In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
I’ll be blunt: I haven’t liked a Morlun story since JMS and John Romita Jr.’s original debut of the character in 2001. Chalk it up to the fact that their run was the first I ever completed as an enthusiastic high school kid checking out every issue from the local library, and I feel nostalgic for it. Or the fact that I think — as many do — that Morlun served his singular purpose and would be better off left alone (I think the same for Kraven post Last Hunt). OR just that most writers since don’t seem to get what made the character vital and scary. Whatever it is, I haven’t liked reinventions and remixes on his story and I’d rather not see him again.
Or so I thought.
Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Mark Bagley’s newest issue of Spider-Man: Life Story delivers a stunning, effective, and sleek Morlun and Civil War based story that has introduced a caveat to my hard and fast vampire lord rules: this one too.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
THE REAL-TIME LIFE STORY OF SPIDER-MAN CONTINUES! The superhero CIVIL WAR rocks the world! A hero’s death changes everything for both PETER PARKER and his family as LIFE STORY continues into the 2000s!
If that sounds like a lot even in the abstract, you’re right, and it should be noted that this issue struggles a little under its own weight as it moves at blinding speed introducing new characters and twists before its last issue, but Zdarsky handles the important bits with aplomb. You see, this issue is ultimately a story about power and responsibility, more so than any Life Story issue before it.
Following up the Clone Saga remix with an important, fatal twist that not only introduces Morlun’s frightening efficiency, but also brings Peter back into the world of heroism fully, Zdarsky delivers an important message: on a long enough timeline, all our actions have repercussions. The greater your power and renown grows, the greater your sense of responsibility should grow with it, but this Peter Parker has tried to not play by those rules.
Was he wrong to (mostly) abandon the mantle of Spider-Man as he aged in favor of spending more time with his family? No, not entirely. Will it have interdimensional vampire repercussions anyways? Yes, because he failed to recognize that he will always be responsible for Spider-Man — whoever the mask is on. This is the same for the Civil War elements. Does Spider-Man get to opt out of a large political issue simply because he’d prefer a quiet life? No, and especially not as Stark very elegantly points out, after reaping the rewards of a life with powers. Peter’s life is one of action and consequence, of dueling priorities, and most importantly – one that’s always playing on a bigger field and at larger issues than he understands. Morlun is the perfect encapsulation, and capitalization on, that idea and Zdarsky’s plot uses him effectively to that end — he’s scary, efficient, and devoted to a game that Parker doesn’t like to admit he’s playing, but has more realistically known about all along. That it’s all a well-written, paced issue pretty sleekly weaving together two entirely different storylines like the Kraven-Symbiote issue before it, helped all the more as the story moves into examining not only Peter’s life, but the impact on everything around him including his children — Benjy, and (a very Mayday looking) Claire, MJ, and even Ben. As the story develops in these avenues, even its penultimate hour, they feel important, refreshing and surprisingly untouched on previously. Zdarsky is a master of this moral complexity and back and forth, and while I don’t necessarily like this Peter, I respect and understand his choices all the same.
Bagley plays with the same elements here to mostly evocative success. Morlun is quite literally an impenetrable, unstoppable pursing force as he breaks through walls, drains the life from his prey, and more in a nostalgic effort that meets the narrative importance and sense of urgency well. Similarly, the introduction of heroes that have aged at the same rate as Peter feels honed and appropriate — the character designs for Tony, Captain America, Captain Marvel and more all feel considered and realistic, especially in a scene where Peter remarks to Steve Rogers that they’re both old men now.
However, the same effect is applied strangely elsewhere as MJ in particular seems to have aged 50 years since the last issue compared to Peter’s more realistic take, and the expressions here are somewhat overexaggerated and distracting. There’s ultimately a lot of joy in the stuff that’s totally realized in this vein, and the character design in particular is strong and follows a natural progression so it’s forgivable, but still noticeable.
All in all, this is a complex, refreshing issue of Life Story as all before it have been. I’m not only constantly surprised by the twists and turns of the story Zdarsky and Bagley have crafted, but also impressed by it — even when toying with characters I’d rather not see again. There’s a sincerity and intentionality here that is hard to ignore, and it’s downright moving at its best moments, elevating current and past Spidey stories alongside it.
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