Spider-Man’s origin story has been explored many, many times. Only Batman and Superman match the number of times that Spider-Man’s origin has been retold in various forms of media. With that said, the concept around Spider-Man: Life Story is actually really compelling. Rather than retelling Spider-Man’s origin this series by Chip Zdarsky is going to explore the various eras of Peter Parker’s life. This is a good twist as Spider-Man is a character that more than any comic character that is a reflection of the various decades since he is a guy forever portrayed in his late-teens to mid-twenties.
The first period that Zdarsky is going to explore with Spider-Man: Life Story is the 1960s. This is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, periods of Spider-Man’s life given the major events that occurred during this time when Peter was in college. How will Zdarsky update this period of Peter’s life? Let’s find out with Spider-Man: Life Story – The ‘60s #1.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In 1966 Spider-Man thinks back to how he gained his powers and the death of his Uncle Ben while swinging through the city. Though his Spider-Man life is keeping him busy Peter Parker is focused on not messing up his life in college and internship.
After changing into his normal clothes Peter comes across an anti-Vietnam War Rally being held on Empire State University’s campus. He then meets up with Harry Osborn who has just been dropped off by his dad, Norman Osborn, since his car broke down. Harry introduces Peter to his dad. Norman mentions he has been following Peter after being aware of Peter’s scholarship. He asks Peter if he is still looking for an internship. Peter mentions he has one at the Baxter Building.
Harry tells his dad they have to go. While walking away Harry mentions Norman likely looking to adopt Peter.
Peter thinks of how he feels something threatening about Norman.
As he rushes to the lab Peter thinks how he wish he understood his spider-sense and Gwen Stacy better.
Peter apologizes to Gwen for being late and makes the excuse about his Aunt May needing him. Gwen comments that Peter’s Aunt is to convenient of an excuse for him. She wonders why she even gives Peter the time of day. Peter jokes that he is a fab and she is a fox. Gwen tells Peter he is not as funny as he thinks. They then start working on their class work.
As they do that Professor Miles Warren yells at Peter for being late and warns him not to bring Gwen down to his level. Peter apologizes to Professor Warren.
Gwen pulls Peter aside and tells him to not worry. She then asks him if he is still planning on going to Flash’s goodbye party. Peter confirms that he is.
Later at the Daily Bugle Peter tries to sell J. Jonah Jameson some pictures. Jonah yells about how they are all trash. He ends up offering Peter $20 for all the pictures and tells him to get out.
Peter goes to Betty to cash his check. Betty mentions to Peter that the cops have been questioning Jonah because of his involvement in creating Scorpion.
While Betty gets his payment Peter watches the news on TV talking about how Iron Man and Tony Stark are helping the soldiers fight in the Vietnam War. One of the reports then talks about the rumor of Captain America joining the conflict soon.
This causes Peter to think that if Captain America is joining the war he has no excuse not to.
Over at a bar Harry and Norman arrive for Flash’s goodbye party. Norman compliments Flash for joining the army while also putting down Harry’s anti-war beliefs.
Eventually Peter shows up. Peter makes a joke about Flash joining the army allowing him to live a high school bully’s dream. Flash questions Peter what he means by that. Peter gets immediately defensive and Flash calls him out on it. Gwen breaks things up and pulls Peter to the side before a fight breaks out.
Gwen tells Peter that while they may have had a bad history Flash is leaving on Saturday and he may not be coming back so that is not the note they should leave things on.
Peter approaches Flash and immediately apologizes. Peter admits that Flash was a big part of what made high school rough for him. He goes on to state that he knows Flash has grown up since then but he still has a hard time letting go of the past.
Flash apologizes for how he was. He then talks about how he knows the stares he gets wearing the uniform but he is proud to serve his country. Peter wonders why Flash would join the army after how he has talked about the war changing his dad. Flash says that is is what he believes Spider-Man would do because of his sense of duty. He goes on to state that this is his way of helping people, like Spider-Man does, as his number fan.
This shocks Peter since Spider-Man is not joining the war. Flash says Spider-Man is busting his ass saving people every day. Flash then says he is running on a deadline to hook up with some girls and promises to talk later.
