As that gorgeous cover art suggests, Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley’s reimagining of the Spider-Man mythos has entered the disco era. Peter and the gang are a decade older, as is the Marvel Universe as a whole, but things haven’t been easy for this series’ core cast. The world around them has gotten far more complicated since 1966, greatly influencing the Spidey-gang’s personal lives. While the first issue of Zdarsky’s miniseries felt too close to established Spider-Man lore, the second issue of the series starts to define how Zdarsky’s vision of an aging Marvel Universe differs from what readers are accustomed to reading.
Zdarsky blends real-world history into Spider-Man Life Story #2 but doesn’t let the narrative’s setting overpower the main focus, the life story of the titular hero. The continued American war effort in Vietnam and the mainstream popularity of Disco in the late-70s form the backdrop of a truly heartbreaking Spider-Man story. Against this backdrop, Peter Parker is a married man, working under Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, and still active as Spider-Man. Even though Peter’s life seems made, his own sense of personal responsibility is wearing him down. The optimism of Peter’s youth is facing the troubling reality of adulthood, which is compounded by his superpowers. Peter is struggling to see how someone like Spider-Man fits into the changing American landscape.
Zdarsky’s story is set in a sci-fi/fantasy universe, but the writer is keenly aware of how the existence of superhumans would affect the world. It is a testament to Zdarsky’s skill as a writer that Spider-Man Life Story can explore that theme without getting overtly cynical. In the comic book, characters debate the role superheroes could play in shaping world history, but the story never feels like it is trying to deconstruct the genre. If anything, Spider-Man Life Story #2 reaffirms the inspirational power of Superheroes — in spite of the dark territory the narrative ventures into.
The impact superheroes have on the societies in which they live is something that’s easily ignored in a static continuity, but in a world that ages in real time, it’s difficult not to contemplate how superhumans can affect the world around them. Considering the fact that solicitation for the fifth issue of this series mentions a superhero civil war, this theme will only get more pronounced as the mini-series continues. Peter Parker’s concern over the role of superheroes in global politics is part of the connective tissues that ties together the six individual stories that make up this mini-series.
In the second issue of Spider-Man Life Story, Zdarsky writes a satisfying done-in-one issue story that continues narrative threads from the first issue of the series. Those narrative threads are immersed in Spider-Man lore going back five decades, as their primary focus is on Spider-Man’s conflict with Norman Osborn. Spider-Man Life Story also takes cues from one of the most notable Spider-Man stories from the 1970s. If handled by a lesser writer, this issue could have come off as a cheap imitation of older Spider-Man stories. Zdarsky, however, is a clever writer that knows how to take inspiration from these older stories to create a comic book that epitomizes the 70s era of Spider-Man without feeling like a retread.
Spider-Man’s relationship with his supporting cast is an important part of why this comic book’s third act is so impactful. The complex characterizations of characters like the previously mentioned Miles Warren and Harry Osborn allow Zdarsky’s story to add nuance to these relationships to build reader investment. Zdarsky’s writing of Mary Jane Watson is particularly notable, with her introductory scene being one of the issue’s highlights. Zdarsky’s script alone can’t achieve that level nuance with the characters, with Mark Bagley’s artwork visualizing the emotion found in the script.
Mark Bagley continues to be the perfect artist to draw the life story of Spider-Man, and not just because of his dynamic figure work and strong character acting. Bagley is an iconic Spider-Man artist as a result of his penciling work on Amazing Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man. Not only is Bagley’s visual storytelling top-notch, but he is a definitive Spider-Man artist. The one element of Bagley’s artwork that doesn’t work is the redesigned Spider-Man costume. The new suit looks like someone placed pieces of silver armored plating on the traditional Spider-Man costume, echoing some of the poor design choices seen in 90s superhero comics. If a superhero costume is reminiscent of Daredevil’s armored suit from the 90s … it isn’t a good idea.
The first issue of Spider-Man Life Story was good, but Zdarsky and Bagley are upping their game as the series continues.
Rating: 5/5 – Great.