Untold Tales of Spider-Man #18 (1997)

Ask any Spider-Man fan about Spider-Man in the 1990s and the first word that would probably come out of their mouth is "clone." The Clone Saga consumed two years of the Spidey comics, and left a much longer lasting impression on fans. Some people even believe the Spider-Clone saga may be one of the main reasons why sales plummeted on all comics during that era. Much of the blame has to belong more to Marvel’s ham-handed ways of managing and distributing their comics than to the individual books, but it didn’t help that one of Marvel’s big franchise books was completely miserable in that era.

The Spider-Clone saga was based on a horrible series of issues of Amazing Spider-Man during the 1970s. Perpetuated by perhaps the worst comic book writer of all time, Gerry Conway, these stories appeared shortly after Conway killed Spidey’s old grilfriend, Gwen Stacy. Several months after she died, Peter Parker began seeing Gwen wandering the streets of New York, seemingly alive. He eventually tracked Gwen back to a third-rate villain called the Jackal, who somehow had the ability and means to clone both Gwen and Peter and raise both to adulthood virtualy overnight. Thankfuly, Peter was able to defeat his clone, and threw him into a factory exhaust pipe, never to be heard from again.

Some genius at Marvel decided to seize upon that wretched story and have it become part of a relaunch of the character. To make a long story short, there was a big twist to the story. Yes, it turns out that the character we thought of as Peter was actually the clone, and that the real Peter was the one thrown into a smokestack.

Yeah, it was an idiotic, ugly twist that showed little or no respect for longtime readers. What made it worse was that the clone saga continued for two long years, during which we had to suffer the travesty of the Scarlet Spider and during which sales plummetted like a stone. Ask any longtime Spider-Man fan about the era and most will agree that it was the nadir of the character’s 40+ year run.

But there was one light of fresh air during the era. As part of their short-lived line of 99¢ books, Marvel launched one called Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Written by the wonderful Kurt Buseik, Untold Tales presented stories from the early days of Spider-Man, when Peter Parker was a miserable and lonely high school student, and the Spider-Man persona helped him to explore the person Peter would become. In many ways the early days of the Spider-Man present the essence of the character. I think that’s part of why the movie Spider-Man was presented as a high school student. Most teenagers and former teenagers can empathize with the wish for freedom and release that the life of a super-hero could bring. In his full-face mask, snappy attitude, and ordinary problems, Spider-Man could have been any of us – if we’d been lucky enough to be bitten by a radioacttive spider, that is.

Untold #18 is a typical issue. Spider-Man is being stalked around Manhattan by the Headman, while Peter tries to become more romantically involved with Betty Brant, and Peter’s high school pals have their own complications. The Green Goblin even pops up in a cameo in this issue, and the following issue promises Doctor Octopus. This may have been the "cheap" and "old-fashioned" Spidey book, but the stars were in place. Pat Olliffe even presented art that looks like an updated version of the art of the great Steve Ditko, Spidey’s legendary first artist.

Where the issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man from that era are almost unreadable now, Untold Tales has a wonderful timelessness that makes it feel fresh even now.

By the way, this site has a 35 (yes, THIRTY FIVE) part summary of the clone saga if you want to read more. God bless the world wide web. Oh, and despite my hared of his writing, Gerry Conway has gone on to pursue a very successful writing career. Lucky guy.

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