the idea. Sal Buscema, a man who had penciled more Spider-Man stories than most people have even ever read, actually made a speech on the idea’s behalf. That, more than anything else, convinced me. Any idea that revved up my creators would have a similar effect on the readers. However, after the meeting, I met with Danny privately and informed him that the story would have three parts: Part One would introduce the clone (who eventually came to be known as Ben Reilly) and end with him being revealed as the real Peter Parker. Part Two would begin with Ben taking the role of Spider-Man as Peter and Mary Jane headed off for the ‘happily ever after’ and end with Ben getting into big trouble. Part Three would begin with Peter’s triumphant return to web-swinging so that he could save Ben, and it would end when Peter learned the tests had been rigged and he was the original all along.

DeFalco assumed that Ben would catch the readers’ fancy in such a way that he could be spun off into his own title. It would be an across-the-board win/win for everyone involved.
Then again, if anything has been proven in the course of Spider-Man’s eclectic history, it was that one could never count on everything going precisely as planned. During this period, a sales slump in the in the history (presaging the collapse of the speculator market) caused Marvel to cancel a number of titles. The only two titles that seemed immune to the drop were the X-Men titles and Spider-Man. According to DeFalco, newly installed Spider-Man editor Bob Budiansky was instructed to stretch out the story and add special events such as Maximum Clonage.
Eventually a new editor in chief, Bob Harras, was put in charge, and the Clone Saga continued… until it did so no longer. But first there were more issues, prolonging the series, because – according to DeFalco – new editor in chief Bob Harras wanted to complete another major crossover, Onslaught, before wrapping up the clone Saga. And since interest and sales remained high, there appeared to be no immediate impetus to put an end to it… except, again, when it was done.
In fact, it was done to extremes. As Marvel continued to consolidate its line, all spin-off titles were canceled, and even Ben Reilly was given the chop, a sizable downfall from his previous status as heir apparent to the name of Spider-Man.

Howard Mackie, on COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN – by Tom DeFalco, explains how it should have happened and why it happened the way it did:

“It was all Terry Kavanagh‘s fault. He suggested it, but claims we misheard him. He wasn’t saying Clone Saga, he was saying the Crone’s saga. He wanted it to be a story all about Aunt May. Anyway, a bunch of us were in a conference room – me, Marc DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, Danny Fingeroth, Sal Buscema, Alex Saviuk, Tom Lyle, Mark Bagley, Eric Fein and Mark Powers. A better group of people you could not come upon. We were sitting there dealing with the perenial problem of what to do next with a character that’s been around for thirty years. Somewhere along the line, somebody brought up the old Gerry Conway Clone story and that just developed into, ‘What if the real Peter Parker was not the Peter Parker we knew? What if it was the Clone who was the real Peter?’ All of a sudden, everybody who had been snoozing a little suddenly perked up and it just kind of snowballed. A whole bunch of adult men are suddenly acting like kids and shouting out ideas.
I want to be very clear on this; the story was originally planned to run only about six months, spread across the four books. How long did it actually last – two and a half, three years? The marketing and sales geniuses noted what we were doing and wanted us to stretch the whole story out. ‘Do more clones. Clones are great. We love clones.’ We no longer had a tight little story, and it was beginning to meander. Then sales went into the toilet generally and we also had a major editorial shake up (author’s note: Bob Harras had become the new E-i-C), and the new people were not big fans of clones. Suddenly clones were to blame for everything that was going wrong with Spider-Man, and the rest of the industry. Clones were now bad. We were told to come up with a final solution, and spent another year and a half trying to figure out how to fix the Clone Saga.”

Given the extensive damage caused in Peter’s life, the Jackal should have been included into the roster of Spider-Man’s greatest and most dangerous foes; he’s a creation from Gerry Conway and Ross Andru – both heavyweights in the webhead’s history. That alone should be reason enough to; but the saga spun out of control and he ended up being depicted like a cartoon villain with plans of world domination.
In order to save the storyline from total shame, it was later revealed that a ressurrected Norman Osborn was the man behind the curtain pulling all the strings – orchestrating the whole Spider-Clone saga. It was by his bidding that the Brotherhood of Scriers reached Miles Warren and supplied the means and funds for his cloning process.
His return takes place in the 75th issue of the adjectiveless Spider-Man title – the final chapter of the Revelations storyline, in which Norman’s speech becomes a lecture on how he concocted and tied all the loose ends of the Clone Saga to deliver the final blow into Peter Parker’s life: the kidnapping and disappearance of his first-born child with Mary Jane; a loose end definetly erased years later under Joe Quesada’s editorial mandate with One More Day.

Once again, retrocontinuity stretched to the limit.

Still, there were good stories. And amidst the storm, one special mini series stood out: Spider-Man: The Lost Years (1995).

