One of the joys of comic books is that, no matter how many decades go by, our favorite characters effectively remain unchanged. Some storylines might emerge in which we get to see an older version of Wolverine while other titles like Marvel 1602 imagine what would happen if contemporary heroes existed in a different century. Many comic readers might look towards the pages of comics to be inspired to emulate their favorite hero, but we can never truly embody them; not because we can't control things with our mind or possess the power of flight, but because we can't ignore the ravages of time, no matter how closely we aim to resemble a superhero. For Spider-Man: Life Story, writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Mark Bagley subject the wall-crawler to the biggest punishment of all: the all-too-human horrors of aging.
In 1962, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, granting him a number of superpowers which he used to fight crime in New York City. Four years later, Parker is about to graduate college, with his peers, both human and superhuman alike, heading to Vietnam to serve in the war. The hero is faced with challenges both fresh and familiar, from deciding if the war effort is the best way to use his abilities to grappling with Norman Osborn.
The first half of this issue feels like a familiar re-telling of Peter Parker's early days, up until a few choice decisions are made which create an alternate timeline for Peter Parker. These seemingly innocuous choices end up exemplifying the butterfly effect, proving that even the smallest deviation can impact various other elements of the world, amplifying themselves with each reaction and changing the fate of the known universe. The book doesn't yet feel like it aims to embrace the novelty of a "what if?" scenario, but rather injects humanity into Parker in much more subtle ways.
While the premise might seem familiar, it feels like witnessing something entirely new. For all the times a fan has engaged with a storyline in which the characters made a dramatic move instead of a logical move, causing us to critique those decisions, Life Story instead follows ideas like Peter Parker contacting the authorities when he thinks he has a lead on a criminal instead of pursuing the villain on his own without a valid reason. This concept is sure to deliver some unexpected narratives and twists on familiar elements of Spider-Man's mythology, and the mere incorporation of the Vietnam War is already amplifying the stakes in unexpected ways.
Zdarsky's dialogue effectively captures the early spirit of The Amazing Spider-Man without ever feeling like he's regurgitating it, toning down the quips that would have been popular at the time. The book might not feature as many zingers from Parker, but it still manages to capture his sense of humor, J. Jonah Jameson's bombastic attitude, and Norman Osborne's villainy. Badley art similarly accomplishes the impressive feat of honoring the source material and embodying it fully without merely copying panels, and it's made all the more effective by inker John Dell and colorist D'Armata.
The inaugural issue of the book is enticing and interesting, yet suffers the drawbacks that virtually all kick-off chapters must face. The narrative is forced to guide the reader through the essential bits of Spider-Man's history before it can start to go off the rails into uncharted waters. The stage must be set for the bigger concept, with this first book only barely getting to be its own thing. The frustrating part of this is that this is a six-issue limited series, so to potentially not be getting something that feels entirely fresh, we have to hope the remaining issues retroactively make all of the beats of this story essential for the journey.
Spider-Man fans and anyone interested in high-concept superhero stories that humanize us in potentially tragic ways will want to keep their eyes out for this book.
Published by Marvel Comics
On March 20, 2019
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Mark Bagley
Letters by VC's Travis Lanham