Spider-Man: Life StoryFebruary 15, 2021
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Everyone knows Spider-Man, whether through comics or films (and with the Avengers wave and especially the alliance between Marvel Pictures and Sony, Peter Parker has experienced a nice come-back). So the young Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, possesses superhuman powers. He will however let pass a thief who will kill his uncle Ben, marking him forver with the motto “With great powers come great responsibilities.”
OK, now picture this: Peter Parker is getting old. Let him live his life as a scientist alongside his superhero activities, let him not spend his whole life being a student photographer making a meager living, working for Jonah J. Jameson. Also imagine that the fight against the Green Goblin, a Norman Osborn having learned his secret identity, does not end with the death of Gwen Stacy. It would change a lot of things, right ?
While Parker is getting old, he will experience all the Marvel major events in almost real time, the comics being almost cut in decades : Secret Wars and the symbiote appearance, Clone War, Civil War, the Spider Totem story), nothing will be spared to Parker. Of course, some plot changes make the whole story slightly different from the one you might have read. And it drastically changes the fate of the Parkers. All this will end in a very logical way with a legacy passed to Miles Morales.
That’s all ? Yes that’s all. And yet, it’s quite a feat. It’s true that you have to know the Marvel universe (and especially Spidey Universe) in its bigger outline to appreciate the changes. But even without that, the story holds up perfectly (with perhaps a little bit of a downside when it comes to clones, but apparently it was already not very qualitative in the base material). There is a beautiful logic that flows throughout the book, the ghost of Gwen Stacy (yep, but not really in the same way) still haunts Peter and the background of the character (what to do with so many powers) is kept. intact.
What will be the most surprising is that Life Story doesn’t have much humor even with a notoriously funny character like Spidey or a writer like Zdarsky. Actually he doesn’t make Parker joke any more. The character’s everlasting melancholy and the accumulation of problems concentrated in a single book can’t let the character breathe. Every fight becomes significant and Peter becomes a lot concerned. No time for small talk with funny vilains that Spidey will beat. No, here, there’s only danger and the passing of age, meaning being responsible for your family for instance. Not really the time to joke. Zdarsky try to wirte one scene with humor and sadly, this moment sounds wrong.
For a story of this scope, Marvel needed a foolproof artist. Here comes Mark Bagley, someone who knows Spider-Man very well for having drawn 111 issues of Ultimate-Spider-Man along with Brian Michael Bendis, making it the longest run with a uniques creative team. He is loved by readers, associated with Spider-Man (he also drew some Amazing Spider-Man or Spectacular Spider-Man issues) and is an obvious choice.
I’m not a huge fan of Bagley’s art and this mini-series doesn’t really change my mind. Certainly his Parker is nice drawn, as well as Mary-Jane at different times of their life. But when the characters go out of their regular expressions, I find that it doesn’t work. Some horrified character faces come to mind. However, the artist is super constant in quality, draws some detailed pages and is known to respect the crushing deadlines.
What would I would have preferred ? Would the tribute have been nicer if each era had been drawn by a different artist ? Wouldn’t someone like Marcos Martin (who made an alternate cover on an issue) have been a better choice ? I imagine these editorial team already carefully considered these options. In my humble opinion, another graphic touch on this story would have made Life Story a must-read.
Life Story is typically how a successful book is designed: it speaks to fans without necessarily putting newcomers aside, even if the newcomers will not get the same understanding. But if it has success, it’s also because it’s nicely crafted. Because this Peter Parker is as endearing as the original, because he has so many problems (if not more) and still chooses an honorable path out of it. As I wrote just above, it lacks a striking graphic personality to make it essential. The fact remains that it is a highly recommended reading.