The first two issues of Chip Zdarsky’s ambitious Spider-Man epic were well crafted stories that cleverly remixed existing continuity. The series’ third issue falls trap to the possible consequences of Zdarsky’s approach to Spider-Man Life Story. Each issue covers a lot of ground, and up until this point Zdarsky managed to tell a complete story in each issue. Spider-Man Life Story #3 is packed to the brim with great ideas, but said ideas don’t come together to form a cohesive whole.
Following the heartbreaking ending of last month’s issue, Peter Parker’s built a new life in the 1980’s with Mary Jane, something teased in Life story #2’s closing moments. Peter’s grown older, and similar to the Marvel Universe at large, is at a very different place in his life. However, in true Spider-Man fashion, things quickly fall apart — though that assumes they were ever okay to begin with.
Zdarsky weaves together Secret Wars, Kraven’s Last Hunt, and the Alien Costume saga into a done-in-one story meant to distill what Spider-Man was in the 80’s. In doing so, it becomes the most meta-fictional issue of the series thus far. While it’s a noble endeavor, there’s just simply too much happening for any plot thread to get the focus they deserve. The issue cuts between scenes and moments at a painfully fast pace, not allowing Zdarsky to truly explore any of the ideas introduced in the issue — which is a shame, because they are very good.
Spider-Man Life Story has given each member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast a solid characterization, making each member of Peter’s world feel real. Zdarsky continues to do this by having Mary Jane mention how Peter still pines after Gwen Stacy, that MJ will always be second in Peter’s heart. They aren’t living in an idealized marriage and MJ is well aware of this, struggling to make it all work . This is a great story thread… but it gets half a page at most.
Another great, but under developed story thread, is the Parker family struggling to care for their matriarch. Aunt May is suffering from an illness and old age, with Peter feeling personally responsible for her well being. Another great story thread that gets lost in Zdarsky’s attempt to blend together some of Spidey’s most iconic 80s stories.
Kraven’s Last Hunt and The Alien Costume storyline are two beloved stories that are important to Spider-Man’s mythology. Zdarsky shrewdly uses these stories to both comment on the harsh reality of aging and the dark age of superhero comics that was birthed in the mid-1980s. It’s a wonderful use of the alien costume, and I applaud Zdarsky’s creativity in that area. I do think that his use of Kraven the Hunter isn’t very compelling. It reads as more of a rehash than an innovative re-purposing of that classic DeMattis penned epic.
While the story struggles to cram together all of Zdarsky’s concepts, one thing it does really well is constantly keep the cold war as a background element of the story. The superheroes of modern era of Marvel Comics owe their existence to the cold war and the arms race it spawned, and Zdarsky’s story plays clever homage to that fact.
Mark Bagley’s artwork continues to be excellent, being able to depict the larger than life super-heroics as accurately as the human drama that occurs around it. It’s also a joy to see him design a continuously evolving marvel universe as the foundation characters of the 1960’s continue to age. My favorite pages from this this issue are when Bagley drew the Secret War scenes. Seeing him depict the larger Marvel Universe aged twenty odd years after it’s 60s era beginnings was wonderful.
Spider-Man Life Story #3 isn’t the strongest issue of the series, but it’s still an enjoyable read. If anything, some of it’s weaknesses will be less noticeable when read in trade form.