Chip Zdarsky got Spider-Man: Life Story got off to a strong start. Zdarsky was able to use the 1960s setting to make for a compelling exploration of Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man during his college years. The ending of Spider-Man: Life Story ended in a surprising way as Gwen Stacy ended up learning about Peter Parker’s secret life. That along with the turns for Captain America and Iron Man set up what could be a unique look into what the Marvel Universe is during the 1970s. Let’s find out how Zdarsky uses this time period with Spider-Man: Life Story #2.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Drew Hennessy
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 1977 at Flash Thompson’s (who died in service on April 16, 1974) grave site, Gwen Stacy finds her husband Peter Parker talking to Flash about how things have turned out for everyone. Peter sulks about how he could’ve possibly saved Flash if he joined the military. Gwen reminds Peter that the world is full of challenges and they can’t wallow in all the death. She goes on to say that Flash would want him to continue living.
At the Future Foundation Reed Richards reads the stories about Iron Man helping the military in Vietnam while Captain America is still on the run. Reed comments to Peter about how the war in Vietnam has kept dragging on. Reed and Peter go back and forth on who is right in this war, with Peter siding with Iron Man and Reed siding with Captain America.
Doctor Otto Octavius shows up to remind Peter and Reed that the Future Foundation is doing a lot of good work. He tells the two to stop arguing and continue working on making the world better.
Peter reflects on how Doctor Octavius changed after his heart attack and wonders if he should do more as the war goes on.
Elsewhere, Harry Osborn visits his dad, Norman Osborn, in prison. At first Norman can’t help but insult his son’s wardrobe but changes subjects by complementing Harry on the work he has done with Oscorp. Harry demands his father tell him why he called him to visit. Norman says Harry is the only one he trusts to tell his last secret to.
At Scipro-Genesis Peter talks to Gwen about his argument with Reed at the Future Foundation. He reflects on his work compared to Gwen’s, which ended up helping cure Curt Connors.
Miles Warren shows up to greet Peter and asks what he is doing there. Peter says he is just visiting his wife before hitting the club. Gwen jokes that Peter was just looking to disrupt her at work. Miles tells Peter that if things are bad with Dr. Richards he can come work for Scipro-Genesis. Peter says he will keep that in mind.
As Peter and Gwen leave Miles looks at them both oddly.
Later that night Peter swings across the city in his new armored Spider-Man costume. He eventually arrives outside Studio 54 and quickly changes while wishing he didn’t have to go to the club.
Inside Studio 54 Peter meets up with MJ, who is getting ready to do her DJ set at midnight. MJ mentions that Harry is currently high on some drugs so he isn’t cognizant at the moment. Peter notices that Harry is completely knocked out from the drugs he took.
MJ sarcastically apologizes for their lives not being as perfect as Peter and Gwen’s. She goes on to state that Peter just has fake concerns and only wallows in regrets when he could’ve done something to save Flash with his powers.
Peter is caught off guard as MJ reveals she has known about him being Spider-Man since she saw him coming out of Aunt May’s place when they were fifteen. MJ then calls Peter a coward who let their friend die. She then walks off.
At the Future Foundation Reed is surprised to find Peter at work early in the morning. Peter asks Reed if he ever thought of making the indestructible clothing he created for the Fantastic Four available to the public. Red says that if he did that it would cause upheaval in the world. Peter calls Reed out on how he uses the whole “interfering with humans” excuse to not help people.
Reed states they have to be careful about not using their powers and technology as “superheroes” to rule over the world. Peter can’t believe what Reed is saying and states that this is why Sue Storm left him for Namor. This pisses Reed off and he slaps Peter, who takes the hit even though his spider-sense warned him about it. Peter then marches off as Reed is left disappointed.
At Harry and MJ’s apartment Harry wakes up still a little out of it. He asks MJ how things went at the club. MJ says Peter showed up and tried to act “holier than thou” to them. MJ says she will talk to Peter later about it.
Pissed by this Harry calls his father and tells him he is ready.
Elsewhere Spider-Man swings to Gwen’s office to see if he can try to see if Professor Warren’s offer still stands.
At Scipro-Genesis someone calling themselves the Black Goblin shows up and tells Professor Warren that he broke the agreement that he agreed to with his benefactor. Spider-Man shows up and save Professor Warren and Gwen. The Black Goblin throws a pumpkin bomb at a wall and tells Spider-Man he is going to show him what Professor Warren has actually been working on.
Spider-Man, Gwen and Black Goblin, who turns out to be Harry, are shocked to find clones of Peter, Gwen and Norman in stasis pods. Professor Warren reveals that Norman wanted a clone of himself to pin his crimes on and of Peter for unknown reasons. Gwen asks why there is a clone of her as well.
