(w) Chip Zdarsky (a) Mark Bagley (i) John Dell (c) John D’armata
The concept of Spider-Man Life Story is an interesting one: six issues spanning the six decades of Spider-Man’s existence sounds great. Having an all-star creative team of Chip Zdarsky (Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man) and Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man) gave this title lofty expectations. Before the first issue dropped, comparisons were being made to Superman: Secret Identity, another high-concept title featuring a comic publisher’s flagship character. However, after reading the first issue, expectations for the remaining issues may be tempered.
The Spider-Man stories of the 1960s feature the character’s defining moments. Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. crafted every major plot beat that has been retold over and over again. Any time a story tries to revisit that era of storytelling, comparisons are inevitably made. Some are successful, such as Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man, and others are not, such as John Byrne’s Spider-Man: Chapter One. Chip Zdarsky’s own Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man revisited this era with its “Amazing Fantasy” arc to great success. But while “Amazing Fantasy” tackled that early era of Spider-Man stories from a unique perspective (involving time-travel), Spider-Man Life Story #1 is a straightforward retelling of Amazing Spider-Man #47.
Although the writing is updated with modern sensibilities, this issue truly serves no real purpose. Granted, it may work in the context of the series as a whole and in hindsight this review may be too harsh, but all this issue does is retread ground better executed by past creators. Peter Parker is late to class. Peter Parker is concerned about Aunt May. Peter Parker’s friends are annoyed by his peculiarity. Peter Parker and Flash Thompson don’t get along. When the book does something interesting – namely a Spider-Man/Green Goblin fight – it’s difficult to tell if it’s actually exciting or simply not as boring as what came before.
The biggest problem with Mark Bagley’s art is that he is so associated with modern Spider-Man, it is difficult to see this issue as set in the 1960s. However, it is hard to place the blame on him. He has a very modern style that was perfect for Ultimate Spider-Man, and it just doesn’t work here. Though he tries to recreate a 1960s aesthetic, it looks mostly like an issue of Ultimate with the characters playing dress-up. I’m under no illusions that this might be unfair, and if this is someone’s first time seeing Bagley’ art they might think the artwork is a great fit. I don’t even think Bagley’s art is bad. In fact, it is very good and one of the issue’s highlights. He does a great job in conveying emotions that are both wide-ranging and nuanced. His depiction of the classic Green Goblin is delightful. But as a whole, he just isn’t the right fit.
Spider-Man Life Story #1 is a missed opportunity to do something really great. Instead, the issue is a subpar retelling of a pivotal moment in Peter Parker’s character development – and Flash Thompson’s too. Perhaps this issue will work as a part of a completed work than on its own, but as it stands this is just a straight misfire.