Collecting seven back-up stories previously published throughout the core monthly titles (Amazing, Spectacular, Web and the adjectiveless title), issue #0 features these flashback (or retcon) stories in a more concise manner in order to compose a more structured timeline for the sake of the character: the clone who believed to be Spider-Man.
It was through these series written by John Marc DeMatteis, that the “what makes a person?” question in Spider-Man’s world would be properly answered. Still collecting acclaim from his psychological approach to characters superbly executed in the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline, only he could have provided the insightful perspective from the tragedy of what means to be a clone.

From issue #0, the tragedy starts ensues right from its cover: the first page of the back-up story from ASM#400, by John Romita Jr. and Romita Sr. (being the third time he would ink over his son’s work: first in ASM Annual#16 and the second in ASM#238 – exact 200 issues after his first ever art assignment in ASM#38). The art is impactful in its own right; instead of the usual action and movement depiction, this Spider-Man Clone is shown grounded on his knees, defeated by a harder truth.

The seven stories are divided in two parts:
The first shows how Miles Warren created the clone. Liam Sharp with Robin Riggs provide the art for the initial four chapters, which shows how a Miles Warren devoid of ethics, losing the battle over his own sanity and developing a bizarre god complex by abusing science and creating a clone of Peter Parker. He unleashes his hatred on him, for what he has failed to accomplish with Gwen Stacy’s life. The torture goes deeper when Warren shows him the clone of Gwen Stacy, and uses hypnosis to make him relieve all of Parker’s memories filled with guilt and failure. Even without knowing who and how he came to be, he’s called “Peter”. It’s a tale about physical, emotional and psychological abuse towards a child born into the body of a Spider-Man.
When the brainwashing and mental reprogramming process are complete, the Spider-Clone is thrown into the battle to confront the original, as previously shown in ASM#149.  After the battle and explosion at Shea Stadium, the Spider-Clone leaves the incinerating plant where he was thrown into. Still believing that he is the original, he webs his way back home, only to see the original Peter Parker  and Mary Jane holding each other. That vision triggers the shocking realization he is the clone; to a painful discovery.

Still trying to acknowledge the fact, and unsure of his own existence, he finds shelter in an alleyway, and mourns for himself.

The second part – The Parker Legacy – follows the tale. The Romitas take the art chores on the fifth and sixth chapters, leaving Al Milgrom to ink the last one. It shows how the Spider-Clone had to come to terms with his own existence: a man totally devoid of a personality, chained to Peter Parker’s soul; and that soul is nothing but a program.
Reluctance against his own self is a constant; and to make matters worse, any situation he’s in beckons the action from a Peter Parker inside an unwilling man to be a hero; he refuses it. How to escape the this legacy – the high moral standards of power and responsibility? It is terrible not knowing who you are and even more dreadful to accept the fact your consciousness lives inside the body of a man you are supposed to be. Therein comes a paradox of existence, stretched to the point that, the contemplation of suicide even seemed right; in his mind, he has all the reasons to.

Until he’s proven wrong by another man who thought so little of his own life, though as real and human as he could be.
And that teaches him an important lesson of how our personalities can be defined by our own actions. Within the lesson, a little Hope; from that, a feeling of gratitude for being alive and to live life in his own terms.
The issue ends mirroring its very numbering: after having decided to keep on living, the clone baptizes himself as Ben Reilly and starts a life of his own from zero, with his exile from both Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s world.

If Frank Miller’s Batman set the standard of how the character’s thoughts and emotions were expressed, DeMatteis did the same for Spider-Man like no other Spider-writer in the nineties could. And to accomplish such character depth, The Lost Years is stripped off from the clone saga supporting cast, like Judas Traveller, Scriers, Gaunt, Seward Trainer, even the Jackal himself; characters who were designed to make Peter Parker and his clones’ lives a living hell. This tale features just Kaine and Ben Reilly, before donning their costumes, in a thought provoking story about their existence and their clone connection.

Chronologically, five years passed since the events of ASM#149 until the reveal of his existence as Ben Reilly in Spectacular Spider-Man #216 (1994), when he returns to New York after his exile. The Lost Years limited series does not encompass all what happened during it – such as his trips to Singapore and Bombay; his sickness caused by influenza and meeting Seward Trainer; surving with fake identities and working credentials supplied by him going from one job to another -, but only a specific moment in time (no pun intended) during a stop in Salt Lake City.
What happened within this short timeframe changed his life forever and affected Peter’s – when he got arrested right after the death of a faux Aunt May in ASM#400. Yes – those were complicated years with intricated stories.

