Reading up on the Platinum Studios disaster from DJ Coffman, creator of “Hero By Night” raised an interesting point near the end made by business expert Jack Walsh – it’s better to overcommunicate with investors and clients or your creative staff than it is to stay silent for months at a time.

The reason I bring it up is because it’s an important point not only on the basic level of investors and creators, but also between creator and audience. Recently, a creator I talked to at FallCon mentioned that it was discouraged by a company to talk to fans about a project they had hoped to do.

What sort of logic is that? If you get people interested in it, they might actually want to READ it and BUY it. This is why people read interviews that promote upcoming books. They WANT to get interested in something and want to see if there’s something they’d like to add to their pull lists. If you don’t say anything, then you don’t hear about it and it goes under the radar until the book is canceled. Why do you think I’m trying to promote Revolution of the Mask as often as possible?

But then again, that communication shouldn’t necessarily be BAD communication. During DC’s weekly series Countdown, after every issue there’d be an intereview with the editor for the book and it was a DISASTER. Newsarama would ask serious, logical questions and they’d be shot down with “just keep reading” or frat boy responses that were supposed to be funny but ended up looking like they just weren’t interested in making a good book.

It’s especially frustrating when we get mixed signals from companies. They purportedly claim that they don’t pay attention to the internet because it’s only a small percentage of the comic-reading population, yet it’s the fastest way of getting feedback. And while I personally don’t believe in political polling (1500 people somehow being reflective of 350,000,000?), it might be a good idea to see what a good sample of the reading populace buys, especially since they don’t get sales figures for the comics for awhile. The internet provides quick and direct feedback to a title, so why not utilize it to the best advantage?

Bottom line – communication with your audience is important, because it makes the reader feel like that the creator actually cares about their work and what the people who buy the work think.

Why I’m Still Mad

People wonder why some people are still mad about One More Day and all of that even after all this time. Here’s one reason:


I believe in happily ever after. And if there’s anyone who deserves it, it’s these two.

From Amazing Spider-Man #406.

Proving yet again why mad scientists should stop getting government grants.

For those just joining us, I direct you back to part one of this three-part review taking a look at a section of the Spider-Man Clone Saga!

Like the previous cover, we have fairly decent artwork. Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider are at opposite ends, which could’ve worked as a great visual metaphor of the two of them at odds if not for the fact that the cover is a little too busy. I mean, just look at it! I like detailed backgrounds as much as the next guy, but the random equipment and tubes and lines just hurts the reader’s concentration and focus. It’s made worse by the fact that there’s no free space on the cover. Of course you need the logo of the book and the barcode, but the Jackal (who apparently has taken to swimming around in butter during his twenty year absence) takes up a good chunk of the page and his reappearance doesn’t exactly composite well with the opposing Spider-Men. You add in some drab coloring and it makes what could’ve been a great cover look bad.

Considering this part of the storyline is also about how the Jackal apparently has been manipulating the both of them, you know what would’ve made a much better cover? The 1995 Fleer Spider-Man trading card depiction of this storyline:

Now that looks like a cover.

Anyway, when we last left off, Scarlet Spider had been knocked unconscious by the Guardian and Spider-Man had decided to go swinging around New York in the middle of winter wearing nothing to keep him warm save for his spandex jammies. We open to Scarlet Spider laying in the snow. Kaine suddenly shows up and… poses over his body. I’m not sure why he’s doing this, but he spreads his legs over Scarlet Spider’s torso and then bends over slightly as if to look down at him, but it looks really weird. If I were a lesser man, I’d probably make a toilet joke out of this. Instead, I’ll make the joke that he’s going to hump his face. That’s just how I roll.

Anyway, while Kaine looks over the body, a voice from off-panel informs him that Scarlet Spider’s “not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking.” As much as I love the Scarlet Spider, I wish he was – it’d probably save us from this whole thing. The voice reveals itself to be Scrier, another character who was introduced during the Clone Saga. Scrier was some mysterious albino who suffered from Youngblood’s Syndrome (no eyes) and would say and do cryptic things and he appeared to be all-powerful to everyone around him. I’ll spare you the pointless revelations about him, but allow me to explain what he’s doing here in the first place.

Another reason why the Clone Saga started in the first place was because Marvel wanted to duplicate the success it had had with its Age of Apocalypse storyline for the X-Men by doing something like that for Spider-Man. As such, we suddenly got mysterious new characters up the whazoo, including Scrier, Kaine, and Judas Traveler and his Host (a group of losers who followed Traveler around). Besides for Kaine, none of these characters made a lick of actual difference in the storyline, and having mysterious magic power people just doesn’t really fit in with Spider-Man’s universe (and alien symbiote costumes do? said the back of my puny human brain).

