Back to the beginning, but with a twist.
Marvel has made a number of attempts over the years to revisit the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita, Sr. era of Amazing Spider-Man. Some books, like Spider-Man: Chapter One and Spider-Man: Season One, have attempted to remake those original stories for contemporary audiences. Others, like Spidey, have worked to add new tales in between the beats of the originals. But rarely do these books seem to add much of real value to Spider-Man’s Silver Age adventures. That’s where Spider-Man: Life Story stands apart. This isn’t a simple retelling or side-story. It revisits Spider-Man’s past from a very different perspective and with a far more ambitious goal in mind.
With Life Story, writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Mark Bagley are retelling the story of Peter Parker with a major wrinkle. This series assumes Spider-Man made his debut in 1962 and tells his story in real time. Each issue will spotlight a different decade as Peter grows older and faces trials and tribulations that simply wouldn’t be possible for the normal, un-aging version of the character.
Issue #1 kicks things off in the year 1966. In many ways, the trappings of this issue are very familiar. Peter is cast as a frazzled high school student, struggling to balance his superhero duties with his college classes, friendships and freelance photography career. All the familiar faces are present, from Gwen Stacy to Harry Osborn to Flash Thompson. Zdarsky has no trouble capturing the old-school charm of that Spider-Man era. His writing has a naturally whimsical, humorous quality that pairs perfectly with this setting and cast.
Bagley is equally at home with this material. Few artists have such an extensive history with the Spider-Man franchise. Bagley doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with this issue, but he does craft an energetic, detailed issue that conveys the larger=than-life action and the emotional drama equally well. Bagley doesn’t go out of his way to give the art a retro throwback quality. Apart from the intentionally dated fashion choices, the characters have a timeless quality to them.
But again, Life Story is more than just a simple nostalgia trip. For one thing, the Vietnam War factors heavily into the plot if issue #1. Even as Peter wrestles with the various other challenges of being Spider-Man, he’s also forced to question whether his great power gives hi ma responsibility to help the American troops fighting overseas. An interesting dilemma, and one Zdarsky handles with just the right amount of class. It would hardly do to outfit Spidey with an M-14 and send him into the jungle, but seeing him struggle to come to terms with such a divisive conflict adds something meaningful to his story. The same holds true as other characters like Iron Man and Captain America are drawn into the fray.
Moreover, the deeper Zdarsky and Bagley get into their first issue, the more the potential of this alternate universe setting becomes apparent. While this issue juggles a number of familiar ’60s-era plot points, it also begins to diverge in some significant ways towards the end. The final few pages make it plain that readers aren’t in for a simple retread. This is a series where characters can age and falter and make irrevocable life choices without the promise of an eventual return to the usual status quo. And this issue succeeds in making a strong case for why that freedom matters.