This week saw the end of Marvel’s latest Spider-Man event: Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. Read on for our thoughts on the series’ conclusion and the one Monsters Unleashed tie-in that actually takes advantage of just how fun it can be to see Marvel Universe heroes battle giant monsters. All this and (less) in The Marvel Rundown:

Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy #5
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Jim Cheung
Inkers: John Dell, Jay Leisten and Jim Cheung
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna

While the concept of Spider-Man’s greatest allies coming back to life is alluring, writer Dan Slott never quite tapped into the idea in an engaging manner in the pages of Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. For starters, the storyline didn’t quite mine the emotional context grounding the large storyline that the original clone saga did. When writer Gerry Conway and Ross Andru tapped into a clone of Gwen Stacy running amok in the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker’s demons came to roost in a dark meditation on death. This story kicked off with a Spider-Man supporting cast member kicking the bucket in a dramatic manner in much the same way as the ’70s comic, but the character was hardly essential to the plot, giving the comic some really low stakes.

Artist’s Jim Cheung’s pencils are truly beautiful, containing all the high octane character and slick production value the artist has been known for. However, even with Cheung’s gorgeous pencils work, there’s a been-there, done-that feeling with this story. Cheung has gone been big before as the artist of several previous Marvel Universe events and there’s nothing that makes this comic feel different from the others.

If this comic is truly at fault for anything, it’s just being inconsequential. The ramifications of this story will not likely be seen past this issue. However, Slott does find a few nice character beats here. Unfortunately, his further developments with the Stacy family seem redundant with so much work currently being done on the character in so many other books.

Reading this story in a vacuum without other Spider-events bogging down the narrative likely still wouldn’t make for a good reading experience. Peter Parker’s relationship with the villain of the comic is such that the storyline awkwardly muddles about. The big confrontation feels deflated at best in the issue, sticking the villain of the comic with a hopelessly cliched long-lasting monologue doesn’t make this muddled comic more enjoyable. Also, the subplot with Doctor Octopus takes an unexpected but unneeded twist here. Slott has done so much with this character throughout his Spider-Man run that there might not be any new directions for the writer take him in.

With so many characters in this story, the tension between Spider-Man and the big bad just doesn’t seem threatening. To make matters worse, the ending of the comic is incredibly rushed, featuring no final beat, coaxing readers to pick up an epilogue issue. Usually the pacing of Marvel events gives some kind of finality and a tease at what’s to come while this doesn’t offer any aftermath before showing a vague hint at what the epilogue story could be. If this story is collected without the epilogue issue, the collection is going to feel incomplete.

FInal Verdict: Skip. Between Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy‘s been-there, done-that premise and muddled final issue, there’s only so much room for the compelling plot and art Slott and Cheung have built a career out of.

Doctor Strange #1.MU
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Julian Lopez
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit

I have been desperately waiting for a comic like this. There’s something undeniably appealing about the Monsters Unleashed premise, but the main series has taken the conflict too seriously to engage with the material in a truly fun way. Thankfully, author Chip Zdarsky takes the undeniably optimistic charm of the current Doctor Strange ongoing and applies it to this one-shot while mixing the narrative up with bits of Monsters Unleashed fun.

The writer toys with the weird relationships that characters in the Marvel Universe can have with each other and shows Strange working alongside unleashed monsters. I’m not sure why Marvel chose industry veteran Zdarksy to write the story, as the mega-popular creator doesn’t quite reflect the trend of new talent the publisher has been putting on these issues, but I sure am glad they did. This issue is remarkable in how quickly the storyline establishes a true bond between Strange and the newcomers introduces in this story. A large part of the issue’s charm is Julian Lopez’s enthusiastic pencils. The artists’ fantastic work makes this issue come alive, as he draws a pivotal scene in Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum that makes the entire experience come alive.

Lopez’s illustration of the monster-laden fight scene in the beginning is also wonderful. Also, the creative team is wise in making the choice to put the monsters on the table right away. So many of these one-shots have tried to seemingly hide from this premise instead of embracing the concept head-on. Aside from great looking giant monsters, Lopez adds a lot of character to this premise by picking just the right poses and facial animations for the human folk in the story. Some of the poses from Spider-Man and the angles from the monsters really shine and make me wish that Lopez was more active on main Marvel series. Unfortunately, Frank D’Armata’s colors make the comic look a more flat than it would have otherwise. The colorist makes the icy landscapes look too dark, taking some of pure, kinetic energy away from Lopez’s lively work.

Final Verdict: Buy. I’m not sure why Monsters Unleashed hasn’t applied this comics’ fun and frenetic action to the overly-serious main series.

Next week we’re going to take a look at what my new favorite author Jeremy Whitley has in store for the Champions with with artist Ted Brandt, then I’ll check in on the debut of the brand new Elektra ongoing with Luke Cage writer Matt Owens and Wolverines artist Juan Cabal. See you in seven.

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