Spider-Man: Life Story Retrospective

Spider-Man: Life Story Retrospective

Spider-Man: Life Story ended last week with Peter Parker’s final adventure and the mantle of Spider-Man being passed down to Miles Morales. During the almost 60 year journey that led to this ending the creative team of Chip Zdarsky, Mark Bagley, John Dell and Frank D’Armata delivered one of the best stories in Spider-Man’s rich history incredible memorable story arcs. They did this by exploring Peter Parker’s life as he began his life as Spider-Man in 1962. From there we saw how the entire Marvel Universe evolved as the events that shaped not only Spider-Man but all of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes explored in a fascinating new way. To celebrate the accomplishments of Spider-Man: Life Story it’s time to look back at what made Zdarsky, Bagley, Dell and D’Armata’s comic so special.

FOLLOWING PETER PARKER EVOLUTION DURING DIVISIVE EVENTS

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With Spider-Man: Life Story following Peter Parker’s life as he began his Spider-Man career in 1962 up until 2019 there were a lot of events that took place in the middle of all that. These ranged from real world events, such as the Vietnam War, to iconic Marvel Universe events, like Civil War. All these events played a key role in shaping how Peter Parker evolved over the decades.

As a character that so many people relate to seeing the impact of these events made sense to be explored. As a young college student in the 1960s the question of if he should get directly involved with the Vietnam War was what you would expect to weighed heavily on Peter. As we saw in his interaction with Captain America in the first issue, Peter questioned his responsibilities in how to use his Spider-Man abilities to help people.

Starting with the real world event of the Vietnam War was an important framing device to show that Peter was going to think more about his role in the world as time passed. From there we saw how the Clone Saga, Secret Wars, Civil War and other Marvel events further shaped who Peter went on to become. Everything that happened played a role in the decision we see Peter make as he grows from an unsure superhero to business leader to icon who others look up to.

Seeing Peter grow through such a growth made him an even more relatable person. Because like all of us we are different when teens, twenties, thirties and so on. We all grow and learn with the experiences we have as both personal and world events further shape who we all become. Seeing Peter grow that way made all his development throughout Spider-Man: Life Story have greater impact with each issue.  

SUPPORTING CAST KEY ROLES IN PETER’S STORY

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One of the key aspects that has made Spider-Man such an enduring character has been his supporting cast. Much like Peter changed as the decades passed we saw the same thing happen with his supporting cast. The way Zdarsky used Peter’s supporting cast further grounded the entire series because we did see people come in and out of Peter’s life at various periods. This is how life just goes as we all grow older we either grow closer or apart from friends and family members. It happens all the time and is just part of growing up.

At the same time we saw the impact Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Tony Stark, Reed Richards and others had on Peter’s life. The supporting cast’s impact was established early on with a very important interaction between Peter and Flash at the latter’s going away party. It was a big “grow up” moment as Peter, who still couldn’t forget how much of a bully Flash was during their high school years, realized, with Gwen’s help, that he had become a big jerk when it came to Flash. With Flash being deployed the next day Peter and Flash were actually able to bury the hatchet a bit. This interaction made the revelation in the next issue that Flash was killed in action during the Vietnam War heartbreaking because he and Peter weren’t able to fully become the best friends they’ve grown to be in the main continuity.

This all set the tone for how Peter’s other relationships would go on to develop throughout Spider-Man: Life Story. Everything from having a fallout with Harry Osborn to Aunt May dealing with Alzheimer’s in her old age, it was all tackled and proved to be just as important as Peter’s life as Spider-Man. In developing the supporting cast Zdarsky was able to lay the foundation for all the payoff we get with various character arcs in this series.

GWEN STACY AND PETER PARKER RELATIONSHIP

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Which brings us to the two most important members of Peter’s supporting cast: Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson. In a major change to Spider-Man’s history the first issue of Life Story ended with Gwen learning Peter’s big secret. This was a big change as it happened after Peter first learned about Norman Osborn being Green Goblin. So not only did Gwen learn Peter’s big secret but it also led to avoiding Gwen’s original death.

This decision helped the series a lot, especially when it came to how Zdarsky ended up tackling the whole Clone Saga in Spider-Man: Life Story. With Gwen learning about Peter being Spider-Man the wall of secrecy was taken down. In the process they were actually able to get through college and into their young twenties together as a married couple. Seeing Peter and Gwen have more time spent with each other gave even greater emotional weight to the latter’s death due to the events of the Clone Saga. 

MARY JANE WATSON THE HEART OF THE FRANCHISE

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Since Peter and Gwen’s relationship did last for a decade it did put into question how Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane Watson would be developed. Especially since Peter did get to for a period marry and live a happy life with Gwen it was even harder for him to move. That is something that Zdarsky did not shy away from addressing as Mary Jane calls Peter out on this during a particularly intense argument after they are already married and had twins. Understandably this, along with Peter’s growing Spider-Man responsibilities and Aunt May’s condition, led to a split between the two.

