Spider-Man: Life Story has been one of the best comics that Marvel has published in a while. Chip Zdarsky has done a fantastic job exploring what life would be like if Peter Parker and the Marvel Universe aged as it naturally would starting in 1962 when Spider-Man debut. What’s been most impressive is how Zdarsky has integrated iconic Marvel stories into the story he is telling. Everything from the Death of Gwen Stacy to Secret Wars to Black Suit Saga have had an impact on Spider-Man: Life Story in meaningful ways. Now that Zdarsky explores 90s it’ll be interesting how he will handle the controversial Clone Saga that defined that decade of Spider-Man stories. Let’s find out with Spider-Man: Life Story #4.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Andrew Hennessy
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In 1995 a massive fire consumes an apartment complex in Chicago. Ben Reilly shows up on scene to take pictures of the fire.
Doctor Octopus then suddenly appears and grabs the journalist, Lori, that appeared on the scene with Ben. Doctor Octopus tells Ben he knows that he was at May Parker’s funeral. He goes on to state that he knows the truth about Ben and says Ben has a doctor’s appointment to get to.
Over in New York City, Peter Parker and Tony Stark have a meeting at Parker Industries headquarters. Tony tries his best to convince Peter to merge Parker Industries with Stark International. Peter says he’ll agree to it if Stark International stops making weapons. Tony reminds Peter that his weapons won the Russian War and saved lives across the world, including Peter’s family.
Tony then asks Peter if his family is still in Portland and throws shade that they went there to get away from Peter. Peter has had enough and reminds Tony that Stark International’s weapons have also fallen in the wrong hands. He then threatens Tony that if Tony ever brings up his kids into this that Iron Man (who in this continuity is still seen as his own character and Tony’s private bodyguard) will be looking for new work.
After Tony leaves his office, Peter gets a call from Jessica Jones (who Peter is currently in a relationship with). Jessica mentions that “he” is still in the industrial part of New Jersey. She then asks Peter if they’ll be hanging out at his place or her’s. Peter apologizes and says he needs to start planning on how he can stop Tony from taking over Parker Industries.
A little later Spider-Man (in a new costume that features more padded protection) patrols the city and stops a couple of thieves who tried to steal a woman’s purse. Spider-Man then overhears that Doctor Octopus is attacking another part of the city.
Elsewhere Doctor Octopus causes massive destruction while demanding Spider-Man to show up. Spider-Man appears and remembers that the last time he saw Doctor Octopus was at his Aunt May’s funeral.
Spider-Man catches several vehicles with people inside that Doctor Octopus is just tossing around. With Spider-Man distracted with saving people’s lives Doctor Octopus uses this as an opening to knock Spider-Man out.
When Peter comes to he is surprised to find himself tied up. Harry Osborn apologizes and says he had no choice but to help Doctor Octopus. Ben Reilly is then shown to be in the same situation as Peter.
While running some scans Doctor Octopus reflects on how his relationship with May ended. He goes on to say that once he learned Peter was Spider-Man he realized that Peter turned May against him. Doctor Octopus says he feels that he is at the end of his life and hates that he knows that he has not accomplished anything. He then reveals that he hated Peter even more for destroying Professor Warren’s research into cloning as it stole his second chance at a new life.
Doctor Octopus’ scans finish and he is shocked to discover that Peter is actually the clone. This stuns both Peter and Ben as well. Ben suddenly breaks out in a fit of rage learning that 20 years of his life have been stolen from him as he fought against the memories of Peter Parker.
Ben starts beating the living hell out of Doctor Octopus. Peter convinces Harry to let him free. Once freed Peter stops Ben from killing Doctor Octopus.
Ben breaks down stating that the Peter Parker sense of right and wrong would stop him from killing anyone. Peter calms Ben down that he did not know because if he did he would’ve said so right away.
Doctor Octopus uses all the talking to attempt to kill both Ben and Peter. Ben’s spider sense warns him in time to get out of the way. Harry then jumps in the way of Doctor Octopus’ attack and takes the full brunt of it.