Scrier does what he always does – he makes some veiled threat against Kaine, who’s scared of the guy even though we don’t know what their relationship is supposed to be (jeez, just imagine picking this comic up for the first time and not knowing what the heck is going on). Scrier then vanishes back to wherever he goes whenever he’s not doing anything… or, wait, he never did anything while he was in the regular panels, so I guess he’s just as effective off the page as on. Kaine’s internal narration starts up: “My God! If he’s involved in this, then there’s even more going on than I realized!” Care to expand on that, Kaine, because the audience sure as hell hopes there’s more going on than we realize.

But no, Kaine hears someone approaching and so it’s “Time to fade back into the shadows…” And wow, Kaine makes about as much impact in the story as Scrier just did. Now that we’ve wasted four pages, how about we finally have story, eh, comic? Spider-Man arrives and, like Kaine, decides to spread his legs over Scarlet Spider’s head! What the hell is with these people?! Admittedly, the artwork makes it look better than it did with Kaine, and being Spider-Man I expect his stance to be more limber and all, but why does Mark Bagley keep drawing them doing this?!

Scarlet Spider wakes up and the two compare notes, realizing that they both got the same visions of Peter Parker floating in a tank. After trading some banter about their costumes, to the collective groan of the audience it seems the Mini-Jackal Jack has decided to make his return. “Listen to you two! So insecure and uncomfortable with each other that you’re reduced to trading juvenile insults!” Seriously, guys – web his mouth shut. You do it all the time to J. Jonah Jameson, so why not to Jack?! “Just wanted to let you both know that I know why you’re here — and I’m not telling!” Jack just insulted them about juvenile insults and now he’s reduced himself to the seven year-old who shouts, “Nyah, nyah, I’m not gonna teeeeell!” Did anyone proofread this thing?

Spider-Man sums up my own shock about the very concept behind Jack in one sentence: “A midget — in the Jackal’s costume?!” The two chase after him and Spider-Man analyzes in his head how he knew the clone had survived an earlier story arc and now he’s worried about what the flashbacks might mean. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace to have dialogue that actually serves a purpose, but at the same time jarring due to the overwhelming amount of suckage surrounding it. The two arrive at the door from the previous issue, but discover that it’s just standing in the middle of the snow without anywhere to go. Scarlet Spider has his own internal narration that also continues his own characterization. All right, maybe this comic won’t be as bad as I thought! Okay, they see two handprint scanners on the door and- oh, for crying out loud, they put their hands on the scanners, but they don’t take off their gloves. Well it’s certainly nice that the Jackal’s handprint scanners are so accurate they can read through cloth!

The door opens, revealing a hallway behind it… as well as Jack. “Two for dinner? Do you have reservations?” However, in what might possibly be the greatest moment in the history of comics, Scarlet Spider punches Jack! YES! Okay, I take back almost every nasty thing I said about this comic! Suddenly it’s freaking sweet!

Scarlet Spider continues to rough up Jack, asking if the Jackal is alive and behind all of “this.” This what? The visions? “Aren’t we in a foul mood today! What’s the matter–get up on the wrong side of the web?” At long last, just snap his neck, Reilly! The door closes behind the two, trapping them in the hallway. Speaking of which, was this place covered with a hologram or something? Like I said before, it was just a big metal door standing in the middle of nowhere. Jack says that if they want to get out, they’ll have to let him go (*Sigh*). Jack leads the two down the hallway into a huge, and I do mean huge laboratory.

Seriously, the place has high ceilings, gigantic machines, and even a pit that extends down out of the sight of the reader. Time-out here, comic! Professor Miles Warren was a college Professor. I can accept that he had enough money and funds (even a little extra) to have the resources necessary to clone other human beings, but come on! How the hell could he afford all of this crap?! And it’s apparently all been running for a few years now, so where in the heck is it getting power?! Furthermore, he was a biology teacher! Even if we accept that he had training in other mechanical areas, where did he get the know-how to assemble all this and even build a cloaking device to hide it all?!

Jack reveals that Miles Warren is indeed alive, but Spider-Man is dubious about this since he saw him die. Before Jack can explain, the Guardian makes a reappearance. The Guardian’s body is covered in even more of the weird blue veins than before, something Jack notices and suddenly gets worried about. “H- His body… It’s more scarred… More distorted… than ever!” Yeah, I mean how do you get proportions like that in real life, even among bodybuilders? The Guardian collapses down to the ground and Jack mourns the death of the Guardian. Oh, for the love of Heidegger, you can’t suddenly make me feel empathetic to the little freak now, comic!

Jack takes off his Jackal mask, remarking that “He’s gone. And… one way or the other… so am I.” Yaaaaaay! “And so… are both of you.” Well, nothing’s perfect, but I think I can live with it. Jack is revealed to be a little bald guy who has the same blue veins covering his face. He says the same fate eventually awaits them all due to them being from the same genetic soup, though they’re not sure how long it will take, be it days or years or decades (this does seem to be taking decades). A voice suddenly is heard coming from an intercom and the three look to a single mechanical pod nearby. “To even mention yourself in the same sentence with these two is the height of arrogance… and stupidity.” Finally, someone in this comic who isn’t a complete idiot!

