Spider-Man: Life Story has been a great journey through the various eras of the Marvel Universe. Seeing how Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley adapt iconic Marvel events as we have seen Peter Parker grow older since his debut in 1962. Seeing both Peter and the world around him age natural has created a dynamic that has felt both new and old at the same time. Zdarsky and Bagley have been able to create a new version of the Marvel Universe that has allowed Peter and his supporting cast to grow. Now that Marvel Universe has gotten closer to the modern era with Spider-Man forced to deal with the events of Marvel’s Civil War and Spider-Totem. Given that the last issue saw Peter hand over the mantle of Spider-Man to his clone, Ben Reilly, what alterations to this time period happen? Let’s find out with Spider-Man: Life Story #5.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In 2006 Spider-Man (Ben Reilly) struggles to even put a scratch on Morlun, who easily throws him around the New York City streets. Morlun eventually strangles Spider-Man to death while calling him nothing more than an impostor.
Somewhere in Portland, Oregon, Peter Parker is talking to his daughter (Claire Parker) if she has made a decision about Stanford yet. Claire says she hasn’t decided because she isn’t sure about continuing a life as a student. When Peter brings up his usual responsibility talk Claire fires back at how her dad is on the sidelines while the world falls apart.
Benjy Parker yells at his dad and sister to get in the house right away. When they do Peter, MJ, Claire and Bejy are shocked to see the news reporting that Spider-Man is dead and that he has been identified as “Peter Parker.”
Peter immediately realizes that Ben’s death was at the hands warned by Ezekiel about the threat Morlun was to the Spider-Totem that Ezekiel before he passed down the Spider-Man identity to Ben. Peter tells his family they have to leave to stay ahead of Morlun, though he is also concerned about Tony Stark taking over Parker Industries. MJ tries to get Peter to calm down but Peter isn’t in the mood to discuss things further.
Shortly thereafter in Peter’s office Claire confronts her father about how he can’t run away from being Spider-Man and Morlun. She reveals that she knows that while they were back in New York for J. Jonah Jameson’s funeral that Peter put his Spider-Man mask back on in order to help as many people as possible during 9/11. She goes on to say that she understands the reason they live in the woods is because Peter always reacted to when someone was in danger. Claire tells her dad that he has to start fighting for a better tomorrow again like he did in his Spider-Man days.
Sometime later over at the White House Tony Stark is dealing with the problem being caused by Spider-Man, one of the unregistered heroes, also being his biggest business rival. Suddenly one of the White House officials shows Tony the latest story published in the Daily Bugle about Peter Parker.
Over at the Daily Bugle Peter wraps up giving his interview about the truth of his history as Spider-Man, Ben being his clone and Parker Industries. Betty thanks Peter for giving her the story, though she still can’t believe everything Peter just told her. She warns Peter about how now that the genie has been let out of the bottle about him being Spider-Man he can’t undo things.
Peter then heads over to Parker Industries’ headquarters. There Peter is confronted by Tony, who was waiting outside the building. Tony uses his glasses to identify Peter. Tony then tries to reason with Peter to register because at this point it is just the old heroes fighting each other even though the younger heroes fell in line.
Peter stays silent so Tony reveals that since he didn’t register that the government has seized control of Parker Industries under the power of the Superhuman Registration Act. Tony says he can give Peter amnesty and he could pass on his shares of Parker Industries to his family. Tony goes on to say that all Peter has to do is register and become part of the U.S. Avengers.
Peter tells Tony to drop dead. Tony then summons the U.S Avengers, which include War Machine, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk and Iron Fist, to bring Peter in.
Back in Portland MJ watches the news talk about the Daily Bugle’s story on Peter. Claire and Benjy aren’t sure what their next steps should be. Claire suddenly sees someone and tries to warn her mom and brother. Before she can Morlun burst in and asks where Peter is.
Back outside Parker Industries in New York, Peter does his best to use a combination of his spider-sense and agility to dodge the attacks of the U.S. Avengers. Though initially successful his older body is not able to keep up with his spider-sense so he starts losing ground. Eventually Iron Man is able to grab Peter and pins him down.
Just as Iron Man is about to arrest Peter Captain America and his Avengers (Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Cloak and Dagger) show up to help Peter.
Back in Portland Claire and Benjy rush to get their mom out of the house and away from Morlun. Once outside Claire and Benjy start fighting Morlun together.
Meanwhile in Portland, Captain America’s Avengers are able to buy Peter time to go inside Parker Industries. Once inside Peter goes into the special armory he built housing various versions of his Spider-Man costume.
Back in Portland Morlun is able to grab Claire. As he is about to drain the life out of her body Claire is able to injure Morlun by slashing his face. This gives Claire and Benjy a chance to hide MJ in the woods. Morlun recovers from the injury to his face and immediately starts chasing them.