In the limited series, Ben is at his third year in exile, still chewing hard on the fact he was born a clone, riding his motorcycle from one city to another and occasionally lending a helping Spider-hand when necessary – as shown at a highway, rescuing a truck driver from an imminent crash. He resumes his way trying to forge a new life and move forward.
He’s headed to Salt Lake City; there, Kaine is already waiting for him and the story unfolds.

By conception, Kaine is one of the most intriguing characters in the Spiderverse. Howard Mackie envisioned him as the ‘anti-Peter Parker’ – incapable to access any memory or moral lesson from the original Parker genetic matrix. He is the Spider-man who should not have been. A flawed man created by science not by nature. His dark side; to some extent, the Bizarro version of Peter/Spider-Man. And yet, more powerful than he ever was. Kaine’s strength surpasses Peter’s in many levels; his Spider-Sense is much more enhanced – he has visions, precognitions of the future. His ability to stick to the walls goes beyond mere adhering; his touch burns.
Ben tries to live his life outside the Spider-Man legacy. Kaine is unable to do so. His mind is immersed in madness, as he lives with constant grief due to his physical condition – cellular degeneration – a body that refuses to function. He hunts Ben and believes he is the real Peter Parker, although by the flip of every page, he switches thoughts and emotions and doesn’t know whether to reveal this truth to Ben or make him suffer. He’s the only one who Kaine can somehow relate to. He knows they share a connection, but their purposes of living are far apart from one another.

Hence the importance of this thought-provoking miniseries: the depiction of different sides of Peter Parker, unbound from the Spider-Man burden: one who tries to become someone beyond the Parker Legacy, and the other who was forbidden to even have an existence that resembles Parker’s – perhaps therein lies one of Kaine’s motivations to keep chasing Ben and mentally torture him.
If Ben’s insights in Lost Years meant sadness and dissatisfaction with his own existence, Kaine’s were ten times worse. He hates his very existence and denies having a soul of his own. A heart drenched in hatred.

Once in Salt Lake City, both clones receive a lease in their lives. Ben meets Janine Godbe at a diner after getting a job at a university where she also studies. Kaine meets Louise Kennedy – a local detective and partner of the most honest cop in town, Jacob Raven – who paid the price for putting the city’s top gangster, Vincent Tannen, behind bars.
As payback, Tannen uses his corrupted allies to plant a bomb at Raven’s house. When it sets off, Ben hears it on his way to the first date with Janine; he manages to save Raven’s wife and son from the burning house, but his wife dies in the hospital. Jacob is kidnapped, as his son from the hospital. This sets off a whole chain of events. Ben, clad in green fabric to conceal his face, saves detective Raven from a worse fate.

As the story progresses, both Spider-Clones discover a small measure of peace in their new lovers’ arms. Even Kaine finds solace, admitting he became obsessed with Louise Kennedy the moment he met her, as she looked beyond Kaine’s appearance and fell in love with his heart.
Janine has secrets of her own, behaving apprehensively in Jacob Raven’s presence.
Focused in saving Raven’s son and bringing down Tannen’s criminal empire, Ben discovers that Louise is an accomplice of Tannen, being responsible for the tragedy of his family. Kaine’s heart becomes shattered as his degenerated body, for finding out the same truth while chasing Ben to the warehouse where Raven’s son is held hostage.
It was Louise who showed him a door to happiness – for at least one night. She was a cop, a law upholder; and to Kaine’s eyes that meant an extra bonus, for being someone who had justice and a higher moral code he could let into his shattered world. She meant hope. And her corruption ruined everything. Overtaken by rage, Kaine intervenes Ben’s attempt to save Raven’s son at a warehouse; Louise escapes with the boy and Tannen’s twin brother. Kaine nearly kills Ben in a fight.

The characters in The Lost Years are not only connected by the chain of events, but a chain of emotions: secrets, regrets, hatred for themselves with a desperate need of redemption. It’s a great exercise of dense character psychological profiling, without the exaggerated shallowness archetype given to some of Spider-Man supporting characters along the decades.
Each character details their thoughts through captions. But that doesn’t make their monologues less interesting. JMD makes you care about them. A fine example is Jacob Raven unveiling his disappointed with his God for losing his wife and believing his son is also gone:

It’s also through him that JMD delivers the defining line which describes human faith in modern society:

“God and The Law: they’re the only things we can depend on in a world of people aren’t always what they seem.”

Ironically, at a certain point of the story, Louise confesses her wish to have faith in something even more spiritual like her partner – more food for thought of how much we can’t possibly know everything about the ones who the closest to us.

