Sep 17, 2011

Spider-Island Spider-Mannotations Supplemental - Who the Hell is the Gwen Stacy Clone?

If you're reading this blog, you probably know who Gwen Stacy is.  Spider-Man's girlfriend, pulled off the tricky hairband/go-go boots combo, father killed during Spider-Man/Doc Ock battle, later chucked off a bridge, source of constant guilt.  Pretty straightforward.  (I could also talk about the kids she had with Norman Osborn, but that's a conversation for another day - or preferably, never.)

But what about her clone?  She recently appeared in current Spider-crossover Spider-Island, only to be promptly killed off.  If you aren't a longtime reader, you probably weren't quite sure who she was, why she was still around, or why she was called "Joyce Delaney".  But that's why I'm here.  I'm a living fount of Spider-Man minutia, and I'm going to share it with you whether you like it or not.  So sit back and relax as I tell the terrible tale of the Gwen Stacy clone!  Also, you better make yourself a sandwich or something.  This could take a while.

Yeah, you better get used to saying that, Spidey.
(Amazing Spider-Man #144, art by Ross Andru)

In Amazing Spider-Man #142, Spider-Man's being tormented with illusions by replacement Mysterio Danny Berkhart, thanks to a tiny holographic projector planted on Spidey.  (He's a replacement because the original, Quentin Beck, was dead, only he actually wasn't.  But that's not important right now.) After seeing a holographic Kingpin lunging out of the wall during a chat with Mary Jane, Peter's pretty on-edge...but not nearly as on-edge as he is when he sees a certain blonde woman in the Daily Bugle building.  He chalks it up to Mysterio's illusions...but Mysterio doesn't know Spider-Man is Peter Parker.  Why would he use an illusion of some girl against him?  In the following issue, ASM #143, Spider-Man sees her again...and this time, he assumes that Mysterio's illusions made him doubt his sanity, and "all of that introspection must have broken down some hidden wall in my memory - opening up a whole Pandora's box full of guilt - and delusion!"   Yeah, sure thing, Peter.  But then in ASM #144, Aunt May sees her too - and is so shocked she promptly has a heart attack and keels over.

Marlo Thomas?
(ASM #144, written by Gerry Conway, art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt)

Peter returns home after two issues in Paris fighting the Cyclone, and finds, yes, Gwen Stacy waiting for him on his doorstep. Peter has a little breakdown, but eventually concludes that this woman is obviously an impostor. Yeah, that's the ticket.  After the Scorpion kicks the crap out of him, Spider-Man visits Aunt May the hopital, only to find "Gwen" there with Bugle reporter Ned Leeds.  Gwen took a little trip to the Bugle's offices, and they found that she has Gwen's fingerprints, and also that Gwen Stacy's grave is still...occupied.

Over the next couple issues, we learn that Gwen has no memory of the last two years - she doesn't even know that Gerald Ford is the President!  Of course, thanks to the sliding timescale, only a few months passed between Gwen's death and her seeming resurrection (even though two years passed in real time)...and this all took place during the George W. Bush administration.  But anyway.  In ASM #147, Peter gets his hands on a lab report (via Ned Leeds) that indicates Gwen is a clone, and things really start heating up.  The Jackal, a mysterious costumed criminal who's been bedeviling Spider-Man since ASM #129, teams up with Spider-Man's most embarrassingly Hispanic foe, the Tarantula, and reveals that he created the clone to avenge the original Gwen's death!

In ASM #148, after the Jackal escapes with the hypnotized Gwen clone and Spider-Man escapes the Jackal's deathtrap, Peter figures that the clone may have been grown from some cells taken for an experiment in Professor Warren's biology class.  After a little rigmarole with the Tarantula and a wild goose chase for the cells, which Warren says were stolen, Warren reveals that he created the clone - because he's the Jackal!

(Okay, that isn't that shocking now, but in 1974, this was pretty surprising.)

Also, at one point the Jackal disguised himself as a bus driver.  The Jackal is awesome.
(ASM #147, written by Gerry Conway, art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt)

In ASM #149, Warren reveals that he had strong paternal feelings for Gwen, and was devastated when she died.  He had his assistant Anthony Serba help him clone her, but when Serba realized what they were doing, he objected, so Warren went nuts and killed him.  Warren doesn't consider himself capable of murder, so he concluded that someone else must have done it - and when he walks by a classroom where someone's talking about the jackal, the "most cowardly of all predators", he concludes that the Jackal killed Serba.