As they run Benjy tells Claire that he saw that she was able to hurt Morlun. Benjy goes over his plan to act as a distraction and that once Morlun believes he has him on the ropes that Claire should strike.
Not giving a chance to argue about his plan Benjy charges at Morlun. Morlun is able to easily pin Benjy down and starts to drain his life. As that happens Claire appears out of nowhere and smashes Morlun with a huge tree trunk. The hit sends Morlun flying and he gets stabbed through the chest by a broken tree (reminiscent of how Wolverine died in Logan).
Claire and MJ immediately go check on Benjy and are shocked when he is not responding to them.
Back in New York, Peter reappears in the fight between the two Avengers group in a new Spider-Man costume. As Spider-Man, Peter reveals that he knows all about how Tony likes to control everything and that he doesn’t trust anyone. He shows this by activating a special device in his Spider-Man costume that shorts out the armor all the U.S. Avengers were given by Tony, stopping all the fighting in the process.
Not able to use his armor anymore Tony tells Captain America and Spider-Man that they are all trying to act like Gods. He goes on to state that people are sick of superheroes not answering for the destruction they help cause. Tony then that the reason why the Superhuman Registration Act came to pass is to protect everyone and create cohesion in the world.
Spider-Man speaks up that he won’t be at Tony’s beck and call because as he just proved Tony can’t be trusted. Tony fires back by asking Captain America about if he remembers the U.S. Army draft and what it means. When he doesn’t get an answer Tony tells Spider-Man and Captain America they know where to find him. He then teleports away.
Once they are clear Spider-Man tells Captain America about how he needs to get back to his wife and kids. Captain America asks Spider-Man if his kids have powers. Spider-Man confirms this. Captain America states that eventually Tony will try to recruit Claire and Benjy.
Spider-Man then talks about Morlun and how he is chasing him. Spider-Man then states that he believes in doing what he can to make this world a better place before he leaves it. End of issue.
The Good: Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley do a lot to make Spider-Man: Life Story #5 work to adapt the two major events in Peter Parkers. Given how the Marvel timeline works it makes sense that the Spider-Totem and Civil War events took place at almost the exact same time. The way these two stories end up complimenting each other to challenge Peter and the life he has built with his family was what made Spider-Man: Life Story #5 another special chapter in this series.
Unlike previous chapters that avoided major events at the end of issues, such as Kraven becoming Venom, Zdarsky did not avoided the ending of Spider-Man: Life Story #4. That would have been a major misstep if we didn’t see Ben Reilly acting as Spider-Man and Peter Parker when we opened this issue. And since Zdarsky did in fact open Spider-Man: Life Story #5 with Ben still active in that role he was able to create a much more powerful story that would heavily weigh on Peter.
The twist that especially works is that the way the world learns Peter is Spider-Man isn’t due to Tony Stark convincing him to do so in a press conference. Instead it has to do with Morlun, who over the years has become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes. Morlun being able to kill Ben’s Spider-Man put over how deadly he really is. Not only that, but it immediately creates concern that if Morlun can defeat Ben then Peter, who hasn’t been active, will have a hard time survive a battle with him.
The fight between Morlun and Ben’s Spider-Man also work to resolve the clone sub-plot that has been running in this series since Spider-Man: Life Story #2. We already learned that Peter knew that Doc Ock’s findings were false and Ben was the real clone. Ben being faced with that fact at the end of his life as Morlun shows him to be the “fake” is a tragic ending for the character. It makes you feel for how things turned out for Ben after finally being able to spend a decade acting and believing himself as the real Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Ben’s death made the threat that Morlun had over Peter and his family come across even more menacing. Especially with Peter not having been active as Spider-Man and not training his kids with using their powers over the last decade this made Morlun an even bigger threat. All these factors created a countdown for when Morlun would show up, making every little decision and time Peter spent preparing even more crucial.
At the same time this helped push both Claire and Benjy Parker to finally step up and use their powers. Zdarsky did a great job establishing how Claire and Benjy have been able to live a normal life in Portland with their parents. Placing them in the awkward transition period where Peter was pushing his kids to go to college made their battle with Morlun be even more significant for them. It was clearly the first time they fought a major supervillain as Peter kept them away from that life.
Not being able to train as superheroes it created real panic for how Claire and Benjy could possibly defeat Morlun. Much like their dad’s early days as Spider-Man, they were both clearly fighting Morlun by relying on their powers. Zdarsky and Bagley did a great job in this sense to elevate how creative they had to be in the fight.