As the pod begins to open, the voice continues: “You and the Guardian were two of my earliest failures — while these two finely sculpted specimens–” Umm… Ew? Turning the page, we get a full-page spread revealing a tall, lean, and rather nude Jackal emerging from the pod. “–are the Jackal’s greatest triumphs!” By the way, even though we have liquid from the pod leaking out to cover up the Jackal’s naughty bits, it’s clear from the proportions and the amount of liquid that he’s either really small or he doesn’t have a batch at all. “Hello, boys–” Oh, sweet Jesus, I hope he doesn’t do a fan dance! “–Daddy’s back!”

The two Spider-Men launch themselves at the emerging Jackal, but he knocks them away with ease. “Can you believe it? Wimpy old Professor Warren— and look at me! Able to take on not one, but two Spider-Men at the same time!” Okay, first of all, Professor Warren wasn’t “wimpy,” he went through training to make sure he could do at least a little bit of physical fighting. Next, the Jackal was so named because he overheard another professor describing a jackal as a “cowardly predator.” If he plans to still call himself the Jackal and he’s suddenly all “Hahahaha, I can punch Spider-Man!” then it’ll be very… well, stupid. As Spidey narrates, “This whole mess keeps getting weirder…”

The Jackal sends Jack off to get him some clothes and the two exchange banter about a pun. The Jackal suddenly notices the Spider-Men again: “I forgot about you two. Look at you– fists at the ready… jaws clenched…” Does the Jackal have X-Ray vision or something? First the handprint thing and now he sees their jaws clenched even though they’re wearing masks that cover up their whole heads! Alrighty, flip the page and…

*Snicker*

*Snort*

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, sweet merciful crap, the good Dr. Warren is now fully dressed and all I can do is laugh and laugh. He’s decked out in a black leather trench coat with chains hanging down from it, plus straps wrapped around his arms and little pointless chains hanging down from the suit! I don’t know how it’s done it, but a comic made in 1995 has somehow ripped off The Matrix! I mean, seriously – he’s a green-furred, genetically-enhanced supervillain with Lee Press-on nails and now he’s walking around in an outfit that’d make Keanu Reeves blush and yet somehow this is all supposed to be taken seriously.

“Y’Know boys… I was monitoring you the whole time I was tanked up.” He was monitoring them while he was drunk? “Well, with a little time out for CNN and the Playboy channel!” Now there’s a thought I never needed to have in my comics: the Jackal watching the Playboy channel. “Quite an interesting half a decade you’ve had!” I mean what was the deal with Beverly Hills 90210, anyway?! “But I want to hear about it all in detail. That’s why I’ve summoned you back here.” Because obviously watching CNN and porn didn’t give me nearly enough information about the world!

The Jackal’s lengthy and completely humorless exposition continues: “Y’see, when last we met I surreptitiously programmed you boys to return here when I reawakened.” So now not only is he a genetics expert, master construction worker, but apparently he can install psychological triggers, too. What is it about comic book scientists who apparently have degrees in every field imaginable? The Scarlet Spider reiterates how he can’t be Professor Warren because he’s dead. “Warren is dead? *Sigh* Didn’t Jack go over all this with you? Ben, my dear boy, my specialty is clones… As you well know. The Jackal who died that momentous night at Shea Stadium– was as much a genetic imposter as you are!”

Well, there you have it, folks! Instead of thinking up one of the various ways that characters were brought back to life in those days, they instead decided to invalidate an older, better story! In the original Clone Saga, the Jackal wanted revenge on Spider-Man for his involvement in the death of Gwen Stacy. However, the clone of Gwen Stacy told him on no uncertain terms that he was a murderer and a monster. Realizing what he had become, Miles Warren sacrificed himself to save the life of Spider-Man supporting character Ned Leeds. So, a story that ended with redemption for an evil-doer is now about some clone who was merely a “genetic imposter” while the real guy sat in a vat of butter and watched Andy Rooney and porn.

During all this, Spider-Man has an internal monologue where he feels bad for Ben because of how this must be a painful reminder that he isn’t the real Peter Parker. As such, after this latest revelation, Spidey throws himself a good old Heroic Spaz Attack and starts beating the crap out of the Jackal. Scarlet Spider stops him, since the Jackal’s the only one who has the answers to their questions. The Jackal, looking like some sort of half-melted Troll doll, goes over to the Guardian and continues his completely unfunny and uninteresting soliloquy: “Alas, poor Guardian… I knew him well, Horatio!” Yes, I’m serious, he actually said that. I think I’m going to call up Jack, because suddenly he’s looking like a much better alternative.

The Jackal reveals that the Guardian and Jack are, in fact, other clones of Peter Parker. He says that they’re both earlier experiments that suffered physical deformity and mental impairment. He then wiped their minds of their old memories, reprogrammed them to protect the hideout, and put froze them (so now he’s a cryogenics expert, too!) until Ben and Peter showed up. Wow, what a twist! This ice cream I’m eating, I mean – a twist of chocolate and vanilla. Yum!