So after all this, Spider-Man battles Warren's other clone - a clone of Spider-Man - at Shea Stadium, while Warren and the Gwen clone watch.  Ned Leeds is also there, shackled to a bomb.  Eventually, Gwen overcomes Warren's hypnosis and tears his mask in half, calling him a murderer.  Warren then realizes that he killed Serba after all and releases Leeds, just before the bomb explodes, seemingly killing both himself and the Spider-clone.  Later, Gwen places flowers on the real Gwen's grave and tells Peter, well:

Better get used to seeing this, Spidey.
(ASM #149, written by Gerry Conway, art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito)

And that was it for a while.

Flash forward to 1988.  After a long absence, Gerry Conway's returned to Marvel, and this time he's writing two of the three ongoing Spider-Man books, Web of Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man.  In his first few issues, he already introduced a new Tarantula (the previous one, who'd teamed up with the Jackal, had been turned into a horrible spider-mutant and killed off during Roger Stern's run on ASM), so he clearly wasn't afraid of looking back to his old Spider-Man work.  So in Spectacular Spider-Man #142, we see a pretty blonde woman with a dark hairband, a teacher in Michigan, being pursued by guys in futuristic armor; an issue later, she's still running, but she still hasn't been identified.  Now, remember, this was 1989.  No internet, no Wikipedia.  This is blatantly Gwen Stacy - and although The Death of Gwen Stacy was fifteen years old at this point, there were (and are) so many flashbacks and references to Gwen in the Spider-books that a reader could reasonably be expected to know what she looked like.  They could also reasonably be expected to know she was dead, so this would be pretty confusing.  If you wanted to know what the deal is, you would have had to read the original issues (or their 1981 reprint in Marvel Tales), pick up a copy of the then-current Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, or ask your dad.

Peter would never let anything bad happen to Gwen Stacy!
(Spectacular Spider-Man #143, written by Gerry Conway, art by Sal Buscema)

The story continues in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #8, part of The Evolutionary War, a storyline that crossed over into all of Marvel's annuals that year. Basically, the High Evolutionary is a British geneticist who decamped to Eastern Europe to evolve animals into animal people, apparently so he can dress them up like Medieval Times staff members.  Also, he wears a pink suit of armor.  Remember the High Evolutionary - he'll be important later.  Anyway, his big evil plan is to use...uh, evolution machines or something to super-evolve humanity, because that's his thing, even though that isn't remotely how evolution actually works.

Anyway, Gwen finally finds Spider-Man, as she's being pursued. Spider-Man drives the guys off; Gwen slips away, but later turns up at Peter and now-wife Mary Jane's apartment.  When she sees Peter's Spider-Man costume, she freaks out and leaves, running right into a guy in a huge robot suit.  He teleports away, but Spider-Man catches up to him, and all three end up in the Evolutionary's base.  Spider-Man starts fighting the Evolutionary's goons, Gwen gets strapped into a big machine, and...uh, the Young Gods show up.

Ah, the Young Gods.  Ah, where to start.  The Young Gods are a collection of twelve young people, chosen by Earth's goddesses to reflect the potential of humanity, so that when the Celestials (giant Jack Kirby space-gods) come to judge humanity, they decide not to destroy the Earth. The Celestials apparently don't have high standards, because oh my god these guys are lame. They're multiethnic in an embarassingly tokeny kinda way, and they have ridiculous names like "Mindsinger" and "Highnote". No offense meant to Gerry Conway, whose work I really like and clearly had high hopes for these characters, but guh.  Back during Conway's initial tenure at Marvel, he introduced three of the Young Gods in Thor, then Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio briefly picked up the thread in Thor a little later, and then Conway brought them back in full force here.

He's not saying "hi", he's using his sonic powers to teleport know, screw it.  He's saying hi.  Also, yes, that's a furry.  No, I'm not explaining it.
(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7, written by Gerry Conway, art by Mark Bagley and Keith Williams)

Anyway.  Only half of the Young Gods showed up initially - the other half are opposed to interfering in human affairs, so they show up later and fight the first half.  While this whole thing is going on, Spider-Man frees Gwen, but the High Evolutionary's machines have already determined that Gwen is not a clone.  The Evolutionary explains that she's actually some girl transformed into a duplicate of Gwen Stacy via a virus, and not a clone, because that would be crazy.

