Saturday, November 6, 2010

Patience is a Virtue, and Virtue is a Grace; and Graces are a Little Girl, Who Wouldn't Wash Their Face

So if you're really old, like me, you remember  the 1970s, and various Marvel writers flailing around in Spider-Man, trying to  match the early success of the "mystery" villains, meaning mainly the Green Goblin. Basically, Spider-Man is a luckless loser of a bachelor forever being attacked and enmeshed in bizarre circumstances by a mysterious masked villain who turns out to be the most unexpected enemy of all! At the beginning, Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin, and also the father of Peter Parker's best friend! Woah. Heavy. By the end, we had the Hobgoblin.

(Doofus or dweeb --you decide! Image from Wikipedia.)

In the middle, which is to say, those same fabulous 70s, we had the Jackal, a wacky evil mastermind with an animus against our hero that led him to send a pre-cool Punisher, Grizzly and Tarantula against our webslinging hero. We're an awful long way down the road leading from Green Goblin to Hobgoblin here. 

Turns out that the Jackal was none other than kindly old Professor Warren, who used to teach Gwen and Peter physics at Empire State University. And when Gwen Stacy was killed in a fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, old Professor Warren got kind of upset. (She was probably the only student who paid attention in lectures, and he got attached. It happens). So, naturally, he had his  lab assistant clone Gwen, and also Peter, from some tissue samples he collected from the class. Because that's what physics profs (never mind the geneticists!) did back before "ethical research." Nowadays you can't even give pregnant women untested drugs to quiet away their endless hysterics, or infect black men with interesting diseases! In those days, if you wanted to clone yourself up some students, you could just hump the work off on one of your lab assistants. (He would have got one of his graduate students to do it, but the clones would have been six months late and "theoretically engaged.")  At least at the good colleges, as you probably didn't see many "homicidal rampaging clones" at the local community college in those days. Now? Meh. Who knows?

Imagine the Jackal's surprise when his Peter clone turned out to have Spider-Man powers (well, obviously)! He then did the most logical and super-villainy thing he could think of with his windfall -pitted two Spider-Men against each other in a battle to the death! The clone died, Warren/Jackal died, clone Gwen Stacy fell down a plothole, and everything went back to normal, all forgotten. Unless you were me and kept thinking, "oh, that poor clone."

(Image from Comics Should Be Good.)

Until,that is, the October, 1994 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, when the not-dead-at-all clone returns under the vastly significant pseudonym, "Ben Reilly." Ben has been living his own life after apparently dying five years before (comic book time), but has now returned to New York because he has heard that Peter/Ben's sickly old Aunt May, who raised him, oh blah blah angsty blah, is dying. Ben and Peter, as good superheroes do, hang out, fight, trade costumes, become family. Peter is married to Mary Jane at this point and expecting little May, who is going to have an uncle. Ben settles in, working at a coffee shop and having all the luckless bachelor loser adventures that Peter can't, anymore.....
Which would have been a nice plan for rejuvenating the franchise, but it didn't work out. Maybe market research suggested that the 10 year olds who didn't read comics anymore would be confused about there being two Spider-Men. So instead the writers had Peter discover that he's the clone. Oh! Existential crisis! No longer entitled to the life of the Peter Parker persona, clone-Peter and MJ punish themselves by moving to Oregon,  and Ben assumes the mantle of Spider-Man. 
And the readers ...revolted. In December of 1996, Poochie dies while returning to his home planet. Or, in this case, Ben dies (and disintegrates, because in reality, he is the clone, and clones disintegrate into goo when they die,  bECUZ THEI R NOT REEL pEEPLES!1!!) Aunt May comes back from the dead, baby May dies or something, and it turns out that the Green Goblin faked his death and has been orchestrating the whole plot all along as his ultimate revenge on Spider-Man! Which is a pretty lame revenge, if you ask me.

But, then, no-one asked me. I was happy with the Clone Saga --well, the whole "Peter is the real clone" thing seemed a little too much, but the rest, I was fine with. In particular, I liked Ben Reilly. So when Mightygodking joked recently that the "readers demanded the Clone Saga," I was reminded of some of Grace Park's scenes in Battlestar Galactica, and thought to myself, "yes. Yes, I did."