It made how Claire was the only one of the two to injure Morlun a bigger deal. This was an eye opening moment for Benjy, who showed the maturity to recognize his sister was the only one of them that could kill Morlun. This immediately gave the reader an instant connect to Benjy as he sacrificed himself so his sister could gain the opening to defeat Morlun. With Benjy’s final fate left up in the air it will be very interesting what the fallout is for Peter, Claire and MJ when we catch up to them in another decade.
Having the threat of Morlun around the same time all the heroes are in the middle of fighting over the Superhero Registration Act that caused the Civil War was a great choice. This further complicated all of Peter’s decisions as his hand was forced between both the death of Ben and Civil War. There was no time that Peter could waste as he had to think of the best possible course of action to reveal his backstory, regain the power within Parker Industries and get the Spider-Man equipment he needed to combat Morlun.
That is a lot of ground to cover which once again highlights the power and responsibility Peter constantly wrestles with, even after giving up being Spider-Man. Peter getting out in front of it right away by telling his story to Betty so she could publish it on the Daily Bugle was incredibly smart. It shows the growth in maturity Peter has as he was very methodical since just showing up at Parker Industries. Which is definitely a refreshing take that Zdarsky is able to show how much time has passed since Peter’s early days as Spider-Man.
What made all this better was how Zdarsky treated the Civil War portion of the story. Though Tony was clearly positioned as the antagonist it was without good reason. Tony, like Spider-Man and Captain America, has lived through various wars on and outside of Earth, from the Vietnam War to Secret War. Since that role for all the older Marvel heroes has been established it is even more understandable that Tony would side with the government for the Superhuman Registration Act.
At the same time, while Zdarsky gets us to understand the side Tony choose I like that the character’s desire to always be in control was his downfall. It would’ve been one thing if Tony came to Peter as a college and ally. But since he immediately presented Peter with only two choices Tony started their renewed relationship on the wrong foot. Especially considering Peter was heavily focused on getting back to his family if Tony would’ve come in a non-antagonizing way things could’ve been different.
Tony’s approach going from passive aggressive to completely aggressive made where Peter drew the line that he was a solo hero an even stronger decision. Seeing how Peter still had it as he was able to dodge most of Iron Man’s Avengers attacks was great. This once again showed how Peter has used his experience to make himself better even when he wasn’t as quick as he was in his early Spider-Man days.
Taking that experience to have plans in place for when Tony finally decide to share his Iron Man armor tech with other heroes was perfect. Peter revealing he built a Spider-Man costume and devices to take down Iron Man came across as a payoff for the last four issues of world building. This was the moment that Zdarsky was building as we have seen Peter go from naive college student to experience businessman and superhero.
The closing moments for Spider-Man: Life Story #5 does a great job setting the stage for the final issue of this series. Zdarsky creates a lot of questions for where we will see Peter in the final chapter of his life. From dealing with what Claire decides to rejuvenating his superhero desires to create a better future before he dies, we are left with a lot of ways Spider-Man: Life Story #6 can turn out.
Once again Mark Bagley delivered stellar artwork for Spider-Man: Life Story #5. His consistency over the course of these five issues made it truly feel as though we are following Peter and the Marvel Universe through various decades. Bagley keeps the designs for every character consistent so that they do look like older versions from the first issue of this series. He also does a great job giving a sense of momentum to all the action we get in the beginning and end of this issue.
The Bad: Spider-Man: Life Story #5 was not perfect. One thing that was disappointing to not see Zdarsky payoff is that we never saw the Gwen Stacy clone show back up. Ben dying in battle as Spider-Man would’ve been a great chance to have the Gwen clone show back-up to deal with that event. Seeing her thrown to the side and not revisited at all, even for a one page cameo, feels like a waste of her character.
The other thing that does not work for this issue was the presentation of Captain America and his Avengers. This particular story beat was a victim of time as there was clearly not enough time when dealing with the Morlun and Civil War events. Not having the time to deal with what Captain America’s side made them look like villains. Especially since the details that Zdarsky does share with us about Spider-Man: Life Story’s version of Civil War it was really only Captain America and his Avengers that are the lone holdouts of this event.
This made what Tony said about Captain America be the truth that it was a bunch of old men and women that were putting lives in danger. In the meantime we found out that the new generation moved on with a different way of being a superhero. If there was more time to spend to show how not everyone agreed with the Superhero Registration Act the appearance of Captain America and his Avengers would’ve come across better.
Overall: Spider-Man: Life Story #5 does a great job adapting the events around Marvel’s Civil War and Morlun hunt for Spider-Man. Both stories furthered the concept of “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility” that defines Peter Parker and Spider-Man. How Peter, his family and the Avengers deal with this perfectly set the stage for what the final issue of this series will deal with.
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