Spider-Man: Life Story #3 // Review
The third chapter of Spider-Man: Life Story riffs on several 1980s comics It uses plot elements from two different Marvel stories from that decade, Secret Wars and Kraven's Last Hunt. But one of the issue's most significant influences is not a Marvel story at all, but a work from the Distinguished Competition, also from the 1980s, and that's Watchmen--the issue even features a cameo from one Walter Kovacs himself.
The issue opens with most of the world's heroes away on Battleworld, just as they were in the mainline Marvel Universe's Secret Wars crossover (complete with Peter's inexplicable acquisition of his pre-Venom symbiote costume). As this series features Peter Parker and his family aging in real-time, however, we find that Mary Jane Watson--now Peter's second wife--has given birth to twins while Spidey is away. Another significant change to the Secret Wars story is what happens in the heroes' absence--specifically, a Russian nuclear attack on US soil.
While this issue is not as relentlessly unpleasant as the previous, writer Chip Zdarsky still puts Peter and his friends and family through the wringer. The depiction of a senile Aunt May is heartbreaking. His use of a lonely and aged Reed Richards as a cautionary tale for Peter is haunting. Zdarsky triumphs in this issue by taking the abstract conflict of the 1980s Cold War and literalizing it with the struggle between Spider-Man and Kraven the Hunter, with Peter's struggling home life weakening him almost enough to allow the symbiote to take over.
It's always a joy to see Spider-Man and his rogues, particularly Venom (sort of), as drawn by penciler Mark Bagley and inker John Dell. Bagley and Dell's depiction of the aging Peter Parker is so effective because of how familiar their rendition of the character is, juxtaposed with how unfamiliar it is to see him and his amazing friends age. Colorist Frank D'Armata continues to have a sepia tinge to it, a decision that seems less and less appropriate as the series moves from decade to decade (surely D'Armata could have had some fun with the neon colors of the 1980s). VC's Travis Lanham's lettering shines when Peter is almost possessed by the symbiote, in an effect that is more appealing than the Venom/Carnage lettering in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
Spider-Man: Life Story continues to be uneven, which is a shame given the Spider-Man bona fides of its stellar creative team. Still, this issue is a significant improvement over the last chapter.