Doctor Octopus uses the shock to escape. Ben tries to chase after him but is knocked out by Doctor Octopus. Peter is able to save Ben from falling to several stories.
Peter then goes to check on Harry. Harry apologizes to Peter for being so weak and admits that Peter is his best friend. Harry then dies from the injury and loss of blood much to Peter’s grief.
Some time later Ben meets Peter atop Parker Industries. There Peter confirms that they both looked over Doctor Octopus’ results that prove Ben is the real Peter Parker. Peter then hands Ben all the information about Parker Industries and how they can have Ben become Peter Parker without anyone noticing. Ben is not sure he can do this. Peter says he spent twenty years building Parker Industries and being Spider-Man while Ben has had to hold himself back from living up to his potential.
Peter then states that they can’t have two people with Spider-Man powers active without everyone figuring out the truth. He goes on to admit he can’t live this life anymore especially knowing Ben is the real Peter Parker.
When Peter walks away Ben shows Peter the Scarlet Spider mask he has been secretly wearing. Peter and Ben both agree they can’t escape their sense of responsibility and have one final hug while wishing each other luck.
A little later Peter calls Jessica to apologize for not contacting her earlier. Jessica states she thought Peter was dead. When Peter doesn’t say what happened in the last week Jessica dumps him. Peter completely understands Jessica dumping him but asks if she could still give him information on where “he” is located.
At a warehouse in New Jersey Peter shows the guy there his strength by lifting up a motorcycle with one hand. The guy runs away in complete fear.
Peter then goes inside the warehouse where he finds an old Norman Osborn sitting with Green Goblin gear hanging around the warehouse. Peter quickly states that he knows Norman remembers everything and that he revealed Peter is Spider-Man and about the cloning to Doctor Octopus. He goes on to say he ran his own tests and knows he is the real Peter Parker.
Norman says it would’ve been something to undo Peter’s entire life but he will settle with destroying Parker Industries after how his own life was ruined by Spider-Man. Norman says that he’ll just manipulate Harry to use his Parker Industry stock to complete Stark International’s takeover of Peter’s company.
Peter then sadly breaks the news to Norman that Doctor Octopus killed Harry. Norman is in complete shock over the news. Peter then tells Norman he is done and starts walking away. Norman, completely broken hearted, blames Peter for Harry’s death.
Norman launches one of his Goblin Gliders in an attempt to kill Peter. Peter easily catches and destroys the Goblin Glider. Norman freaks and causes himself to have a heart attack. Peter catches Norman before he hits the ground. Norman tells Peter he hates him with his last dying breath. Norman then passes away.
Sometime later Peter flies over to Portland. He drives out into the woods where Mary Jane and their kids are living.
When Peter gets to the house he happily hugs Claire and Benjamin (Peter and Mary Jane’s kids). Mary Janes sees Peter and lets him into her house. End of issue.
The Good: The Clone Saga will forever be one of the most controversial stories in Spider-Man’s history. Anytime anyone at Marvel revisits this saga there is a ton of baggage that comes with it, as shown most recently in the Clone Conspiracy event. In tackling the Clone Saga with Spider-Man: Life Story #4 Chip Zdarsky needed to be careful in how he used this period in Peter Parker’s life to feed into the greater narrative of this series. Luckily that is exactly what happened, with Zdarsky using all the development in Spider-Man: Life Story thus far to tell the best version of the Clone Saga story.
One of the aspects that has been a strength in Zdarksky’s Spider-Man: Life Story is not letting the typical “Parker Luck” be the main focus of Peter Parker’s character arc. Each issue has had some major developments take place in the lives of Peter and his supporting cast. But since we are getting these time jumps between issues we are able to catch up with everyone as they all have had time to deal with these developments. There isn’t all this time dedicated in characters just feeling sorry for themselves and others. Instead Zdarsky uses the history he is establishing to give context to where we find Peter and the Marvel Universe as a whole.