While leading them through the laboratory, the Jackal explains that sadly most of the clones suffer from a degeneration factor that makes them deteriorate over time. Spider-Man asks if this means Scarlet Spider is going to eventually deteriorate, but the Jackal interrupts: “Your clone? Oh, that’s rich!” Yes, upon arriving at another pod, the Jackal reveals that, in fact, both of them are clones and that the real Peter Parker is in the pod he’s standing next to. Spidey of course has another spaz attack and knocks the Jackal into a wall, saying he won’t listen to any more of his lies. Wow, what a twist! This old dance I’m doing, I mean. It’s so much fun!

Scarlet Spider tries to calm him down, but Spidey won’t have any of it and punches him while shouting, “You’re a living lie! You’re everything I hate!” So much for that whole “brothers” thing from the previous issue. “For the first itme in my life, I’ve got happiness within my reach! I’ve fought my way back from the edge– my wife and I are expecting a child– and I won’t let a genetic fraud like you take it all away from us!” Oh, boo hoo, we’ve all got problems, Spidey.

Scarlet, while flabbergasted about the fact that they’re going to have a baby, still retorts that Spider-Man must be afraid of turning out to be a fraud like him. Oh, for crying out loud, you both are alive and have had different experiences! Get over it already! “Venom tried to break me… and I came back! The Green Goblin dragged me into madness… and I came back! Kraven the Hunter buried me alive– and I came back!” I came back from the jaws of the dragon! I came back to your heart again!

Spider-Man demands proof of the Jackal’s claims and tells him to open the pod. The pod opens up, but the Jackal suddenly realizes that he “opened up the wrong chamber… that’s the girl of all our dreams! Miles Warren and Peter Parker’s “late,” lamented true love!” Yes, the mists clear and *gasp!* “Gentleman, may I present, not a clone… but the one, the only, the originalGwen Stacy!!

DUN DUN DUUUUUUUNNNN!

Could this nude woman be the real, original, Gwen Stacy?! Well, no. Because you can only ruin one good story per issue here. And while it’s certainly possible that some people may have bought this ruse, the majority of fandom sure as hell didn’t. It made no sense in the contexts we were provided, and frankly it would be skeevy enough to have the real, original Gwen Stacy suddenly show up and be completely nude, but it also wouldn’t make sense unless she was a clone. So, yeah, this story has now taken a major turn for the stupid. Come back on Halloween and we’ll debut a very special ending to this monstrosity of a three-parter.

Marijuana Smoke and Funhouse Mirrors, part 1!

Seeing as Halloween is just around the corner, I decided to take on a three-part recap going through one of the scariest and most horrific Spider-Man stories. It featured rather demonic-looking characters, an attempt to end Spider-Man’s marriage, an unnecessary character resurrection, and just downright moronic writing. No, I’m not talking about One More Day. I’m talking about The Clone Saga.

As I mentioned during my FallCon report, I decided to start collecting the Clone Saga in its entirety. I had read a full synopsis of it at Life of Reilly, which detailed all the behind-the-scenes work and the main plot details as they progressed through each issue. It’s a fascinating (if lengthy) read and I highly recommend it. Reading it, it’s great to see that they did try to create a classic and epic tale, but editorial interference just stretched the story on and on and on. As a result, what started off as a pretty entertaining story even by today’s standards became a hopeless mess of confusion, reversals, and nonsense explanations that would make any politician facepalm.

There was a brief time where the decision was going to be that Ben Reilly was the original and that Peter Parker was the clone, which was pretty hard to swallow for readers – that the Spider-Man they’ve been enjoying for over 20 years was nothing more than a copy – and needless to say created some pretty heavy backlash. But you know, it actually was a pretty damn good idea.

The same petty, idiotic reasons that were used to justify One More Day were partly to blame here – that Spidey didn’t “connect” anymore with the audience, that his marriage ruined his image, that he wasn’t the wisecracking wonder that he used to be. And I’ll admit they were partly correct – sales were down and the extended storyline where Peter’s parents returned had resulted in the whole thing being a leftover scheme of Harry Osbourne just resulted in a Spider-Man who gave up on his civilian life and became “The Spider.” Needless to say, readers were left cold by this dark, almost twisted version of their beloved character. But wait, here comes a clone with all the classic morality, integrity, and connection to the audience that Peter used to have. Peter can retire with Mary Jane and be allowed to have kids and a family while Ben Reilly could become the new official Spider-Man who’d go out on dates and become a tabloid photographer and have his web cartridges run out and all the stupid crap they’re doing with Peter Parker these days.

But of course, it didn’t work out that way and instead we got the return of the original Green Goblin whose goblin formula somehow gave him the ability to recover from gliders being impaled in his chest. As I said though, the story didn’t start out that way.