Divorce is just another part of life. What was important about all this was that Peter eventually did come to terms to the mistakes he made in his relationship with Mary Jane. Experiences with his Parker Industries business, Spider-Man adventures and other life events all showed Peter how important family was. And specifically, Mary Jane showed how she is the heart of the franchise. She is the person that most grounds Peter in facing the reality of their lives. In her own way she helps guide Peter through a lot of events.

This all made Peter and Mary Jane’s final goodbyes be even more poignant. In one of the final scenes of the series, we see Mary Jane assure Peter that she will be there for their kids and that he has nothing to worry about. Peter admitting that Mary Jane was his “Jackpot” cemented the growth of their relationship as the question of who was first or second in Peter’s heart should not be a competition.  

PETER PARKER’S RELATIONSHIP WITH MARVEL HEROES

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In addition to Peter’s own supporting cast Zdarsky also brought in big guns like Reed Richards, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers to play important roles in Peter’s life. These three prove to have the biggest impact on Peter’s life in terms of how he views his life as Spider-Man in the grander scale. With Reed, in particular, we actually see a bigger arc as he goes from being Peter’s mentor to equals to falling out. 

The evolution of his relationship with Reed spotlighted Peter’s growth over this series. This wasn’t the Peter Parker who falls into the pitfalls of the “Parker Luck.” Instead Peter actually applied his scientific genius to be one of the biggest business leaders as CEO of Parker Industries. With that came the professional choices Peter would have to make to be either like Reed, someone obsessed with his work to let personal life to fall apart, or do what he can to find a balance. Peter ends up choosing the latter, which 

Along the way we also saw how Peter’s choice in what kind of hero he wanted to be fluctuated between the mentality Iron Man and Captain America had. With both characters directly involved in the Vietnam War and Civil War, we found an Avengers team that wasn’t very unified in this continuity. That put Peter into conflict with both as he was still figuring out what kind of symbol as Spider-Man he was being. In the end we do see how Spider-Man find more of a middle ground were he does make his own choices rather than falling on Iron Man or Captain America’s side.

CLONE SAGA LOGICAL DEVELOPMENT

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One of the most controversial comic book stories is Spider-Man’s Clone Saga. Zdarsky was able to solve a lot of the problems with the Clone Saga by not faking Ben Reilly’s death in the characters initial appearance. Instead Peter and Ben are actually aware of each it is established who the real and clone was early on.

Establishing this in the second issue made the eventual return to the Clone Saga take an interesting turn. Because we find out that there was the superhero side of Peter’s DNA that kept Ben from living a fulfilled life. That led to the ramifications of Doctor Octopus’ reveal that Ben was the “real” Peter Parker have bigger impact. With how Ben’s story was developed it was clear that this is actually something he was hoping for as he did want to be Spider-Man.

What made all this even more interesting was the fact that Peter was not fooled by this reveal. In one of the cooler moments of Spider-Man: Life Story we saw Peter Parker confront an old Norman Osborn with the truth about what Doctor Octopus reveal to him and Ben. In the process Peter was able to show he was not going to be fooled by any of his foes so easily. This reveal also made Norman’s involvement in the Clone Saga have a better payoff than in the 90s version and ending their rivalry with Peter getting the big win at the end.

SPIDER-MAN’S EMOTIONAL PASSING OF THE TORCH

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With all of this development Zdarsky was able to establish how Peter was leaving a lasting as Spider-Man. That legacy includes having his daughter, Claire Parker, taking on being Spider-Woman. It wasn’t something that was explored very much but seeing Claire as Spider-Woman showed that Peter was letting his kids carry on his legacy. Not only that but in his old age he saw how Claire learned from his experiences to be a more well-rounded hero that was a leader in her generation.

Also since Zdarsky had Peter grow as a leader in this Marvel Universe we saw that he took Miles Morales under his wing to mentor him. Like Claire, we don’t see how Peter ended up mentoring Miles. But the impact Peter had on Miles was made clear with Miles’ decision at the end of Spider-Man: Life Story. Miles learned a lot about what it meant to be a hero and person from Peter. Which made the passing of the torch moment we get to close out Spider-Man: Life Story hit a home run on the emotional department.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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Spider-Man: Life Story is a series that no Spider-Man should miss out on reading. Chip Zdarsky, Mark Bagley, John Dell and Frank D’Armata delivered a fantastic reading experience. They adapted some of the most iconic Spider-Man and Marvel Universe stories to tell one complete tale that spanned six decades. Through each decade they showed why Peter Parker, Spider-Man and the world around them is so iconic. As a Spider-Man fan I can’t thank Zdarsky, Bagley, Dell and D’Armata enough for the memorable comic book they created for us.


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