The ’80s were a strange time for superhero comics. The era of the “extreme” exploded onto the scene and brought with it no shortage of immediately recognizable trends and tropes–holofoil variant covers, grimacing gun-toting anti-heroes, way too many utility pouches–you name it. For better or worse, ’80s comics had it all.
By and large, the weirdness and the turmoil of the ’80s is something modern comics now deal with at arm’s length. In Marvel, this is accomplished by the use of the sliding timeline. How it works is pretty simple: At any given point, it’s understood that the stories themselves to only have existed for 10 years or so–which means the stories of the ’80s are now readily cherry-picked for only the most pertinent details, rather than looked at as real-time artifacts. Those details are then reworked so that they fit into whatever modern setting they’re needed, or stripped of major contextual clues to make him stick out a little less obviously. The stories may have happened, but they happened differently, in a different era, or a different universe altogether.
Unless, of course, confronting the history of a character in real-time is the goal–which just so happens to be the case with Chip Zdarksy and Mark Bagley’s Spider-Man: Life Story, a limited series which tackles the decade-by-decade publication history of everyone’s favorite webhead one issue at a time. Starting with the ’60s, Life Story has taken Peter Parker in ten-year chunks through this week’s issue #3, which lands squarely in–you guessed it–the ’80s, allowing him not only to age but to progress through his own history in as close to “real time” as possible.
For Peter Parker, the ’80s were a time of (somewhat literal) transformation. It sent him to fight on Battleworld during the first iteration of Secret Wars, it introduced the black alien suit that would go on to become Venom, and it pitted him against a near brush with death as he faced off against Kraven the Hunter in what would ultimately become one of his most iconic stories, Kraven’s Last Hunt. These things still impact modern day Peter Parker in one way or another, but as the timeline slides away, so does their potency.
Life Story gives us a chance to revisit these moments with fresh eyes and a completely new context. Set outside of the main Marvel universe, the sliding timeline doesn’t hold sway here. In issue #1, Peter was a teenager in the ’60s, with #2 he was in his twenties in the ’70s; now, here in the ’80s, he’s rounding out his thirties. He’s facing off against the wild, pulp fiction weirdness of Battleworld and Secret Wars as he exits his prime and deals with his aging aunt and pregnant wife. He discovers the truth of the symbiotic black suit not because of a lucky accident but because he’s a scientist who deduced the truth almost right away–and chose not to worry about it because it gave him an opportunity to perform the way he had back in his youth. His confrontation with Kraven is now colored with the trappings of the last days of the Cold War, merged elegantly into the burgeoning symbiote storyline–which was published nearly four years prior.
By conducting a total remix of Spider-Man history and applying Life Story’s new set of rules, Zdarsky and Bagley figured out a new, even more devious origin story for one of Marvel’s fan-favorite anti-heroes. In this version of events, Eddie Brock’s weirdly contrived photography beef with Peter no longer exists. Instead, it piggybacks directly onto Kraven’s Last Hunt.
Kraven impersonates the black-suit wearing Spider-Man himself and “kills” Peter–but instead of tranquilizing him and burying him alive as he did in the original version of the story, Kraven both shoots and stabs him, literally murdering him until the symbiote finds and revives Peter from his grave. In full Venom mode, Peter attacks and defeats Kraven who readily accepts the loss, believing that his “Venomized” form is exactly what Peter always meant to be.
Then, in a revisit of what might be one of the darkest moments in Spider-Man history, the defeated Kraven prepares to commit suicide–something he successfully accomplished back in the original story (it was extremely bleak, trust me.) Only this time, he’s ambiguously interrupted by the oozing tendril of a symbiote, implying that in this version, it’s a suicidal Kraven who ends up being Venom’s first host outside of Peter himself.
The potential here for new twists and turns in Peter’s story is massive. Not only is Kraven a trained killer and relentless psychopath; he’s also one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies just on his own–without the help of an alien symbiote’s enhancement. Add to that the fact that both Kraven and Venom are notoriously obsessed with Spider-Man and you have all the ingredients for an explosive catastrophe just around the corner.
Spider-Man: Life Story continues with issue #4 next month, tackling the 90s and, with any luck, all the fall out of this massive revelation.
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