When the story reaches its end, Ben manages to save Raven’s son and heads to Janine’s place the moment she decides to leave from Salt lake City. Broken and Beaten by Kaine, he tells her he loves her as she confesses that her real name is Elizabeth Tyne and a murderer on the run; hence her fear of Detective Raven.
She is a victim of parental sex abuse. When she could no longer take it, she acted in self-defense shooting her father. Ben reveals he’s a clone of Spider-Man and  proves accordingly. Bonded by their most intimate secrets, they decide to leave town together.
Kaine tracks down Kennedy and Tannen’s brother, Paul; Kaine kills him and asks Kennedy why she became a corrupted cop. To her, darkness always wins and that’s why she gave up on the light. After the answer, she walks away and meets Raven in his office , the moment he discovers that Janine Godbe is Elizabeth Tyne. Without a pause, he decides to arrest her. Kennedy follows. Without much detective work, they find Ben and Janine on their way out of town. Kennedy deduces Ben is the masked vigilante who brought down Tannen’s operation and tries to shoot him; Ben evades it and says to them that Janine is a good person and both cops should leave them alone. An unacceptable option for Kennedy and Raven. Ben rides with Janine on their motorcycle to the mountains; Kaine, fueled by rage of seeing Ben saving the day and still keeping the girl, ambushes them and another fight on a top of a hill begins. Kennedy arrives at the scene, and Raven doesn’t make it in enough time to the top and witness the following events:
Kaine breakes Louise Kennedy’s neck, holds her gun and leaves the Mark of Kaine on her face. Raven arrives at the top and Kaine flees before being noticed by him. Raven assumes Ben is the culprit; only to be rendered unconscious by the vigilante with the proportioned speed of a spider.

Epilogue: Kaine laments over Kennedy’s grave; Raven and his son are safe together; a bearded Ben and  a happy Janine ride into the sunset.
The aftermath events of this storyline are told in ASM#400, with the Trial of Peter Parker storyline, in which Peter is sent to prison for the murder of detective Louise Kennedy. His fingertips were found in her weapon. But that’s a different story.

The Peter Parker genetic code is also programmed to fall for redheads.

For this third and final act, if the events seem rushed as they are described, it’s because they probably  are the story’s major flaw. The characters and plot were very well presented, but it’s anyone’s guess if The Lost Years could have had four published chapters instead of three. That generated some plot holes, like Raven’s immediate remembrance of Janine and the willingness to arrest her; why Janine convinced Ben decides to take the mountain slopes; how Kaine tracked them down and made it to the top of that specific hill so fast. But these are script technicalities under a deeper scrutinization.
Though most of the characters are tense and dark, their development overweighs the tone of the story. They are not meant to be brooding dark type of character that permeated most of comic books in the nineties, but flawed ones that any reader could easily imagine, or even relate to, to a certain degree. And in that category, DeMatteis once again delivers the goods for each of the character’s psychological profiling. He is one of the best writers Spider-Man had the privilege of having in his titles. And for that, he deserves high appraisal.

The storyline doesn’t contain hectic action, as opposed to what was happening in the core Spider-titles. Nevertheless, it shows the immense talent from John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson – one of the best artistic duos in the (superhero) comic book history. Their cinematic camera placement with dramatic inking depth are examples of flawless storytelling. JRJr inherited from his father the ability to depict visual drama from the years when he used to draw romance comics.
In the beginning of every chapter of The Lost Years, heavy rain is a recurring element to set the visual atmosphere of the story. No other artist in the medium can excel in drawing rain like him; no one.

If the Clone Saga had worked as originally planned, The Lost Years could have been the series that Ben Reilly deserved; the spider-fandom would have the opportunity to see how a different version of Peter Parker would learn to live and fight without the uniform that represents everything he was trying not to be. In a sense, the proto version of Old Man Parker.
The Lost Years also offers a glimpse of Peter Parker’s future through Ben’s career choice: a teacher. Just like J.M. Straczynski’s mature version of the character when he became its writer. The version of an older and wiser Peter Parker.
Had the original idea and overall storyline been treated with proper care, it could have been one of the character’s highlights; distinguishing itself from many other attempts to revamp and modernize most of the superheroes with a harsher attitude and leather jackets.

Another merit for The Lost Years as an isolated and contained story in the big scheme of things that happened during the Clone Saga, lies in its analogy with Blade Runner – due to its depiction and philosophical questioning of artificial humans living among us.
Clones and Replicants, albeit not considered as humans in the strict sense of the word and by definition of their own creators, they seek humanity within themselves; trying to overcome their very design and purpose of being through their actions. How their creators see themselves. The most intimate and dire consequences are shown through both works, and the similarities in context are unavoidable. In hindsight, the whole clone concept, just like the replicants in Blade Runner (and Philip K. Dick’s original story that inspired the film), The Lost Years provided the best existential insights from Peter Parker as to what means to be human and a superhero – even if two non-human divergent sides of himself were the only ones to explain how, and tell such story.


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(2) Comments

  1. hornacek

    This was a good read, but in my opinion, too long. It could have easily been broken up into 2-3 separate articles.

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