That is exactly where Spider-Man: Life Story #4 excels. Peter has had time to deal with the pain and emotional toll of MJ divorcing him and taking custody of their twins. Like a rational adult we find Peter in a place where he has been able to come to terms with why his divorce with MJ happened. Seeing this version of Peter makes him a more relatable character as he has allowed himself to move on. He is at a point where he can have a relationship with Jessica Jones without seeing it as a rebound hook up. It is all just a natural part of where Peter is at this point in his life.
Adding to the relatability, is the fact that while Peter has come to terms with his personal status quo there is still pain in his heart from the divorce with MJ. Tony Stark adding the dig about MJ leaving Peter once their merger negotiations went south showed that fact. Peter went from zero to one hundred once Tony dropped that harsh reference. It showed that Tony took things from being professional to personal when things didn’t go his way.
Speaking of which, Peter and Tony’s conversation in Spider-Man: Life Story #4 sets up the next issue, which will tell its own version of Civil War, in interesting ways. Rather than being allies Zdarsky has positioned Peter and Tony to be rivals. There is now personal and professional animosity that exists between them with how Peter views Tony as someone who is just a warmonger and Tony sees Peter as not taking full advantage of what Parker Industries could accomplish.
Adding in the fact that Ben Reilly took over Parker Industries as the Peter Parker moving forward makes him a wild card if he is still around during the Civil War event. Zdarsky can still do the Spider-Man is Peter Parker reveal, this time with Ben in the role. If that is the case this could force Peter’s hand in what goes on within the Marvel Universe in ways we did not see in Civil War. This all adds to what could be some intriguing changes with how things go between Peter and Tony during Civil War in Spider-Man: Life Story #5.
Through all of this Zdarsky does a fantastic job showing us that Peter is a veteran at this point. Both as a CEO of Parker Industries and Spider-Man, Peter has at least two decades of experience under his belt. With that comes an understanding he is not getting younger. This made the new version of the Spider-Man costume hold more weight as we see that Peter has designed it to have much more protection to compensate for getting slower with age.
With everyone aging it made sense that an old man Doctor Octopus would seek revenge against Spider-Man in his waning days. Since secret identities has been kept well guarded in this continuity that Zdarsky created it made more of an impact to see Doctor Octopus and others learn that Peter is Spider-Man. The shock of this knowledge made you understand why Doctor Octopus would go after both Peter and Ben since he learned it from Norman.
This propelled us into the main Clone Saga story in a way that was a natural part of the story. There was no time wasted in stretching anything out. With Doctor Octopus in such a rage state it made sense that the entire Clone Saga would be fast tracked. He was clearly out to kill both Peter and Ben for all the trouble they’ve caused him.
Zdarsky also was able to give several layers Doctor Octopus’ arc in Spider-Man: Life Story #4. The first we see is that because he felt Spider-Man drove him and Aunt May apart that learning Peter was Spider-Man made things personal. Then there was the fact that Doctor Octopus was not taking his old age well and saw the possibilities of cloning as a second chance at life that Peter destroyed added to all of this. Putting all that together made everything Doctor Octopus said have more intensity than if it was Miles Warren or Harry Osborn who captured both Peter and Ben.
This made the revelation that Ben was the real Peter Parker hold more weight for these characters. It was a clear surprise to everyone in the room. Especially for Ben, the rage he had over twenty years of his life stolen from him because he believed himself to be a clone understandable. Just like Peter, there was the thought that Ben would honestly kill Doctor Octopus in his fit of rage. Ben telling Peter that the sense of right and responsibility keeping him from going through with killing Doctor Octopus clear what makes Peter Parker special at his core. It was a great way to bring in the whole idea of “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” without having anyone actually say the line.
Though the use of Harry Osborn in the story was problematic Zdarsky packed his death with a ton of emotion. This is where the history between Peter and Harry helps this final scene between them hold weight. It was clear that Harry regretted not being a better friend to Peter over the years. That regret nicely propelled the follow-up scene between Peter and an old Norman Osborn.
Peter confronting Norman about the entire Clone Saga was fantastically handled by Zdarsky. At no point did Peter come across as a fool. He has been through enough to understand that he should not automatically believe Doctor Octopus’ findings. Peter doing his own testing to reveal it was all fake information and that he was the true Peter Parker was all well handled.