In fact, the stories that started out were good. Damn good. “Power and Responsibility,” where Peter first meets the clone in the modern era, is a bit of a shaky start, but I get a grin on my face seeing the two Spider-Men punching out Carnage as a team (especially since this came on soon after Maximum Carnage, where you needed LOTS of superheroes to take down Cletus Kassidy). This was followed by “The Exile Returns,” where Ben Reilly officially becomes the Scarlet Spider (a name he and many of the writers loathed, but it stuck) and has to take on Venom.

The fight is awesome, with Reilly needing to use his adept mind to figure out new weapons to face Venom, including the awesome Impact Webbing (patent pending). The story is great and I highly recommend tracking it down, though the one downside is Ben Reilly constantly whining, “BLAH BLAH BLAH I’M A CLONE! BLAH BLAH BLAH I’M NOT HUMAN!” Following that is the “Web of Life” and “Web of Death” four-parters, with the story alternating between the Spider-Man titles for either Ben Reilly or Peter Parker. Ben Reilly’s side for “Web of Life” was kind of meh, but the “Web of Death” for Peter Parker was just brilliant, with Doctor Octopus saving his life because of how he admires the humanity and ethics that Peter has to offer. Sadly, the end of this story was the death of Doctor Octopus, but he goes down in style, fighting the new villain Kaine but still remaining the badass character that he is.

Anyway, following the “Funeral for an Octopus” miniseries (where Scarlet Spider continues to build up badass credit by handling himself pretty damn well against the remaining members of the Sinister Six), we come upon this arc: “Smoke and Mirrors.” This was really the first sign that things were going downhill for the Clone Saga. The actual details we’ll get to as the story progresses, but needless to say this was the first part of the Clone Saga that was actually just bad. However, since a major theme of it is tricking people (including the readers), it fits in well with Halloween. And since it’s a three-part arc, this will be a three-part recap. Enjoy!

Nothing bad to say about the cover. The ghostly image of the Jackal, responsible for cloning Spider-Man originally, hangs over the city as well as well as the Spider-Twins. The only real thing that makes me confused is how that webbing twists around their arms, exactly. Is the webbing supposed to do that? It seems like that would just make it all the more difficult to actually hit the thing you were aiming at. Also, I don’t care what anyone says – the scarlet Spider costume kicks ass.

We open to the Scarlet Spider swinging through the city. He says how he hates that he enjoys it (*groan*) and that “I have no right to do this — this isn’t my life— and it isn’t the reason I came back to New York!” Oh for the love of Heidegger, is he still whining about the fact that he’s a clone? That’s right, Ben, it isn’t your life – which is why you created a different costumed identity from Spider-Man! “Being the hero is Peter’s gig — but I couldn’t resist the night!” Yeah, I hear you, Ben – Batman’s a tough one to resist, too, but be strong!

“It called” to me — tempted me like some voracious demon–” Is he describing an overwhelming compulsion to do good or a craving for Arby’s sandwiches? “–And before I could stop myself, I was webbing my way through the darkened streets – stopping carjackings and ATM holdups–” My God, could the Rastafarian Doctor Doom have returned?! Anyway, his spider-sense goes off and suddenly he sees the Jackal heading right towards him. Oh, and he not only sees him coming at him, but he sees him coming at him on a jetpack. You know, I may need to look back at the first issues featuring him, but I’m pretty sure he never rode a jetpack, so why is Ben hallucinating him on one?

And you know, come to think of it, the Jackal really has a stupid look to him. He’s basically just the Green Goblin with no clothes and bigger ears. And you know, while the ears are right for an actual jackal, I wasn’t aware that jackals had green fur. Scarlet Spider blacks out momentarily and starts to fall, confused about what he saw since, of course, “Professor Miles Warren is… dead..!” Yeah, because that’s stopped them before. Scarlet Spider, in a very odd display of physics, falls straight down onto a rooftop (and I mean straight down), and then rolls to the side across three panels after landing. Apparently concrete and brick are good shock absorbers when one falls. I’ll be sure to strap some onto me the next time I go skydiving.

Recovering from his fall, Scarlet Spider comments to himself how the visions and memories seem to keep attracting him somewhere. All of a sudden, an image of the Jackal appears to him, saying, “Everything’s going to be fine, now — Peter.” This was the first hint that maybe it was the clone who was the original Peter, but that’s giving this comic too much at this point. We suddenly switch to Peter Parker where he’s looking into his mirror and seeing the Jackal staring back at him [??] while Mary Jane is trying to get his attention. He comments that it must be the lingering effects of a virus given to him a few issues ago, but he’s confused about why he’d be seeing the Jackal. And really, his complete lack of an actual reaction to this other than “Wha?!” makes me think the poor guy’s just stoned off his butt.

Mary Jane finally gets his attention and they have a conversation about how they’re going to go to lunch together. It’s sadly conversations like this that remind me how much I liked these two being married, especially when Peter comments that she’s the most wonderful, beautiful, magnificent wife a man could ever have. But then he kind of ruins it after kissing her and suddenly imagining himself making out with Gwen Stacy [?!]. Okay, so maybe the Spider-marriage isn’t all that hunky-dory after all. Peter remarks to himself that he feels that the visions he’s having are pulling him somewhere, as well. Still, as Peter remarks, “I want to spend every minute with you – for the rest of our lives! I don’t want anything to ever come between us.”

