Credit: Jim Cheung

For months now, Spider-Man comics have been building up to something big. Actually, it goes back longer than that. For almost as long as Dan Slott has been writing the character, he’s been dropping hints and arranging pieces for something major. Spider-Man fans have certainly started seeing hints pop up over the last few months, mostly involving a mysterious man in a red mask and the banner “Dead No More.” Certain recognizable dead characters from Spider-Man’s history have even started appearing in the flesh, from The Rhino’s wife Oksana to Gwen Stacy herself, at the end of Spider-Man’s recent Free Comic Book Day story. Fans have been misled about one aspect, however; “Dead No More” is not the real title of this story. EW can now reveal the true name of this major story: The Clone Conspiracy.

“Clone” is obviously a loaded word for Spider-Man fans, dating back to the original Clone Saga in the mid-’90s, which began by replacing Peter Parker with a younger clone of himself and ended in tangled plot lines and a total reset. It left a strange legacy of complicated baggage, but Slott likes to think of that stuff as “scar tissue.”

“I think more than any character in the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man is about heart,” Slott says. “And ever since Amazing Fantasy #15, for him it’s also been about loss. ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ He learns that lesson at the life of Uncle Ben. And then, years later, Captain Stacy dies in front of him, and it’s almost the exact opposite. He did everything he possibly could! He did try to live up to his responsibility and use his power, and still he lost someone very dear to him. So loss surrounds Spider-Man. We live in a day and age of comics where you’re always seeing another important death. ‘Here’s someone who dies!’ We’re subverting all of that. Here’s people coming back.”

The Clone Conspiracy will feature the return of The Jackal, a Spider-Man villain who has closely been involved in past cloning storylines. Although Slott and editor Nick Lowe are coy about exact story details at this point, they promise that this time The Jackal’s plan is different, in both style and scope – one that will possibly go beyond cloning, to questioning the very boundary between life and death.

“The Jackal has always seemed to be obsessed with cloning Spider Man and Gwen. He’s had a very narrow focus,” Slott says. “That’s led to very interesting stories in the past, but you have to stop and think, if you’re The Jackal and you take science to the next level, what’s more important to you than just cloning Gwens and Peters? What does this character want, and what’s he going to do with this awesome science?”

“This is not your normal super villain plan,” Lowe says. “That’s what makes his evolution even more interesting.”

The Clone Conspiracy will be a standalone five-issue miniseries, written by Slott and illustrated by Jim Cheung, with the first issue hitting stands in October. Slott will be walking up to it with Amazing Spider-Man issues 16 through 18, in which, he teases, “some big, primal things happen that will have a long-standing effect.” Slott will also be writing concurrent stories with the main event, alongside co-writer Christos Gage, in Amazing Spider-Man #19-23. There will also be a few other tie-ins, including Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (check out the beautiful cover by Alex Ross below). If that sounds like a massive event, that’s because it needed to be.

“As we were building it, the story got bigger than the container we were able to hold it in, and there was material for some of these major characters that just couldn’t be contained,” Lowe says.

But despite the large amount of books involved and the years-long build-up, Slott wants to make clear that the story will also be accessible to new readers, or long-time Spider-Man fans intrigued by this new clone saga.

“As much as there’s all these touchstones for people who have been reading the book for a long time, there’ll also be great jumping-on points for people who have been Spider-Man fans their whole lives who want to come back and see what we’re doing,” Slott says. “When you jump in to the prelude issues, or the series proper, it will take you by the hand and lead you into this fresh hell.”

Credit: Marvel