Exploring The Multiverse: Spider-Man Life Story
I didn’t expect to be doing another one of these so soon after covering The Last Avengers Story, but Spider-Man: Life Story started showing up on Marvel Unlimited and I really enjoyed the first couple of issues. I’ve had the crazy idea to have characters to age in real time. It’s apparently not that crazy of an idea, because we’ve gotten a view of the Marvel Universe if characters aged in real time. It’s all centered around Peter Parker.
The issues of Spider-Man: Life Story are set in different decades, starting in the 1960s and going through the 2010s. Each decade has a milestone in Peter Parker’s life. There’s the Green Goblin, the Professor Warren cloning drama, Secret Wars and Kraven’s Last Hunt, the Clone Saga, Civil War and finally, the Doctor Octopus seeking to cheat death.
Marvel.fandom.com, a great, unofficial resource for Marvel history, designates Spider-Man: Life Story as Earth-2447. This wasn’t their invention, though. Writer Chip Zdarsky gave it in a Twitter post on June 12, 2019. The interesting thing is that it appears the character divergence that Spider-Man: Life Story really centers around isn’t Spider-Man. Iron Man is the source for the diverging realities. Primarily, it’s his decision to help the war effort in Vietnam. Of course, this helps to extend the war and create the first schism between him and Captain America.
We see a major divergence not so much in Iron Man’s role in Vietnam, but in the way the Marvel Universe responds to it. In Marvel Comics of the time period, it wasn’t addressed all that often. Here, Peter Parker, starting college questions if his powers and abilities would be better served saving soldiers in Vietnam. Flash Thompson goes to join the war effort and the friction between him and Parker is refreshing. I always found it uneasy that he and Flash became such close friends in college.
Vietnam’s role is overreaching in this decade, much like it was as the war built up. Iron Man is very publicly part of the escalation. His conversation with Captain America drives home his responsibility at home, and drives him to expose Osborn as the Green Goblin. This is going to sit in the background for a little bit throughout the series. We also see Peter’s drive to meet his obligations as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker to get sloppy and expose his secret to Gwen Stacy.
We see Peter coming into his own as a scientist, working for Reed Richards. He’s married to Gwen, who’s working for Professor Miles Warren. Warren is developing cutting edge biological advances. When Peter questions Reed’s reasons for keeping his inventions from the public, it leads to an argument that has Peter dredging up Sue Storm leaving Reed for the Sub-Mariner.
We also get a nice look at two aspects of supporting characters in the 1970s. Mary Jane, portrayed as the party girl is still in a relationship with Harry Osborne. We see him passed out on drugs, which harkens back to one of the defining Spider-Man stories of the 1970s. The difference is in the normal continuity, Peter helped Harry kick his habit in 1970. With Norman Osborne in prison, Harry didn’t have Peter constantly around, since he inherited control of Oscorp.
An argument over Harry and Mary Jane’s wild lifestyle, leads to the revelation that Mary Jane has always known that Peter is Spider-Man. In the comics
Even in prison, Norman Osborn manipulates the world around Peter Parker. Osborne has Warren clone him and Parker. Warren, with a obsession for Gwen Stacy, clones her as well. Of course, this ends with Peter’s clone surviving. Unfortunately it has Warren reveal that the Gwen Stacy Peter has been married to is in fact, a clone. Unfortunately, this means that Gwen’s clone and Peter’s clone leave together to start a new life. Spider-Man is left alone except for Mary Jane, who was left with millions by Harry Osborne, on the run after killing Gwen Stacy.
The 1980s start with the Secret Wars. Of course a few of the heroes look much older, because everyone is aging in real time. When Peter gets back with his symbiote costume, he finds his wife Mary Jane has given birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Oh, and while the heroes were away during the Secret Wars, the Soviet Union launched nuclear missiles. The Vision managed to divert the course of one missile, but it destroyed Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Aunt May starts declining into senility. Fortunately, the symbiote isn’t able to catch Peter off guard due to the resources at his command. We also get a version of Kraven’s Last Hunt with an older Kraven, which makes sense in this context. Of course, the symbiote collides with this story, prompting drastic measures. These stresses take their toll on Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage causing its dissolution. At the same time, it looks as if the symbiote finds a new home with Kraven.