Before getting that answer Harry realizes Norman wanted a clone of Peter because he saw Peter as his true heir. Harry attacks Spider-Man and flies him out of the lab while taking of Spider-Man’s mask. At the same time Gwen runs away while telling Professor Warren to stay away from her.
Spider-Man and Harry’s fight ends up at a nearby rooftop. Spider-Man tries to reason with Harry that Norman is just trying to continue hurting all of them. Harry comes to understand what Spider-Man is saying. Harry throws a pumpkin bomb at the Scipro-Genesis lab. The explosion causes the building to catch fire.
Spider-Man finds Gwen and Professor Warren on the ground outside Scipro-Genesis. Gwen tells Spider-Man that their clones are still living people.
Spider-Man swings inside Scipro-Genesis to save the clones. Unfortunately both the Gwen and Norman clones are dead. Spider-Man finds his clone still alive, likely due to having his powers, and swings him to safety.
Professor Warren freaks out and reveals to everyone that the one they thought was the Gwen clone in the stasis pod that just died was actually the real one. He goes on to reveal that at some point he captured Gwen and created a clone to act as Peter’s wife so he could live with the real Gwen once his job with Norman was over.
Peter freaks out and swings inside the burning Scipro-Genesis lab. Peter finds Gwen’s dead body and clutches it while crying.
A year later, in 1978, MJ apologizes to Ben (Peter’s clone) and Helen (Gwen’s clone) Parker that Peter couldn’t say goodbye. Ben and Helen say they understand that it will take Peter a while but they got a second chance to live new lives in a new town.
MJ is still having a tough time wrapping her mind around everything. Helen says that like Gwen she will always be MJ’s friend.
After Ben and Helen MJ goes to Peter’s apartment to tell him that she thinks Ben and Helen will be good now. Peter is still pissed over everything and says that thanks to Harry disappearing MJ is a millionaire and is able to live the new life she always wanted. Peter asks what about him and his new life. Peter breaks down stating that it was all for nothing. MJ hugs Peter and tells him that is not true at all. End of issue.
The Good: Chip Zdarsky one-ups himself with Spider-Man: Life Story #2. Even more so than the first issue, Zdarsky is able to condense many classic Spider-Man storylines in one compelling issue. The narrative Zdarsky created was believable and made you care even more for the majority of characters he spotlighted in Spider-Man: Life Story #2.
One of the more impressive things about Spider-Man: Life Story #2 was how Zdarsky used the entire Marvel Universe to elevate the story of this series. We got a tease of how the Marvel Universe factored into Peter Parker’s life with Captain America’s use in the first issue. Zdarsky extended that by including Reed Richards, Iron Man and Giant Man into this story. Spotlighting these characters along with Captain America explained why the Vietnam War would be extended passed what it was as superheroes began to choose sides.
This created an intriguing backdrop to explore the relationship between Peter Parker and Reed Richards. It wasn’t surprising to see Reed have the mentality that superheroes should not interfere with conflicts not involving supers. By not wanting to assert their power and technology Reed in his own may makes superheroes into Gods who stand above the rest of society. Which makes sense for how Reed is normally characterized as a more of a adventurer and man of science rather than a typical superhero.
Reed’s characterization highlighted the difference between him and Peter. Unlike Reed, who has disconnected himself from being a normal person, Peter is a grounded guy who has people that he loves that are involved in the day-to-day of the current time period. Especially with how heavy Flash Thompson’s death weighs on Peter his position about what role the Future Foundation and superheroes in general serve is understandable.
Having that understanding made the two big arguments Zdarsky has Peter and Reed have incredible tension. Not knowing how things would turn out between Peter and Reed made the conversations they have even more intense. That was particularly the case once Peter dropped a reference to Sue Storm leaving Reed for Namor because of Reed’s inaction. With how Zdarsky has structured Spider-Man: Life Story it’ll be very interesting to see how he explores this fallout between Peter and Reed in future issues.
Peter being a spot in his life were his biggest enemy is his own guilt over how things are in the 1970s was an intriguing way to position the character. It is a big change from how the normal “Parker Luck” is used. Because in reality Peter has adjusted to life after college very well with how he got himself a very good job and married Gwen after graduating college. Establishing this type of continuity made the time period and how Vietnam War was still going on carry much more weight.
In particular, Flash’s death is something that Zdarsky does a great job showing that is an important event in all his friends lives. Everyone from Peter to MJ has taken Flash’s death hard. It added to the greater narrative Zdarsky created with how there are a lot of things different in the Marvel Universe continuity within Spider-Man: Life Story.
