SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
You know the story already…Teenager gets bitten by radioactive spider and loss gives birth to a hero.
Spider-Man is a character that I’ve had a deep love for years. He’s part of our shared cultural language and will be after we’re all gone. In a time when you think every Peter Parker story has been told, Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley make the familiar not-so-familiar with their six issue series, Spider-Man: Life Story.
I was misty-eyed while reading most of this book. By now, I’m expecting to cry whenever I pick up a Chip Zdarsky comic, anyway. When Zdarsky writes Spider-Man, you know it’s going to be magic. As an empathetic writer, Zdarsky understands the hope, traumas and responsibilities of our friendly neighborhood web head. While Life Story is sold on the heroism of Spider-Man, it’s the humanity and soul of Peter Parker and the people around him that make this story worth reading.
Also, I’ll never complain about seeing Spider-Man veteran Mark Bagley taking another swing at the character. Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man run with Brian Michael Bendis is still a milestone of a collaboration in comics. They took decades of Spidey mythology and turned it into a clean and consistent run on the character over *111* issues. In six issues, Zdarsky and Bagley take you through six decades of Spider-Man history, albeit with their own twists.
I can’t promise that this will make you a Spider-Man fan if you already aren’t. I’d say five out of six issues are near-perfect to perfect. However, issue five becomes crowded when it stuffs Morlun and Marvel’s Civil War into one issue. That said, Zdarsky and Bagley’s heavy lifting and how they maneuvered through this beautiful and dense story is impressive. Life Story is a celebration of Spider-Man at its core. Not just the modern era— it pays tribute to everything from Amazing Fantasy 15, forward.
Just because Spider-Man is on the title doesn’t mean this book is a light read. The Peter you see in Life Story is still full of quips and hope but there’s a darkness in him, too. You see an downtrodden Peter Parker who gets angry at the world, beaten down by life and has to get up to fight another day. Every day Peter shoulders the responsibility and sets out to make the world a better place before his time is up.
What Life Story does very well… is let Peter grow up. He doesn’t get to do that in the main Spider-Man title. He’s been perpetually 20-something for years. That can get old. In Life Story, Peter gets to age, have a family, deal with loss and the responsibility that comes with being Spider-Man. The story is familiar to old readers while throwing twists into familiar moments. Yet new readers can find a lot to enjoy at this fresh take that respects six decades of Spider-Man continuity.
Sure, classic moments like the death of Gwen Stacy, Secret Wars and the introduction of the black suit happen. Then when you feel like you know what’s coming, the book throws you for a loop. Peter works for Reed Richards, Otto Octavius is a good guy (kind of…), Kraven’s Last Hunt introduces Venom, Peter’s kids play hero, Tony Stark is a primary antagonist, Spider-Man becomes a mentor to the new generation of heroes and a lot more.
The series is intertwined with real-life and Marvel-centric historical events. The Vietnam War serves as the morally ambiguous backdrop of the first issue set in the 60s. In this reality, super powered people are required to register for war, like men were required to do at the time. Peter Parker is conflicted about his opposition to the war versus his sense of responsibility. Overseas, Tony Stark is the representation of the military industrial complex funding the war and Steve Rogers is on the other side opposing it, becoming labeled as a traitor to his country. Rogers serves as a moral touchstone for Peter throughout the story, an example of how a person should stand up and speak out in the face of injustice.
In the third issue, Peter returns from the Secret Wars as American superheroes are involved in the Cold War with Russia in 1984. The fourth issue set in the 90s deals with corporate greed through Tony Stark while Peter has revelations about his clone, Ben Reilly. J. Michael Stracyznski and John Romita Jr’s haunting and powerful Amazing Spider-Man #36 gets a nod as Spider-Man helps with the 9/11 relief effort. The sixth and last issue brings Peter to the present and leaves us sobbing and looking into the future.
While I won’t go in-depth into each issue, I’ll mention that heroes aren’t perfect in this story. They can be lonely, depressed, angry, greedy, insecure and destructive. Not everyone can be a Steve Rogers. This story shows you a vulnerable side of Peter, where he’s optimistic and heroic but has a breaking point. You find a Peter Parker who is angry at the world and tries to hold onto the people that make it worth living.
Throughout Peter’s life, it’s the people who stick with him that make Spider-Man stronger. Ben Parker, Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson (and their kids, Claire and Ben), Ben Reilly, Steve Rogers and Miles Morales deserve as much credit for the life of Spider-Man as Peter himself.
THE STORY GOES ON
Life Story is a collective tip of the hat to anyone who has worked or is working on the wall-crawler. It’s for Stan and Steve, John, Gerry and Gil and more, up to the current creators. It’s also for people who love Spider-Man—for fans, new and old. It’s proof that Spider-Man’s story will live on in timelessness to inspire people to leave the world better than they found it.
If there’s one Spider-Man story you decide to read during your lifetime, let it be this one.