It's heart-breaking when you read a comic you want to love so badly it hurts, and that comic turns out to be simply... okay.
Spider-Man: Life Story #1 is one of these comics. Retelling classic moments from a superhero history never really gets old as long as the creative team telling the story tackle things from a different angle. For example, no matter how many times we've seen a omnipresent character like Superman's origin play out on the page, it can still get some mileage if a writer and artist can find new stones yet to be unturned (Marv Wolfman and Claudio Castellini's Man or Superman recently proved as much). And if whoever is behind the comic is allowed to play with the narrative that has been cemented in the mind of fans for decades, the sky really is the limit.
And that's what most frustrating about the first issue of Spider-Man: Life Story. It feels like it's not willing to take risks. The story, such as it is, is rather straightforward. It's 1966, and we're plopped into Peter Parker's life, four years after he's first became Spider-Man. We get a recap of the all-too familiar how and why regarding his origins (Great Power and all that), and we visit some notable characters as the issue progresses. The dynamic between Pete and Harry and Norman Osborne is tweaked a bit, but it still rings true to the characters on the whole, and the same can be said for Gwen Stacy. The problem is, this comic has no real hook beyond the basic concept behind it. The idea of following a superhero in real time is a solid one and has worked wonders for characters like The Punisher in the past, but the jury is still out here.
This isn't to say Spider-Man: Life Story #1 is bad -- it really isn't. Chip Zdarsky's script doesn't have any real failings other than coloring too much inside the lines. There's no sort of distinctive Zdarsky flare, unlike some of his other work on titles like Daredevil. The pacing is oddly sluggish, as well; there's a bar scene that lasts over six pages, and it feels like it could have been covered in about half that. I'm sure rewriting Spider-Man's history while also trying to form a meta-narrative that embodies the tone of the comics and social issues of the decade is no easy task, so it's hard to give Zdarsky too hard of a time for missing the mark. This issue is by no mean unreadable, and at times the writing is genuinely great, but as a whole, the execution ultimately felt flat.
Let's talk about the art for a moment, shall we? Mark Bagley is a man who has probably drawn more Spider-Man comics than anyone else still alive in the industry, which naturally gives him a level of comfort handling the character not many artists possess. Now, just because an artist is overly-familiar with a character doesn't mean their work is better than that of someone who isn't. While, I've never found Bagley's art particularly eye-catching in terms of being ostentatious or provocative, it is too solid to be ignored.
There is a timelessness to Bagley's work. The issues of Amazing Spider-Men he drew in the '90s flow into his work on Ultimate Spider-Man a decade later almost seamlessly. While there are noticeable aesthetic differences thanks to evolution in digital coloring and, of course, an artist consistently getting better at their craft, the visual language he used has pretty much remained the same. As a result, his work here is solid, but unremarkable, neither helping nor harming the story.
Spider-Man: Life Story #1 sets out to do something wonderfully aspiration, but it doesn't quite reach its goal. Hampered by some plotting issues, panels filled with dialogue clutter, and workmanlike art, this first issue isn't the celebration of Spider-Man's 1960s legacy fans might have been hoping for. Again, Zdarsky and Bagley and doing good work, but it often feels like they are either phoning it in, or relying on the reader a bit too much to fill in the blanks. This is worth a read for sure, but it's too early to tell if it'll shape up into something greater than its parts. Fingers crossed for the next issue, which may help recontextualize the entire series.