"Why, that would be as ridiculous as a high school student making some sort of artificial web fluid!  Or a badly-wounded engineer making a life-sustaining battlesuit out of some crap he found in a cave!  Or an anthropologist making giant mutant-hunting robots...yeah, I'll shut up now."
(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7, written by Gerry Conway, art by Mark Bagley and Keith Williams)

Now...I have to say I don't get this.  I mean, a biology professor coming up with a virus that can totally transform a person into another person at the genetic level, complete with their memories, is pretty much as implausible as said professor producing a viable human clone.  Not to mention that, you know, comics.  It seems kinda wasteful to devote like half of a 64-page annual to retconning something so trivial - it must have been bugging Conway for like a decade.

And so the High Evolutionary leaves, because he has to go do some stuff that's actually relevant to the crossover.  The Young Gods leave too, but one of them, the psychic Daydreamer, stays behind and transforms Gwen into a totally different, frizzy-haired woman who promptly wanders off...

...wait, this poor woman's been a brainwashed duplicate of a dead woman for like years now, and that's just been reversed, leaving her with god knows what memories, and Spider-Man's just gonna let her wander off on her own?  Where's she going to go?  Back to Michigan, assuming she even remembers having been a teacher there, and can explain to everyone why she looks totally different?  Back to wherever she lived before she was transformed into Gwen Stacy?  It's been years, so wherever it was almost certainly has someone else living there by now, assuming it hasn't been demolished!  And how's she even gonna get there?  She probably doesn't even know how much bus fare is now!  But, no, go ahead and watch her leave, Spider-Man.  Don't even ask for her name.  Dick.

"I'd help, but Falcon Crest is on in like half an hour."
(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7, written by Gerry Conway, art by Mark Bagley and Keith Williams)
A few months later, in Spectacular #149, Peter does some digging in Warren's old ESU lab and finds a diary, outlining how the woman he transformed into Gwen was Joyce Delaney.  It also reveals that, instead of the fatherly affection he claimed to have for her back in the '70s, ol' Miles was all Don't Stand So Close To Me.  Furthermore, Warren didn't kill Serba - he was transformed by the virus into the Spider-Man duplicate.  Got all that?  Good, because it's about to be retconned away.  Sucker.

And that was it for another while.

Then, in the '90s, Marvel decided to bring back the original Spider-Man clone.  Each issue of Power and Responsibility also had a backup feature - "Birth of a Spider-Man", featuring the creation and early life of the Jackal's Spider-Man clone.  And it clearly shows Warren growing Peter's clone from scratch, with nary a mention of Serba or Delaney.  So what gives?  In Spider-Man #56, Peter confronts the Jackal (who was also revealed to be alive) point-blank about what the High Evolutionary told him.  The Jackal just asks him why the High Evolutionary would have told Spider-Man the truth.

In Web of Spider-Man #125, Peter (dressed as the Scarlet Spider for reasons too arcane to get into here) does some research on the Jackal and finds a suspiciously familiar science teacher named "Warren Miles" (real creative, dude) living in suburban New Jersey.  Peter investigates, but while he's poking around the house he runs into Miles' wife - Gwen Stacy!  And it's clearly Gwen Stacy, not Joyce Delaney.  What?

Does she sleep in that hairband?
(Web of Spider-Man #125, written by Terry Kavanagh, art by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin)
Suffice it to say, she's not glad to see him.  Warren Miles and Gwen take off, where a misunderstanding with the new, heroic Green Goblin leads to Warren driving off a bridge and dying, and Gwen wandering off somewhere (for the third time) - but not before the clone couple have an exposition-laden chat about how Daydreamer made Gwen think she was Joyce Delaney out of mercy, because having her own life, even a fake one, would be better than knowing she's the clone of a dead woman.  This is further expanded upon in the issue's backup story, which reveals that shortly after her encounter with Daydreamer, "Joyce Delaney" chanced upon a copy of Peter Parker's book, Webs: Spider-Man in Action, and had a nervous breakdown, mentally and physically reverting back to being Gwen Stacy.  She was saved from despair by the lovin' of a middle-aged guy with unfortunate facial hair, or at least she was until Peter had to go and screw everything up.