While at the bar Peter is joined by Norman, who buys Peter a drink. Much to Peter’s surprise, Norman says he understand Peter is going through a tough time with paying for his Aunt May’s medical bills. Norman then drops that he knows the real Peter, which causes Peter’s spider-sense to go off. Norman then shows Peter where a pumpkin bomb is located on the shelf. He says that there are ten more hidden in the bar. He then orders Peter to walk outside like there is no problem and promises no one will die.
Peter looks around and sees his friends. Peter walks outside without anyone noticing as Norman ordered.
In the alleyway Peter finds Norman already in his Green Goblin costume. Green Goblin does not give Peter a chance to change into Spider-Man and starts chasing him.
Peter is not able to get far as Green Goblin hits him with a laser blast and a pumpkin bomb. Green Goblin grabs Peter and states that Harry is weak so Peter will be his heir. Peter tells Green Goblin he is nuts. Green Goblin states that the Goblin Serum has given him clarity.
With all the talking Peter is able to pull down a billboard on top of Green Goblin with his webs. This gives Peter a chance to change into his Spider-Man costume.
Spider-Man then checks on Green Goblin. Spider-Man is surprised to find a confused Norman thanking him. Spider-Man realizes that Norman does not remember being the Green Goblin and thinks it is a miracle.
Sometime later while reading the Daily Bugle’s article on Norman he thinks how his spider-sense has not gone off when talking to Norman anymore. He thinks that maybe it is not safe anymore and that he and his Aunt May should run so Norman can’t find him.
While swinging through the city he thinks this over and questions if he could leave his friends, specifically Gwen.
Spider-Man soon comes across Captain America fighting some criminals. Spider-Man joins in and helps Captain America take down the criminals. When people approach Captain America about the war he decides to leave the scene.
On a rooftop Captain America thanks Spider-Man for the assist. Captain America mentions that more people are insisting on him joining the war in Vietnam and asking him where he stands on it all. Spider-Man wonders what he will do. Captain America states that after spending two decades on ice and waking up to find a different war being fought is a lot to process. He then states that he will go to Vietnam to see what he should do as he can’t just view it from news reports and government briefings.
Spider-Man asks Captain America if it’s his responsibility to join the war as well. Captain America tells Spider-Man that responsibility does not mean they are at the whims of the world. He goes on to say that Spider-Man acts selflessly and sacrifices every day by throwing himself in danger to protect others. Captain America then tells Spider-Man to trust his heart to guide him. Spider-Man thanks Captain America for his advice and silently says he will see him soon.
Peter decides to stop letting fear guide him and calls in an anonymous tip about Norman being the Green Goblin. The cops find Norman’s Green Goblin base and arrest him. Peter almost feels bad about doing this but believes he can’t let Norman become the Green Goblin again. He then thinks how he should check in on Harry.
Peter then realizes he is late to say goodbye to Flash before his train takes off. Peter quickly changes into Spider-Man and swings to the train station.
In the back of a police car Norman sees Spider-Man and his eyes start to change.
When Peter arrives at the train station Gwen tells him that Flash’s train left twenty minutes ago. Gwen questions what is wrong with Peter as he continues to show he doesn’t care even though he his a gifted genius and has people who care about him.
Peter admits he has been terrible as he is always messing up and wishes that wasn’t the case. Gwen notices that Peter has his Spider-Man costume under his clothes. Gwen then questions Peter about what that means. They both stand silently in the train station.
A year later, in 1967, several soldiers are holding up citizens of a village in Vietnam at gunpoint. Captain America knocks all the soldiers down with his shield. One of the soldiers call Captain America a traitor. Captain America tells the soldiers to leave and tell Iron Man that these people are under his protection. End of issue.
The Good: Spider-Man: Life Story #1 was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Chip Zdarsky completely subverted my expectations for what Spider-Man: Life Story was going to be with this one issue. It is that surprise in the story that we get that drove home how Spider-Man: Life Story will be a truly special comic book and this first issue set the groundwork for that.
Immediately Zdarsky made it clear that the main conflict in Spider-Man: Life Story #1 was not going to be some big superhero battle Peter Parker is in the middle of. We do get some of that with the fight between Spider-Man and Green Goblin, but that was kept as as a major sub-plot for this issue rather than the true focus. At its core Spider-Man: Life Story #1 was about the internal conflict Peter was having as the Vietnam War was happening while he was working as Spider-Man in New York City.