Peter telling all this to Norman’s face showed that this wasn’t going to go down like the Clone Saga. Peter was there to finish things with Norman and tell his archnemesis he did not win. Norman’s reaction to not only this but about Harry’s death made his final attempt to kill Peter all carry the appropriate amount of emotion. Peter easily countering Norman’s final attempt to kill him was an excellent character moment that ended the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in the best note possible.
With everything that happened in Spider-Man: Life Story #4 and this series as a whole it was understandable that even knowing the truth Peter would use this as an opportunity to retire. He has been through and done so much that he needs a break to recharge. Peter passing down the torch to Ben also shows he understood that this was something that his brother needed. Peter saw through the rage Ben displayed that he needed to be Peter Parker to be whole. Even though Peter keeping the truth from Ben was possibly harsh for the future it at least came from a place of caring for someone he sees as a brother.
Zdarsky wrapped everything in Spider-Man: Life Story #4 up with a solid ending that still leaves us questions for Peter. Though his reunion with MJ won’t be smooth it was clear from the way they looked at each other and their kids they are willing to make things work. MJ not turning Peter away showed this. It made for an interesting place to position Peter and MJ’s relationship for the remaining issues of Spider-Man: Life Story.
Mark Bagley once again delivered excellent artwork throughout Spider-Man: Life Story #4. Bagley has done a great job evolving his art style to show that time is passing with each issue. The subtle changes Bagley makes to how he draws Peter especially shows the age and experience of the character at this point in his life. I also like the version for the Spider-Man suit we see here as it shows that there was added protection without losing the overall classic design of the costume.
Bagley also does a great job in complementing the dialogue Zdarsky writes in every panel. The reactions that characters are shown to take match with what is said in their dialogue. It is something that all works to add weight to what we are seeing take place in each scene.
The Bad: For as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: Life Story #4 it was not a perfect issue. This is actually the weakest issue of this series. That is not to take away from how well Zdarsky handled the Clone Saga. Because he did truly do a great job. But unfortunately there were a few parts certain character beats that did not connect in the way the majority of the story did.
In particular Ben Reilly’s entire arc was not as fulfilling that the final payoff would have us believe it to be. Ben’s arc never feels complete because we don’t really know what he has been up to since he left to live a life with the clone of Gwen Stacy at the end of Spider-Man: Life Story #2. Zdarsky doesn’t even clue us in to what happened to Gwen’s clone or what his life was like with her. She is just forgotten about like she didn’t exist. Which is a shame as it could’ve added to Ben’s arc as to why it was important for him to be the real Peter Parker if we understood some of the hardships he went through with Gwen’s clone and as a solo character.
Similarly, Harry Osborn’s inclusion into Spider-Man: Life Story #4 did not have the weight you would expect. Harry has been a side character that did not even appear in the last issue. Zdarsky uses our knowledge of Peter and Harry’s friendship in the main continuity to make the latter’s death have greater importance. But from everything we know about Peter and Harry in the continuity established by Spider-Man: Life Story is that they quickly grew apart after the whole Norman-Green Goblin thing went down. If Peter and Harry’s friendship was slightly touched on in the last issue maybe their scenes together would have gone over better.
On a lesser degree to Ben and Harry’s arc, it was disappointing that we didn’t get more scenes between Peter and Jessica Jones. As soon as Zdarsky established the relationship between the two it would have been great if we got more of them together. There scenes together showed they had a chemistry. But unfortunately because of time constraints we didn’t get enough of them talking to each other to make Jessica breaking up with Peter come across as meaningful. It was just a throwaway thing that won’t be remembered as part of the story in this series when all is said and done.
Overall: Spider-Man: Life Story #4 is another strong entry it was is easily one of the best comic books Marvel is publishing. This issue is far from being perfect but Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley both did an excellent job adapting the Clone Saga in a way that was meaningful. Everything that was done pushed Peter Parker forward in his professional and Spider-Man career. Where Zdarsky and Bagley leaves things for Peter and his supporting cast sets the stage for a highly intriguing adaption of Civil War as this series marches into the 2000s.
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