A couple months later, we've learned that Ben Reilly is the original Peter Parker, making the current Peter - the one who married Mary Jane - the clone.  Peter is understandably distraught by this - so distraught he belts his (pregnant!) wife, flees the scene, and joins forces with the Jackal, setting the stage for the big Maximum Clonage storyline.  The Jackal wants to kill all humanity and replace them with clones, but he can't quite solve the problem of clone degeneration - the only clones he's ever made without that problem are Peter and the original Gwen clone.  Thus, he sends the confused Peter to find her.  He does, and she has unfinished business with the Jackal so she agrees to come with him, but as they're swinging through the city, Mary Jane chooses that time to activate her personal "panic button" spider-tracer.  She and Mary Jane are...surprisingly happy to see one another.  Or at least they are until the next issue, Maximum Clonage: Omega, where she gets kinda snippy with Mary Jane, because only a clone can understand what they're going through.  So they find the Jackal atop the Daily Bugle building, where he's going to detonate a viral bomb that will kill the staff, so Warren can replace them with clones. Gwen grabs one of the Jackal's laser guns and moves to kill him, but she can't go through with it.  In the ensuing battle, the Jackal accidentally knocks Gwen onto an antenna dangling over the side of the building.  That genocidal maniac still has a green furry boner for Ms. Stacy - any Ms. Stacy - so he saves her, but takes a fatal plunge off the building in the process. Afterwards, while Peter and Ben are chuckling over J. Jonah Jameson's predictable outrage over the whole thing, she just wanders off.  For a fourth time.

God dammit, Peter, it's not like she's friggin' Polkaroo!
(Maxumum Clonage: Omega, written by Tom Lyle, art by any combination of the eight pencilers and inkers it took to birth this monstrosity)

So there's that plot point wrapped up, right?  RIGHT?  That can't be what they intended to do - and hey, it wasn't!  Let's hear what '90s Marvel editor Glenn Greenberg has to say about this, from the invaluable Life of Reilly:

"You see, the Gwen Stacy clone was supposed to be definitively disposed of by the end of the OMEGA issue. The whole clone thing had started with her back in the 70s, after all, and it was felt by everyone in the Spider-Man Group that once the saga came to an end, Gwen's clone should be eliminated as a dangling plot thread once and for all. This would be a major element of the OMEGA issue.

But rewrite after rewrite went by of the OMEGA issue, with no resolution for the Gwen clone, and I distinctly remember asking Bob Budiansky, point blank, "So, is the Gwen clone being killed off in this thing or not?" I kept being told, "Yeah, yeah, that's gonna be worked in." And it wasn't. I couldn't believe it. She just takes off again for parts unknown in the midst of all the chaos. And to this day, I'm still not sure why that happened."

Okay, so things were kind of ridiculous at Marvel in the '90s.  But hey, you still want to hear about the High Evolutionary stuff, right?  No?  Well TOO BAD.  It's now late 1995, and Peter Parker's quit the superhero game, letting Ben Reilly take over for him.  This also meant retitling his books for a couple months - Amazing Spider-Man became Amazing Scarlet Spider, and so forth.  Thus, so too did quarterly Spider-Man Unlimited become Scarlet Spider Unlimited for one and only one issue.  While investigating one of the Jackal's warehouses, the Scarlet Spider tangles with the Animen, a group of the High Evolutionary's animal-men (see, I told you he'd be important again).  They don't have much to do with the Gwen Stacy clone, but one of them is a crab-man named Crushtacean.  He has a robot claw, and he is awesome.

KILLS like crab, talks like people.
(Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1, written by Glenn Herdling, art by Tod Smith and John Nyberg)
Anyway, they get what they came for, and teleport away, but the Scarlet Spider teleports back with them, and eventually ends up in the temple of the Cult of the Jackal.  The cult's high priestess, jackal-woman Anubia, tells the Spider that Warren was the High Evolutionary's assistant - and after several failed attempts to make the New Men more human, he left them to try to clone new, human bodies for their minds to be transplanted into. Years later, he returned to them, telling them that he'd produced two clones - but then they found out Warren died, and when the whole Evolutionary War thing went down, the High Evolutionary dropped in and was all "neener neener, Warren didn't really make clones".  He even showed them Warren's diary, with entries straight from Spectacular #149.  This confuses the Scarlet Spider (and us), given that he's seen Warren making clones, so he and the Jackal cult drop in on the High Evolutionary.  The High Evolutionary is sick of this crap, so he teleports the Spider back to his mancave, has a glass of wine, and explains everything.  Warren could make clones, after all, but the HE wanted his New Men to be happy as animal people, so he lied.  Oh, and that Warren journal?  Yeah, he faked that too.

"Also, I carved this out of butter."
(Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1, written by Glenn Herdling, art by Tod Smith and John Nyberg)
And then that was it for a while again.  The Clone Saga initially sold really well, but as it dragged on, it became ridiculously convoluted.  It finally ended with Norman Osborn coming back to life and revealing that Ben was the clone all along, and Peter was the original; Ben subsequently sacrificed himself to save Peter.  The whole thing had become an industrywide joke, like Secret Wars II or the entire career of Rob Liefeld.  When the Clone Saga was mentioned, it was as a gag.