Except my old, dying, decaying aunt and deals with the devil, of course! By the way, in case you’re wondering, Aunt May was in a coma at the time (where she’d stay until the beautifully-written Amazing Spider-Man #400 where she dies, revealing to Peter that she’d known for a long time that he was the man under the mask), and at no point does Mephisto show up and offer to trade his marriage for her waking up from the coma. Oh, and we also are reminded here that Mary Jane is pregnant, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. And since we’re trying to focus on the bad stuff about this issue, let’s skip the nostalgia about one of the best comic book romances and shift back to the Scarlet Spider.

He’s swinging through a forest north of New York, not sure what it was that brought him out there. As he looks out into the countryside, a silhouette appears behind him similar to the Jackal’s shape. And now here it is, folks – we’ve finally entered hell. You know why? Because this is the Mini-Jackal named Jack. Yes, that’s right, a little dwarf version of the Jackal. Seriously, who the hell greenlit this idea?! “Say, we have this interesting story about a clone that’s trying to come to grips with his identity, but you know what the story needs? A three-foot guy in a costume that resembles a supervillain from the 1970s.” “I like the way you think! Get to it! Have some more drugs!”

I’m sorry, but I just hate this character. He contributes absolutely nothing to the story, and even the revelation of his identity is completely pointless! You could’ve just had an old lab assistant of Dr. Warren or hell, a robot or something and it’d be more useful! Heck, all he does is make annoying comments that I’m sure were meant to be dark humor but just end up sounding stupid. He leads the Scarlet Spider towards a large metal door and reveals to him, “The Jackal had this planned for you years ago, and all the answers to your questions are right behind this door! So get a move on, little spider. The meter’s runnin’!” Speaking of running…

*Tries to run away but is forced back by his promise to recap the three comics.*

Scarlet Spider gets confused about where the door came from and how Jack got up a hillside so quickly and Jack just says, “It’s all done with mirrors, kid. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!” Yeah, because that’s how mirrors work. Scarlet Spider grabs Jack by the neck (Yes! Kill him! Squeeze the life out of him!) and Jack tells him he’d better let go, since it’ll only “make him even madder!” “Him” turns out to be a large, muscle-bound, nearly-nude man with visible veins all over his body. Seriously, the guy doesn’t have varicose veins, he’s got a varicose body. One wonders how that guy could get so muscley and yet have blood pressure issues like that.

We switch scenes to the Daily Bugle, where Peter informs Robbie Robertson of the news about his impending fatherhood. Like the earlier scene with Mary Jane, this one isn’t really so bad. We also get some continuation on a subplot involving a Detective who had originally encountered Kaine during Ben Reilly’s years on the road. Back over to Peter, he starts thinking of names for the kid. “How about “Gretchen” for a girl and “Hank” for a boy…” Just think, folks – Spider-Girl was this close to being named “Gretchen Parker.” Peter has another flash in his mind, this time bringing up a memory of him crawling out of a tank (more clues to the idea that maybe he’s the clone). And then the final panel of the page gets to be Jackal’s hideous visage right front and center to the point where we can look up his nose. Thanks, comic, any other orifices of this freak you want to take us into?

Peter collapses, trying to make sense of it all and the Jackal’s image once again appears in his mind. It shouts at him, “I’ve come to take you home!” Does that mean he’s going to be climbing up on Solsbury Hill? Over to the hospital where May is in a coma, Mary Jane and her Aunt Anna look over her. All of a sudden it’s snowing outside and Mary Jane and Anna look outside the window. In one of the few moments of brilliance in this issue, while the two are looking away Aunt May briefly opens her eyes and sheds a tear (though maybe it’s because she’s actually being assimilated by the Borg).

Switching back over to the fight, the unknown assailant continues his attack on Scarlet Spider. The narration describes him as having known “only pain — gnawing — blinding — excruciating — Pain!!.” Because it wouldn’t be a Marvel comic from the 90s if it didn’t have lots of melodramatic prose in it! It further describes how the being has been instilled with one objective – “to defend the doorway with his life!” Well, that and serious steroid abuse, but it’s good to have goals. “It is the pain that tells him to do this — and he must ever obey the pain.” Considering my continual need to find bad comics to recap, I’m starting to sympathize with this guy.

Jack provides his own “witty” commentary: “And this looks like it might be it, folks! The Guardian’s got the kid on the ropes and he’s not lettin’ up!” Man, never before have I more desired to see Howard Cosell show up and beat Jack to death with his microphone. We also see that Kaine himself is watching the battle. Kaine also suffered from the same varicose body issues that the Guardian apparently is suffering from (clues, it would seem, to both Kaine and the Guardian’s identities). For a lot of issues, Kaine doesn’t really actually do anything. He just kind of stands around and poses dramatically, like he’s straight out of Disney’s Pocahontas.

