Somewhere, Peter Parker's spider-sense is tingling, and with very, very good reason - the Marvel superhero is about to face one of his most unexpected challenges yet: One of his long-standing foes seems to have uncovered the key to eternal life.
The Clone Conspiracy, a new series which launches today and runs alongside the regular The Amazing Spider-Man series for the next few months, features the return of the Jackal, a mad scientist who has uncovered a way to create clones of the dead that are identical in every way to the originals, down to their very last memory… which could be a good thing, if he wasn't obsessed with ruining Peter Parker's life.
Heat Vision spoke to Dan Slott, the writer behind Clone Conspiracy - and also the man who killed Peter Parker in 2012 (Don't worry, he got better) - about what's behind this new storyline, and what it's like making life difficult for the friendly neighborhood web-head.
Spider-Man is a character who's almost defined by those he's lost: Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy… and you're bringing back all the dead characters, loved ones and villains, as part of this new series. Dan, you're breaking Spider-Man!
I am breaking Spider-Man. That is the goal, every time. Find a way to break Spider-Man.
You keep doing that. You killed off Peter for Superior Spider-Man, you make him into a wealthy businessman for the new series. You look for third rails to run toward with the character.
I must run into the thing that will drive everyone insane! But that's it - you've read these stories for 50 years, and you know what's gonna happen. Now you don't! I look at 50 years of Spider-Man and think, 'OK. What haven't we done?'
And then you have fans complaining that you don't "know" Spider-Man.
Despite the fact that I've written one out of every five issues of Amazing Spider-Man, which is kind of scary. But, to me, the fun of it is, at his basic core, even if you strip away "with great power must come great responsibility," what makes Peter Parker this character that resonates with all of us is that he's really the first character who's you. He's the guy you know. He's not a wealthy billionaire playboy, he's not an alien from another planet, he's not a god from a pantheon. He's the guy down the block who trips and falls, who screws up in every way that you screw up. All the self-destructive traits that you have, and your friends have, he has. People say to me, "Who's your favorite Spider-Man villain?" and my answer is Peter Parker, because no one can mess up Spider-Man's life like Peter Parker can.
With The Clone Conspiracy, you're finding a new way to mess up Spider-Man's life, though. You're bringing back beloved characters like Gwen Stacy in a way that fans wouldn't expect …
Or a way they will want. (Laughs.)
What has fan response been since the story was announced? After all, there's a 1990s clone storyline that remains a touchy subject for fandom. [The "Clone Saga," which infamously went off the rails to such an extent that Marvel published a parody of its own inability to find a satisfying conclusion.]
There are so many sacred things in Spider-Man. Before, we were doing things that you "shouldn't" do. Now I'm doing things that, oh dear God, no! At the last panel, someone was begging, "Don't bring Uncle Ben back, whatever you do!" Everyone is so afraid that that … could … happen. Like we would really do … that. You'll have to wait and see.
There's something this time with the clones, from the way everyone remembers them in the '90s. Those clones had a limitation, even going all the way back to the '70s, with the very first Jackal clone story. Miles Warren was Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy's science teacher, and in the story, he got a sample of blood from Peter and Gwen and he grew a Peter clone and a Gwen clone - somewhere down the line, he just started doing Peter clones, because that kind of became his thing. But that Peter clone, whether it's Ben Reilly or Kaine or Spidercyde or whoever, they have their memories up to the point where the blood sample was taken, and from that point on they're their own people.
We're doing something different. The Jackal has expanded his science. He's not getting it from a blood sample, he's getting it from a corpse. It's all the memories, all the way up to your death -
So they're complete copies.
Yes! They remember everything, all the way up to that last moment. It's less a clone - I wanted to brand them, and the Jackal brands them, "re-animates." It's different than a clone, it's better than a clone. And in that moment, the Jackal becomes the ultimate devil you can make a deal with. He becomes the person who says, "If you've lost anyone, I can give them back to you. Whatever person you've loved or lost, or maybe someone who tormented you and lost, I can bring them back to you."
Has the Jackal turned over a creepy new leaf, or is this still just a plan to screw with Spider-Man?
You've got to figure, if you put that much time and effort into something - and you are a mad scientist - then you've got to have an end goal. You'll see what that is in The Clone Conspiracy. I'm not telling you now, Hollywood Reporter! No! That's the story!
By this point, you've done so many event storylines like this for Spider-Man, is it hard to come up with new epic ideas to torture the character?
No. (Laughs.) I can do this forever. Spider-Man isn't just my favorite comic book character, he's my favorite character in all of fiction. He is my guy. This is the job I've wanted since I was 8 years old. Not to go off and do a Spider-Man movie or whatever, to do this: to write The Amazing Spider-Man comic book.
When they gave me the book solo, the then-editor Stephen Wacker and I had a confab. We went to lunch, and I had a yellow legal pad and I started walking him through [my plans for] the first few months. And, you know, the drinks are coming, the hors d'oeuvres, and I'm going through the next few months, taking him through the next year and eventually he just grabs the legal pad and he's flipping and flipping and flipping before saying, "We are not gonna talk about this over lunch! A year and a half is fine!" (Laughs.)
You said you've written one in every five issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Is that more than anyone else? Can we call you the preeminent Spider-Man writer now?
Brian Michael Bendis has done longer on Ultimate Spider-Man, and it doesn't stop! He's still going! But on Amazing, yeah. I'm on year nine. But it's not just year nine. With Brand New Day [Slott was part of a writing team on the book for two years], we released three books a month, and when I got the book solo, we double-shipped. Most comics come out 12 issues a year, and we usually come out with 24. It means that, even if they wanted to fire me, they don't have a good chance. We work on so many stories with so many artists, I have to write stories out of sequence constantly. There's a story that doesn't come out until next May that I've just turned in a plot for. I go to sleep and I dream of Spider-Man.
For new readers looking to jump onto Spider-Man's comic adventures with this storyline, what do they need to know to get started?
One of the things we do, especially with our editorial team, is make sure that any issue, people can jump on. Right now, Peter Parker's finally hit it. He's got everything he ever wanted. He's got a corporation - Parker Industries - where there are plants and locations all around the globe. But he's using that power responsibly, because he's Peter. He's got a worldwide charity, the Uncle Ben Foundation, that is trying to make the world a better place. That's all you really need to know. He's Peter, he's trying his level best to be Tony Stark, but he's Peter Parker. He gets to give the big corporate address and people say, "You did a great job, and by the way, your fly's unzipped." He is you, so it's "What if this happened to you?" He'd love to be slick, but he's not.
One of the most amazing things about Clone Conspiracy, though, is the Jim Cheung artwork. Anyone who's ever looked at Jim Cheung's art, this is some of the most beautiful artwork I've ever had a chance to work with in all my years in comics. I'd never worked with him on interiors, and every page is stunning. To see Jim Cheung do Spidey, and do Peter, and J. Jonah Jameson, and Aunt May - it's just like, waaaaah! It's exciting. That's the biggest sell for me: to get to see Jim Cheung do the interior art, and to see Gabriele Dell'otto's covers, it's like, good look every other book on the rack.
The Clone Conspiracy No. 1 is available in comic stores and digitally today.