But now it's 2011 - the people who grew up with the Clone Saga (like me!) remember it fondly, so Marvel's ever-so-gradually reintroduced elements from it into the books.  As per the current Spider-Island story, the once-thought-irrevocably-tainted Jackal is back.  With the Jackal comes clones, and the chance to tie up some Clone Saga loose ends.  In the Spider-Island: Deadly Foes one shot, we see a rather familiar-looking blonde woman coming walking home through the London rain to her apartment.  This is the original Gwen clone, going by the name Joyce Delaney.  She's feeling kinda blue - but she doesn't feel that way for long, because a sniper shoots and kills her, finally fulfilling what was supposed to happen during the Clinton Administration.  And that sniper is the original, failed Gwen Stacy clone: Abby-L!  But she's a story for next Spider-Island Spider-Mannotations Supplemental...

Thank you, Fred Van Lente, for not having someone chuck her off a bridge.
(Spider-Island: Deadly Foes, written by Fred Van Lente, art by Minck Oosterveer)
But you don't have to take my word for it.  If you want to read about this yourself, almost all of the issues I talked about above are available in handy trade format.  Marvel's just published Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga, which contains all of the '70s Clone Saga, plus Spectacular Annual #8, plus a really good Bill Mantlo/Frank Miller/Jim Mooney Carrion story, plus three issues of Sal Buscema action!  It's awesome.  The '90s Clone Saga issues featuring the Gwen clone are in Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic (volume 4), and Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1 is in Spider-Man: The Complete Ben Reilly Epic (volume 1).  They're...slightly less awesome, but fun for fans of '90s Spider-Man, of which I am definitely one.

Coming soon: more Spider-Island Spider-Mannotations, and another Spider-Mannotations Supplemental - Who the Hell is Carrion?


  1. I'm not sure why you call Secret Wars II a joke; if you ignore all the tie-ins, it's a fun little story.

  2. The FIRST Peter Parker clone = Kaine Scarlet Spider AFTER 'One More Day'
    The FIRST Gwen Stacy clone = Abby-L (L stands for Living) died? AFTER 'One More Day'

    The SECOND Peter Parker clone = Ben Reilly died BEFORE 'One More Day'
    The SECOND Gwen Stacy clone = Joyce Delaney died AFTER 'One More Da'y

    The SECOND clones are both dead. I want ANY writer to write a 'What if?' story that brings Ben Reilly and Joyce Delaney together after Amazing Spider-man 151(Ben got dumped in the smokestack). Ben survived and, just like Joyce left town in Amazing Spider-man 149, he left town as well. But what if Ben Reilly had left towards the same direction that Joyce Delaney had left? It would have been WONDERFUL for Ben and Joyce to meet eachother AGAIN and be OVER-JOYED to go through life TOGETHER!
    Ben and Joyce met eachother for the first time in SPIDER-MAN THE LOST YEARS # 0, The Double, PART TWO, 'No Escape', where they adressed eachother as Peter and Gwen.
    Ben and Joyce would be found by Kaine, who, instead of tormenting them, would be convinced by Joyce to be friends while together they would seek a cure for his cellular degeneration. They would also deal with Kaine's claim that Ben Reilly is the 'real' Peter Parker. REMEMBER, Miles Warren and Kaine WERE BOTH FOOLED BY NORMAN OSBORN into believing that Ben Reilly was the original.
    When Kaine leads them to Miles Warren's secret lab, they would also encounter Abby-L. Abby-L would be shocked to find out that Miles Warren had lied to her about not making another Gwen Stacy-clone, but would be convinced by Kaine, to join them in finding a cure for her condition.

    I consider all the stories after 'One More Day' as part of an ALTERNATE present. Nowadays, Kaine is cured and is operating in Houston as the Scarlet Spider. I really, really hope that he will be TORMENTED by the (SOMEHOW surving) Abby-L! This way Kaine will truly know what life was like for Ben Reilly when he tormented him for YEARS! I also hope to see Jacob Raven and Janine Godbe (real name Elizabeth Tyne) show up in the Scarlet Spider comic. Jacob and Janine both showed up in SPIDER-MAN THE LOST YEARS # 1, 2 and 3. Lastly, I hope to see Muse (real name Shannon) show up in the Scarlet Spider comic. Muse was a character that showed up in 'The return of Kaine' storyline back when Ben Reilly was Spider-man.