Spider-Man fans feeling nostalgic for stories from the 90s should look no further than Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #21. From clone degeneration to the New Warriors to Carrion, this issue is something of a time capsule from a very different era of Spider-Man books, while also featuring most of the concepts that have defined Dan Slott’s run on the title (the multiverse, alternate spider-characters, etc.). The incorporation of so many controversial elements during a single issue is likely to make this story something of a third rail amongst certain fans of Amazing Spider-Man.
Yet, despite the completely misleading cover and controversial content, it’s hard to get too worked up about the contents of Amazing Spider-Man #21. Yes, this issue incorporates so many unique and forgotten elements of Spider-Man lore that are bound to cause a reaction from fans, but it is also another rote expositional chapter in the ongoing The Clone Conspiracy story. Just as in the previous issue of the series, this entry sets out to explain exactly what happened to make the cliffhanger in most recent The Clone Conspiracy story possible.
This issue specifically sets out to tell the story of Kaine’s rebirth, his discovery of the clone/zombie plot, and the details that triggered his appearance at Horizon University in Amazing Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy #2. The details regarding Kaine’s third rebirth make the simplest sense, it was The Other who died, not Kaine. Additionally, it is reassuring to see that Kaine’s resurrection is not without its own cost.
Apparently Karn, the Master Weaver and controller of the “Web of Fate,” has watched as the Carrion virus has destroyed universe after universe. As Kaine is suffering the effects of the Carrion virus already, he is dispatched to investigate the root cause of the zombie-like disease alongside Spider-Gwen. (It must be noted that Kaine’s reveal of his ailment to Spider-Gwen is hilariously underwhelming due to a coloring error).
Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage take the two through a predictable and somewhat fun romp, most notable for the surprise appearances of several characters and designs that readers haven’t been seen for almost two decades, but are doing the unenviable task of stretching five pages of story into a full issue. To fill in the gaps necessary to pad this issue out to a normal length, the two repeat exposition and story beats from previous issues. Just like in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #20, the new story elements told here don’t do much to change reader’s understanding of what they’ve previously read in the main event books. To that point, this issue doesn’t reveal much about The Clone Conspiracy #2 more than it does underline the events of that title. Whether this is out of fear that readers aren’t picking up both titles, or a genuine lack of new story, is not justified in the pages of this particular issue.
Fortunately, Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils, with inking support from Cam Smith and Roberto Poggi and coloring by Jason Keith, are back to their top form. Of particular note are the first couple of pages that retell the ending of “Spider-Verse” wherein Kaine both murders Solus and is in-turn murdered himself by Morlun. The softer coloring and more judicious use of inking provide a nice counterbalance to Camuncoli’s sometimes over-precise pencils. The rest of Amazing Spider-Man #21 features the typical, retro-inspired, thin pencil-work that Camuncoli has become known for on the title, but it is those opening pages that should be an inspiration for how his work should be best complimented.
The scant bits of new story that readers do get in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #21 provide a fun romp through the multi-verse, including some heartwarming moments that really sell the Gwen/Kaine team-up, but they aren’t quite enough to make up for the overwhelming mountain of rehashing and exposition that has come to dominate Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. After months of build-up, anticipation, teasing, and press releases, it continues to be a shame that so much of this story is stuck laying an even more complicated base for the story to launch off of. It is my hope that with the close of this issue, the players have been set, the stakes have been established, and now the writers can focus on crafting a compelling emotional reason for the readers to invest in their story.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #21 is yet another entry in the ongoing "Clone Conspiracy" event that sees the story stuck rehashing old plot beats and joylessly forcing its way through all the complicated exposition it needs to set up the future events.