The fight continues and Scarlet Spider finally gets knocked down into the snow, unable to take the Guardian’s onslaught. Jack and the Guardian walk off (oh, thank God he’s gone…) and the snow starts to bury the unconscious Scarlet Spider. The scene switches over to Peter, now in full Spider-Man outfit. What’s confusing about this is the fact that he’s swinging around while there’s apparently a blizzard going on. Does that spandex really offer that much warmth in this weather? Why did he suddenly decide to go swinging around when there’s snow falling everywhere and it’s probably hard for his webbing to get a grip on anything?

Spider-Man starts swinging around (again, with snow falling everywhere around him and probably pelting his skin-tight outfit and covering the buildings in wet snow) and contemplates all the weird visions he’s been having. “Memories of Gwen. Memories of Professor Warren — the Jackal! And the clone. The “Birth” of the clone.” Sentence fragments. More dramatic. Must be. “But why would I remember that? I wasn’t even there.” Ummm… Yes you were, Peter. You were right there, since in order for the clone to have your most recent memories at that point (plus the brief period where they say the same lines of dialogue at once), the Jackal had to have taken the DNA sample right there. The problem with stuff like this is the fan tends to be smarter than the character and can think of any number of different possibilities than the one the character does.

“I should have no knowledge of that. No memory of it… unless… Oh, God, please don’t let it be “unless.”” I’m afraid it is, Peter – There’s still at least another two years worth of the Clone Saga to go! Somehow, Peter gets a mindflash that shows Scarlet Spider in the snow and he realizes it isn’t a memory. “He’s in trouble— the Scarlet Spider! My… my clone…? My other self… [?!] My… Brother?” He ain’t heavy? “Somehow I’m being drawn to him.” Oh, so you’re being drawn to him? Not away from him? To him, gotcha. “He needs my help — and this time I won’t turn my back on him!”

And with that good ending, the issue is over. Admittedly, of the three parts of “Smoke and Mirrors,” this issue is not that bad, but it still could’ve used another rewrite (and just drop Jack. What were they smoking when that concept came to their minds?) in terms of the Scarlet Spider stuff. But trust me, in the next two stories to follow, things go downhill fast. For this spooky little tale, I’ll only tell you that Part 2 will be posted sometime soon and the final Part will go up on Halloween! In the meantime, enjoy yourselves and make sure your science Professor doesn’t like to run around in green costumes before Halloween!

FallCon Report

Well, here it is! My full report of the shenanigans I had at Minnesota’s FallCon, the biggest comics convention that Minnesota has to offer. No big news gets announced at places like this, but it’s nice and small and geeks like me have a great time just yacking it up like we do on the internet about Spider-Man’s deal with the devil or what the hell is up with Batman: RIP. It’s also to see what sort of costumes people came up with and to get the direct opportunity to talk to creators about their craft and how they got started and what they’re working on or what’s coming up.

Let’s allow Keith Champagne to welcome us:

Read the full report behind the cut! (WARNING: IMAGE HEAVY!)

Let’s start off with the cosplayers. Since I took all the photos on the second day (curse me for forgetting my camera!), there were quite a few I had missed from the day before, including a black-costume Spider-Man, an adorable little girl in a wonder Woman costume, a Pixie costume, and a great Superwoman outfit. Still, the ones we got here are fantabulous.

This was helped by the fact that a group of them, including Superman (who I’ve met several times before at other Cons. He’s a great guy and has a few different versions of the outfit), Wonder Woman, Thor, and Batman & Robin down there are the Heroes for Hire. Supes, AKA Greg Carlson, can be reached at supermangregmn@yahoo.com







And how can you NOT do the wrist-bracer thing when you’re with Wonder Woman?




And like all previous FallCons, the Batmobile was there.




“Hail, citizen!”

While sadly Planet Doom Studio’s website seems to be out-of-date, their comics are not. They sadly didn’t have any free stuff this time around, but I highly recommend trying to hunt down Peep and Peep Lite. Just both cute and horrific at the same time or separate.

Adam Hughes was the last person I met at the Con, though he was mostly busy with his commission so I didn’t bug him beyond the picture and asking when All-Star Wonder Woman was going to come out (next year, by the way).

Keith Champagne is just a great guy. He’s friendly, more than willing to talk about the industry and his thoughts about books he’s read, I met him at last year’s FallCon and have been following his work since. I spent a good chunk of my time just chatting with him, getting advice, and discussing his upcoming work (including a Ghostbusters comic that’s being previewed right now on Newsarama). A great inker and a great writer, I’m glad I got to talk to him again.

Plus he let me watch his booth (which had comics and artwork that could’ve been stolen) while he went to get lunch. I told people who stopped by that I was an alternate universe Keith Champagne. I think they bought it.

