Chip Zdarsky took Marvel Comics by storm in 2018, with his runs on Marvel Two-in-One and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man rapidly generating a devoted fanbase, his work with Spider-Man especially. Through that run, Zdarsky proved he had Spider-Man’s voice and relationship with the universe nailed down, and the final issue of the run, #310, stands alongside the best Spider-Man stories ever told. The announcement of Spider-Man: Life Story was a welcome one, as Chip had made it very clear that he could write Spider-Man as well as the best scribes of the character.
The premise of the book is incredibly ambitious. Rather than act as a history book of Spider-Man’s stories like X-Men: Grand Design, Life Story chronicles the story of a Peter Parker who became Spider-Man in 1963 at 15 years old, and aged in real time along with the rest of the Marvel Universe. The events of the universe began similar to the events of our world, such as the Vietnam War, but the existence of superheroes vastly changed the course they took, resulting in something almost entirely different. Each issue focuses on a different decade of Peter’s life, inspired by real world events from that decade as well as iconic Spider-Man and general Marvel storylines from that same era. The result is a complete, emotional story that depicts Spider-Man in his most painful moments, showing his strength, resilience, and overwhelming sense of responsibility.
There are many visible through-lines throughout the story, such as Peter’s sense of responsibility and what that responsibility entails when the world is at war, as well as several plot and character beats that return in following issues. The theme of responsibility is the strongest of them, guiding Peter through his hardships in every issue. Between his struggle with whether or not he should enlist for the Vietnam war, or his struggle to take care of his kids while not being a superhero. Through every page of every issue Peter’s sense of responsibility is incredibly evident, and his struggles to do what is right ring very true. Zdarsky’s writing nails the core of Spider-Man: despite the heroics and fantasy of it all, his struggle is everyone’s struggle to do the right thing.
Zdarsky’s inclusion of classic Spider-Man stories and knack for adapting them into the world of Life Story is incredible. His issue of the ’60s adapts the original story where the Green Goblin discovered Peter’s identity as Spider-Man, and the ’70s issue adapts the original Clone Saga, Harry’s drug abuse, and the death of Gwen Stacy in unique ways. Zdarsky is also able to weave the real-world circumstances of the era into each decade, such as the Vietnam war in the ’60s and ’70s, and the PATRIOT Act in the ’00s. Zdarsky captures the paranoia of the various eras while working superheroes naturally into the universe, in a way that makes everything believable and consistent. The world of Life Story feels like a single universe that grows and changes through the years just as Peter himself does, and it is incredibly refreshing.
Mark Bagley’s art is the perfect complement to everything Zdarsky writes in this series; it is hard to imagine anyone else drawing Peter’s life like this. Bagley is one of the most iconic Spider-Man artists ever, and in this series he shows exactly why. Every panel of Spider-Man feels iconic in its own way, and Bagley’s various designs for the different suits Peter wears throughout this lifespan are all excellent; both his interpretations of classic designs and his new designs for this series. Bagley’s depiction of action and overall storytelling ability have only improved with time, just as his character acting has gotten better and better – the emotional moments hit incredibly hard, and the action is fast-paced and exciting. Both types of scenes feed into each other exceptionally well. John Dell and Andrew Hennessy alternate inking duties each issue, and both inkers do an excellent job, as does Frank D’Armata on colors. The entire art team makes the story come to life in a spectacular fashion.
Spider-Man: Life Story may be best standalone Spider-Man story ever. Zdarsky is able to dig into the core of the character and what makes him such a compelling figure, encapsulating Spider-Man’s appeal in just six issues. This is a book that anyone can read, from experienced Spider-Veterans to new Spider-Beginners. By the end it’s nearly impossible to not understand exactly why Peter is such a beloved character around the world.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!