Take a good look at that still from the opening of the first season of Battlestar Galactica. What do you see? An actress doing a good job of portraying twin characters. One of them is a pretty admirable person, one of them is pathetic. Park's directorial instruction seems to have been, "strong and determined, on the left; damaged and weak, on the right." Throw in those great costumes designs and the obscene, walking-dead planet of Caprica, and you have a moment of true emotional power.

That, though, is not what I'm going to talk about here. Notice that not-Boomer has reversed her part. Talk about stale visuals --but, a stale visual that takes us in a new direction, because this what TV twins do when they want to assert their individuality, and it seems pretty darn dumb for the Cylon clone whose job appears to  be to convince Lieutenant Agathon that she is, in fact, Lieutenant Sharon Valenti to choose this line of self-expression. He's got a gun, not-Boomer! That said, Helo is a guy, so he presumably won't notice. So who is?

 In the first of three episodes that I've rewatched since my last posting on this theme, not-Boomer has reported back to her handlers again, telling them that, "we had sex." Wow. In the next two, she and Helo are genuinely on the run, after not-Boomer turns. This is a pretty key interview. And what, exactly, happens here? 

Spies sometimes turn when they're not doing a good job, and this is one of those sticky workplace interviews you have sometimes where it becomes clear that you have not quite aced the assignment. Two attractive, healthy young people all alone in each others' company for three weeks, and you've had sex? Promotions all around! That being said, what the Tricia Helfer model asks, isn't, "does he love you," but, rather, "did he tell you he loved you?"

I mean, what is this? Mean Girls? He's a guy. Words will follow deeds at some remove, and boy, howdy, have there been deeds. So what more do you want, Doctor Laura? An engagement party? More-or-less, it turns out, and if Helo won't go along, not-Boomer is to kill the boy.

The things they tell you about motivating deep cover agents in Clone Cylon Management School these days! Not-Boomer runs away, all but singing the Colonial Anthem as she goes, and Clone Tricia looks after her, saying that "Sharon" is getting too involved in her assignment. The other handler, master of the obvious, says, "I notice that you call her Sharon, now." Clone Tricia puts her slip down to the emotional neediness that not-Boomer has picked up from the humans, but we get to see not-Boomer return to Helo, wake him up, and tells  him that they're going to run even harder now. "What's changed?" He asks. "Trust me," she says.

That ain't neediness, Clone-Tricia. That "trust me" is a tell that something is going on here that not-Boomer can't share with Helo. It implies that not trusting is an option. Will you go along with whatever she's planning for you, Helo? And the answer is, yes. Things may get better, or they may get worse, but they will get better or worse with not-Boomer. 

The hair-part is not a message to Helo. It is a message is to Clone Tricia. And that message is that not-Boomer is not just one iteration of a lineage of clones. She is a person, and a person who chooses to live a life. The great mistake of the Clone Saga is to assert that if you were not authentically the individual that you thought you were, that you can never be the person that you want to be. 

And that is what is stupid and wrong in the Clone Saga. Not-Boomer doesn't want to be Boomer any more. She wants to be the babe that got Helo. (Hopefully she won't settle for just being that, but the point is that she is going to define herself by what she does, and what she does will not include killing this man who loves her.) In the same way, it is utterly irrelevant which of Peter or Ben is the "real" clone. What matter is doing what is right: right by New York, right by old Aunt May; above all, right by little May, the life that's coming.  

It's not who you are that counts. It's what you do. Whether you are born into this world a baby or a fully-formed duplicate of someone else, it only matters if you think that you are somehow bound to what you were, that to be "real," or "authentic," you must be true to some essential being. "You're a Cylon. You have to kill Helo." "You're a clone. You must move to Oregon." (Yeah. Me not understand, either.) Some people "keep it real," while others keep it fake, and that's bad.

Look. If being "real" means doing something bad or stupid, don't be real. Be fake. It's better. Or you'll just be giving in to the people who think that once a clone, always a clone.   

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