The 1990s are known for the Clone Saga. We open with Dr. Octopus tracking down Ben Reilly. Dealing with a takeover of his company by Tony Stark, Peter still loses himself into his role as Spider-Man. Octopus, still grieving for Peter’s Aunt May, has taken his scheme back to New York. He gets the better of Spider-Man. Octopus wants the secrets of Miles Warren’s cloning process so he can avoid death.
Unfortunately, it looks like Peter Parker was the clone all the time. This sparks a confrontation between Parker and Riley. Dr. Octopus lashes out, but kills Harry Osborne. After Octopus gets away, Parker and Riley make arrangements for Ben to take over Parker’s life. However, there is a twist.
Peter confronts Norman Osborne with the fact that he knows Osborne was behind the data “proving” Ben Riley to be the original Peter Parker. It’s a lie, of course, part of some grand scheme of revenge Osborne had in mind. When Norman learns that Harry died, he lashes out against Peter and suffers a massive, fatal heart attack. Peter then goes to reunite with Mary Jane and his kids.
Morlun is a vampire that feasts on people with spider-powers. He kills Ben Riley. Peter Parker has to come out of hiding to save his company from a Tony Stark takeover. Following the events of 9/11, the Super-Hero Registration Act has split the super-hero community. While in New York, Peter finds himself in the middle of the super-hero civil war. It doesn’t end decisively, but it does end with Spider-Man firmly against drafting superhumans into the military.
Meanwhile, Morlun attacks Peter’s kids. They realize that while he’s feeding, Morlun can be hurt. Peter’s son sacrifices himself so Peter’s daughter can use the opportunity to kill Morlun.
The Civil War left the world in a position where Doctor Doom could seize control. Peter leads the resistance. On a mission to an old Stark space station, Peter and the new Spider-Man Miles Morales set a device in place to knock out Doom’s technology across the entire planet. While there, they’re attacked by Kraven, possessed by the Venom symbiote. Peter kills the villain, but discovers something horrible.
Doctor Octopus has taken over Miles with the assistance of Doctor Doom. However, seeing himself as the hero, Octopus has betrayed Doom. Octopus takes the battle into Peter’s mind, but Peter’s memory of his Aunt May reaches Doctor Octopus, who has always loved her.
Peter has to stay behind to activate the pulse. He send Dr. Octopus/ MIles back with an urging to give Miles his life back “for May.” When it looks like he won’t have the time, the symbiote helps him hold the station together. Peter dies saving the world.
Octopus releases Miles, who shows the invalid scientist mercy in the memory of Peter Parker. Mary Jane gives Miles the original costume Peter used as Spider-Man so he can carry on the legacy.
So how does the alternate Earth of Spider-Man: Life Story stack up? The purpose seems to be putting the big highlights of Spider-Man’s life in the context of an aging world. It’s very refreshing to see the relationship between Otto Octavius and Peter’s Aunt May given such importance. It’s a neat little footnote in the history of Spider-Man, but it does show a different side to Doctor Octopus.
Tony Stark is clearly the unintentional villain in this Marvel Universe. His response to 9/11 is to set the world on a path where Doctor Doom takes it over almost with its permission. Showing the rest of the Marvel Universe aging alongside Peter is a perfect addition. With few exceptions, it helps Spider-Man’s world. I don’t know about having Sue Storm leaving Reed Richards, but it does add a new wrinkle into the development of Peter Parker as a scientist. I think that this aspect has always gotten the short stick over the years.
Overall, Spider-Man: Life Story is definitely a series to pick up if you are a fan of the Multiverse, like me.