The biggest change to the continuity is Gwen still being alive and being married to Peter. Zdarsky did a great job subtly using the cliffhanger of Spider-Man: Life Story #1 to explain why this big change happened. Without the giant secret of Spider-Man hanging over them Peter and Gwen could have a much more open relationship without secrets. How open they were with each other was clear as they had strong, stable relationship.
Seeing how great Peter and Gwen’s marriage was made the twist that at some point Professor Miles Warren switched Gwen with a clone have greater impact. There was no way Zdarsky would not explore the original Clone Saga or Gwen Stacy’s death in Spider-Man: Life Story. They are too important to Spider-Man’s mythos. The way he choose to integrate both storylines came across as a natural part of the story in this series. And because it was written in such a natural way it made Professor Warren’s reveal much more heartbreaking when we see Peter clutching a dead Gwen in his arms.
This event set things up for Zdarsky to explore a darker period of Peter’s life as Spider-Man. We see hints of that at the end of Spider-Man: Life Story #2 as he is still dealing with the emotional pain of Gwen’s death one year later. That is in no way an easy thing to get over and Zdarsky treated that fact with extreme care. With Peter positioned in this way it puts into question how he will end up turning out once we get into the Secret Wars and Symbiote Saga with Spider-Man: Life Story #3.
And while I’ve never been a big fan of any Clone Saga story the way Zdarsky implemented the story was fantastic. He made Professor Warren come across as a maniacal villain. At the same time, he leaves things open for Ben Reilly to be used in in a different way since he is now paired with the Gwen clone as Ben and Helen Parker. All of this set-up creates interest in how Zdarsky will possibly revisit the Clone Saga when Spider-Man: Life Story gets to the 90s.
Through all of this Zdarsky did a great job continuing the Osborn family drama. Norman showing himself as the mastermind behind the original Clone Saga was great to get out of the way. It is a reveal that hurt the Clone Saga when it took place in the original Marvel Universe continuity because it happened incredibly late in the story. Now with Zdarsky getting the reveal out of the way at the very beginning he has made a more compelling case for Norman as Spider-Man’s #1 villain as he tries to manipulate things even while in prison.
Positioning Norman in this way created greater sympathy for Harry Osborn’s character arc. Zdarsky creates an interesting balance for Harry’s arc. On one end there is a part of his story where Harry has no one to blame for giving into so many vices that includes drug use but himself. At the same time, it is clear Norman has found ways to manipulate Harry’s entire life. That manipulation puts into place a greater arc for Harry in future issues since Zdarsky does make it clear Harry has only disappeared rather than dying like in the normal continuity.
While there were a few problems with how MJ was used in this issue it was great to see her end on a strong note with Peter. MJ being there for Peter after Gwen’s death established her as the key supporting characters in the Spider-Man franchise. She does a lot of growing up because of this event, something Zdarsky shows as she morphs into the emotional rock Peter needs when Spider-Man: Life Story #2 closed.
With the structure of Spider-Man: Life Story showing us how Peter’s life changes with each decade it was interesting to see the changes to continuity Zdarsky made. Along with Peter working for the Future Foundation and marrying Gwen, we see Doctor Otto Octavius make a turn. This is a great way to use how Doc Ock has made a more heroic turn in recent years and integrated into this new continuity.
Mark Bagley did an excellent job creating a classic feel to the story Zdarsky crafted in Spider-Man: Life Story #2. Bagley made some great adjustments subtle adjustments to his style to fit with the time period. It was still clearly Bagley’s iconic Spider-Man style but with a late-70s look. With this possibly being the oldest we’ve seen Peter Parker and his supporting cast Bagley got over how much time has passed between the first and second issue. He also got over how big the events like Gwen’s death was in the moment it happened and how Peter acted a year later.
The Bad: While a fantastic issue there was one problem that Zdarsky ran into with Spider-Man: Life Story #2. That problem was with MJ’s character arc. With so many different major characters involved there was no way that everyone could get the time to be properly spotlighted. That happened with MJ, who did not seem to be on the best of terms with Peter. It made where she started and ended in Spider-Man: Life Story #2 not as well executed as possible. I fully expect that to change as MJ becomes even more integral in future issues.
Similarly, the one thing that did not look great from an art side was the new Spider-Man costume. While it is understandable that with his career and continued superhero life Peter would make a more armored Spider-Man costume this version did not look great. It came across as a more cobbled together patch job rather than an evolution of Spider-Man’s costume.
Overall: Spider-Man: Life Story#2 was another excellent issue. Chip Zdarsky has taken this in a direction I did not expect and happy for it. Zdarsky did a fantastic job adapting several iconic Spider-Man stories and condensing it into one compelling issue. If you have not checked out Spider-Man: Life Story yet I highly recommend changing that. This is by far one of the best, if not the best, comic Marvel is publishing.
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