James Kakalios is the author of The Physics of Superheroes. I met him two FallCons ago and got my hardcover version of the book signed by him. Just another swell guy, though I fear I look fatter in a few of these picture than I really am. I blame it on my awesome corduroy jacket, which adds a few pounds, methinks.

Dan Jurgens – the creator of Booster Gold and the coming permanent writer of the book, as well. He’s nice, professional, and was perfectly willing to take a look at some of the initial pages from Revolution of the Mask at MicroCon several months ago when he was in town. It should be noted here that I felt really bad for the creators who had to sit in these chairs, because they really bring you down and make it seem like everyone is towering over you.

Speaking of really awesome people I met at MicroCon, this is Melissa S. Kaercher, letterer and colorist. Noticing a pattern of how nice and wonderful these people are? Seriously, I didn’t meet a single rude or dismissive person at the Con. Still, Melissa is just sweet and she also gave me some lettering advice back at MicroCon. Colorists and letterers don’t get the praise they deserve and I’m just glad I got to meet her again. You can find her at Tin Lizard Productions, and among her work you’ll find the hilarious Dr. Blink, Superhero Psychologist.

Also I let her wear my hat. Because everyone loves my hat.

See?! Even Christopher Jones loves my hat! For those not familiar with Christopher Jones, he’s a good friend of Melissa’s plus the artist on The Batman Strikes as well as a few of the old Justice League TV tie-in comics. Another classy guy and you can find his work at his website.

Ah, jeez, I fear I scared Dwayne McDuffie with my almost-encyclopedic questions about JLU. It was fun, though, since he still remembers a lot of the stuff I was talking about. Apparently it was a deliberate choice to make the JLU Question start out as the Ditko-style one and end with him as Rorschach.

I admit I didn’t talk much with Tom Nguyen, but only because I’m not familiar with a lot of his work. Still, he was a nice guy and he brought along two of the models he uses for his own drawings. See, Greg Land? This is what real artists do – they have models of their own they use to base some of their pictures on, whereas you simply trace over other people’s work!

Peter Tomasi is also a blast, though sadly won’t give away any details on what “Battle for the Cowl” is going to be about. Still, he’s doing a great job with Nightwing, and while teh last issue (#149) was on the violent side, I don’t exactly liken it to the same degree that was used in the Teen Titans issue that I had some issues with. Can’t wait to see what else he’s got in store for Dick Grayson!

While I met Norm Breyfogle back at MicroCon a few months ago, I’m sorry to admit that I wasn’t entirely familiar with a lot of his art. However, unknown to me, he did in fact draw the Titans story in the Young Justice: Sins of Youth Secret Files and Origins issue, so next time I see him I’m going to get him to sign my copy of the trade. He also does commissions for any price, but he warns that how much is given to him affects how hard he’ll work on it. Here’s a two-dollar sketch of Batman:

While I’m on the subject of commissions, I purchased this Power Girl from Gene C. Kook III. A little cheesecakey, but hey, I love Power Girl.

Erik Burnham rocks. While I had only met him at FallCon two years ago and gotten a Lightbringer commission from him, it turned out that we both hung out at Gail Simone’s YABS forum, so we both knew we were coming to FallCon and this year he was kind enough to give me a free sketch of whatever I wanted. Since I was also there to promote Revolution of the Mask, I had him do a Mystery Man sketch:

What’s funny is that anyone who has read the book knows that Mystery Man really does like to use the word “Mystery” a lot. Check out Erik’s site, Burnhamania.

Last but certaily not least are Kim and Maciek Smuga. Now before the collective “Who?” that everyone asks, they’re independent creators who really charmed me with how nice they were and some interesting story ideas. I was so impressed that I decided to buy one of their books called “Temping for Evil.”

It’s a cute and funny little comic. I highly recommend it, even if it is a little brief. But it’s certainly a step-up from a lot of what the mainstream has to offer these days.

Temping For Evil and other stories can be found at Studio Anti Thesis.

One independent comic I got but didn’t get a photo of the creator of was Satellite State by Todd Gnacinski. Sadly, I only got the first issue so I don’t know how it continues, but it’s an okay comic. The problem is that the first issue is all set-up: three alien devices land in Washington, D.C. and blast apart anything within a 2-mile radius. That’s pretty much it.

My one real complaint about it is that we get two pages straight of the President’s head where he makes a speech, seriously – it’s 32 small panels of the President’s head, ocasionally zooming in on his eye or his lips. This is what people refer to when they say “Talking Heads.” It’s just dull, as if someone made “Extreme C-Span.” However, he makes up for it in the successive pages, especially when we get this awesome shot of a giant robot.

Because, like monkies, giant robots make everything better.

I’d like to report on the panels… but sadly the way the Con was set up this year neglected to utilize the second floor, so the panel area was just an area set aside behind a curtain. As such, you couldn’t hear anything, so I never bothered to attend. In any case, FallCon was fun, creators are awesome, Indies rock, buy Revolution of the Mask, and thanks for reading.

NOTE: I wear baggy clothes, dang it!

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