THIS REVIEW OF ‘SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY’ #3 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Company policy trumps Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Mortality Family in total. Lucrative properties in the form of characters usually aren’t allowed to age, mature, grow old, and die. That’s left to fandom, as we thrill to exploits of our favorite superheroes while indulging in childhood’s comic reading and fudge pops. Then as young adults, reading TPBs secretly as we work a lunch counter, our hero still vital and idealized as a decade previous. Eventually, we enjoy retirement with said hero still adventuring on television or in the cinema, played by actors half our age. It’s understandable. A character sells well, he or she needs to stick around timelessly to maximize profits.
It’s also a shame, because we never see our heroes face the ravages of time which we undergo. In rare instances when we non-canonically get an aged version of a fictional icon, it’s likely in glimpses. No context except flashback showing progression, how they arrived at who they are. No reference of world events which help mold them into their mature selves.
Chip Zdarsky’s Spider-Man: Life Story takes the road less traveled to view Peter Parker’s career as the Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler in actual time, decade by decade. The stories related this way, the supporting characters, are all familiar. But also changed, outcomes and repercussions in step as time marches on. Heroes slow down. Eternal friendships and alliances change with generational perspectives. Despite the fantastic nature of a fictional world with powered people, there’s relatable realism here. Also, surprises.
Issue #3 checks in on Spider-Man in the 1980s, more than twenty years since his arachnid powers manifested. It’s a storyline of Spider-incognito. Pete’s married to Mary Jane. But the circumstances leading to that union are drastically different than our continuity. Secret Wars and Battleworld happen. But the results sit differently for an older Peter than in the familiar tale we know. Alien symbiotes come into play. With a different reception than eternally young Parker had on discovering his black suit wanted to ‘join’ with him.
Real world politics take a greater role in the narrative, too. The disappearance of so many superheroes during Secret Wars results in severe global ramifications. Heroes, villains, and secondary characters under pressure of mortality react differently than the continuity norm.
Zdarsky’s tale is seen through the eyes of a worn down Spider-Man, one well into his 40s. He excels at keeping events grounded in what we know happened in regular continuity, but evolvies them. There’s no divergent break in the vein of What If?, rather it’s a parallel track subtly adjusted for the passing of seasons.
That’s the trick. Other writers might use the differing story points to merely gainer off into their new destinations with no touchstone of established continuity. Zdarsky keeps coming back to what we know, then showing us how the amended narrative renders it incompatible.
Mark Bagley’s art in this issue adds a grimness to Peter Parker. The Beyonder’s timing in abducting supers from Earth couldn’t be worse for him; Bagley sums up the regret and fatigue of our aging hero with every panel. His posture, his sullen expressions, leave no doubt: The flippant youth has been replaced by a mature man feeling the weight of worlds.
Bagley also does an interesting turn on the classic Spider-Man costume. It has what appear to be reinforced sections, perhaps even armor. Nothing like living through close calls and injuries to promote gear more protective than spandex. The redesign strikes a slightly sour note when Parker comments to other heroes that some “still have to sew their own” adventure wear. The uniform he’s sporting when making the comment is no longer something whipped up in his apartment. It’s akin to a Stark Industries light armor amalgam.
On letters, Travis Lanham keeps the dialogue doses easy to follow. He also adds more color to the effect sounds, an anchor to the more vibrant days of Spidey heroics. Such jubilance has fled, and Frank D’Armata brings a boatload of neutral tones to reinforce the point. Even the red and blue costume of youth seems dulled by the passage of years. D’Armata captures in coloration the toll a life of fighting crime demands; the weariness of body, mind, and soul Parker’s paid. The dreaded realization that, despite all Spider-Man has taken of his youth and vitality, there’s no end in sight.
It’s not a feel-good story. But if you’ve ever given the best parts of yourself to a career only to see it demand still more, you can relate. Like Peter, we soldier on. It doesn’t get easier, but we’re too committed to stop. Too stubborn to quit. Some say that’s heroic. But we share Peter’s feelings that the price eventually becomes too dear.
Marvel / $4.99
Written by Chip Zdarsky.
Pencils by Mark Bagley.
Inks by John Dell.
Colors by Frank D’Armata.
Letters by VC’s Travis Lanham.
8 out of 10
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Spider-Man: Life Story’ #3, courtesy of Marvel!