They say that art grants immortality and it is true. Though the Mona Lisa died hundreds of years ago, her image on the canvas is unchanging. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean are forever young on the silver screen. And all of our favorite superheroes are inherently ageless.
This point has caused a variety of oddities and paradoxes in the world of comics over the years. On the one hand, we want our favorite characters to age with us and for the stories we read to reflect the times we live in. On the other hand, we resist change and want to escape from the real world. The Dark Knight Returns was born of this conflict, because Frank Miller (who was on the verge of turning 30 at the time) could not cope with the idea that he would soon be older than the eternally 29 Bruce Wayne.
Of course The Powers that Be have changed their own stances on this issue over the years, with Lois Lane and Clark Kent getting married and having a son, only for a new editorial team to decide Superman is more interesting trying to choose between Lois Lane and Lana Lang. Ditto the continuing argument over whether or not Wally West should have been allowed to take up his mentor’s mantle as The Flash and go on to get married and have kids.
Chip Zdarsky tackles this issue head-on in Spider-Man: Life Story – a mini-series which might have been titled “What If Spider-Man Aged In Real Time?” in another time and place. The idea behind this series is that every issue will showcase Peter Parker at different points in time after his real-world creation in 1962, building up to a senior-citizen Spidey in the modern-day.
This first issue is set in the autumn of 1966, four years after a 15-year-old Peter Parker first acquired his powers. As in the classic Stan Lee and John Romita comics, Peter finds himself conflicted about virtually everything in his life. He wants to help people as Spider-Man, but his activities as a superhero are hurting his studies and his ability to be there for his friends. He wants to serve his country as a soldier in the Vietnam War, but he has his sick Aunt May to think of. And he’d like to ask out his lab partner, Gwen Stacy, but it’s difficult when she’s angry at him half the time because he keeps missing labs to go fight Mysterio or Doctor Octopus.
The spirit of the classic Spider-Man is strong within this issue. Artist Mark Bagley, perhaps the most definitive Spider-Man artist of his generation, alters his usual style to create something that resembles John Romita’s designs while still being undeniably Bagley’s work. This is perhaps most apparent in a sequence halfway through the issue, where Norman Osborn begins dropping hints to Peter that he knows that he is Spider-Man and quietly threatens to blow up the bar where Flash Thompson is getting a going-away party if Peter doesn’t step outside. The expressions on Peter’s face as he scans the bar for bombs, realizes the danger his friends are in and how powerless he is to do something besides follow Norman’s lead are priceless and resemble Romita’s work to a T.
Zdarsky, in turn, emulates Lee’s writing style, in all its melodramatic verbosity. He also mimics the way Lee worked politics into his work, for Smilin’ Stan was hardly shy about addressing issues like student protests or the morality of war in the original Amazing Spider-Man comics. Overall this is perhaps the best retro Spider-Man story since the classic Dan Slott/Ty Templeton mini-series Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid. There are some big differences between this reality and the Spider-verse we know, however, and those changes become readily apparent even before the issue’s stunning conclusion.
If you’re any kind of Spider-Fan, particularly a fan of the first 100 issues, Spider-Man: Life Story is well worth checking out. Captain America fans would also do well to check out this issue, as there’s a magical scene of Spider-Man asking Cap how he feels about the Vietnam War. This scene alone is worth the price of this issue to my mind, but those who dislike politics and history in their comics may want to steer clear of this series. Personally, I loved it.
Spider-Man: Life Story #1 releases on March 20, 2019!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.