Seeing how Peter questioned what he should do as the Vietnam War hangs over everyone’s head. Being someone who is defined by his Uncle Ben’s saying of “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” drove the internal conflict he has about feeling as though he is not doing his part. That internal battle was able to make drive the rest of the story as Peter also had to deal with being Spider-Man, helping pay for his Aunt May’s medical bills, a new internship and going to college at ESU. Having all these things on his plate added to the weight Peter felt with how he felt as though he needed to do his part in this war.
Zdarsky made fantastic use of all this to get us to understand why things go down the way they do in the different interactions Peter has throughout this issue. The stand out of these interactions is how Peter and Flash talk with each other. With how much Flash bullied Peter in high school that is not something that a person can easily get over. Zdarksy tackled this in a way that the reader can connect to why Peter made the joke he did. At the same time, we see how Flash has accepted the jerk he was in the past and that joining the army has made him grow up.
What made this interaction even stronger was the fact that Zdarsky treated both characters as grown ups. Both characters are now at an age and time where they can’t be the same guys they were in high school. There are real world things going on around them that they can’t avoid. In both characters understanding this we get to see the first signs of Peter and Flash becoming great friends in the future. Adding in that being a fan of Spider-Man helped Flash make his decision made the connection between the two even stronger.
This worked as a great compliment for how Zdarsky portrayed Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Given where they are in their lives it was great to see the spotlight shine on this relationship. Zdarsky did a great job in showing how Gwen knows Peter can be more than he is showing to the public and is disappointed he is wasting his potential by making excuses. This made Gwen even more likable as it was clearly coming from a place of a concern friend.
Through this we also see the unquestionable chemistry that Peter and Gwen have with each other. There is an unspoken spark between them at this point in their lives, as they still are not a couple at this stage. With everything that was going on Gwen was the reality check Peter needed to center his personal life. Ending their story in Spider-Man: Life Story #1 with Gwen discovering Peter’s costume under his clothes was a great hook into wanting to learn what happens next. Creating that interested to what happened next for Peter and Gwen is especially important to grab new readers attention who aren’t familiar with their relationship.
All of this feed in well to the battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin. Zdarsky made the right choice to not go into how Norman learned Peter was Spider-Man or their history with each other. That is something everyone knows at this point. It was for the best to instead focus their story on Peter’s decision on how he should handle the situation with Norman after he lost his memories. The decision to make the call to the police that Norman is Green Goblin added more fire to how intense their rivalry becomes.
In exploring all of this internal conflict to its full potential Zdarsky made the discussion Spider-Man has with Captain America towards the end of this issue. This conversation not only helped clarify to Peter what his responsibilities are but also define who Captain America is. He drew strong parallels between the two as Spider-Man and Captain America were on similar crossroad paths.
Through all of this Zdarsky did an excellent job writing Captain America. He showed how Captain America is not someone who will blindly make decisions because other people tell him it’s the right thing to do. Even if they are informed reported or high-level government officials, Captain America makes decisions he believes are right after taking in all the information he can. The fact that one year after joining the Vietnam War Captain America became a protector for the people of the country showed how strong of a conviction he has in doing the right thing. Even if that meant going against the country he swore to serve and his Avengers teammates, Captain America came to his own conclusion in what he should do.
While they had small to cameo roles Zdarsky made great use of Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant and Mary Jane Watson to build out this period in Spider-Man’s life. The way Zdarsky used these characters help provide further context into what was going on in the world. Adding elements like Peter starting an internship at the Baxter Building added further depth to the story that Spider-Man fans will appreciate.
Having Mark Bagley on board as the artist for Spider-Man: Life Story #1 brought Zdarsky’s story to another level. Bagley has become an iconic Spider-Man artist thanks to his excellent work on both Amazing and Ultimate titles. So he knows all there is to know about Peter Parker and how to fully tap into who the character is. That experience is clear with how Bagley adjusts his art style in ways that help his artwork match this time period in Spider-Man’s life. There is a feeling that we are reading a classic Spider-Man story while also having a modern look into what the 1960s represented through Bagley’s artwork.
The Bad: Nothing.
Overall: Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley truly created something special with Spider-Man: Life Story #1. Zdarsky truly created something special with this Spider-Man story that makes full use of the 1960s setting. If you are a Marvel fan this is one comic you should not miss out on.
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