I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about this 6-issue miniseries a couple of months ago. It’s similar to what John Byrne did in his Superman and Batman: Generations miniseries (and its sequels), showing the life of a superhero as if it progressed in “real time.” You know, Spider-Man debuted as a comic-book character in 1962, and he was originally portrayed as being 15 years old. In the first few years of publication, the writers actually had Spider-Man aging at a pretty regular rate. After a few years, he graduated High School and then started going to college. I don’t recall if he was ever shown to have graduated college, but he was eventually shown to be working full time as a photographer for the Daily Bugle, and the Powers That Be at Marvel realized that this character might be valuable to them for quite a while, and therefore it wasn’t such a good idea to have him getting older. So eventually age-specific stories and references were phased out and while things like fashion, technology and pop culture references would be updated over the years to reflect the times, Peter Parker has been “in his twenties” for about the last 50 years. This is the standard treatment of most big corporate-owned comic-book characters, as they are brands. But this series is meant to show what may have happened if Peter Parker, and the greater Marvel Universe around him, had continued to grow and change since his inception in 1962.
This first issue takes place in 1966. It’s been 4 years since Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Man. Peter is a senior in college, working alongside Gwen Stacy whom he is attracted to, but he still holds back from trying to get close to her due to his responsibilities as Spider-Man. He continues to earn money on the side by selling pictures of Spider-Man to J. Jonah Jamesson. His other friends Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn, and old High School nemesis Flash Thompson also make appearances in this issue. In fact, Flash has voluntarily enlisted to fight for the military in the Vietnam War, and that war is the man topic on Peter’s mind throughout this issue. He’s conflicted about what the war means, and whether or not he has a moral duty to go fight in it himself.
It’s an interesting question, Spider-Man is defined by the motto that with great power comes great responsibility, but exactly how far is that responsibility supposed to go? Is using his powers to fight crime, as he’s been doing, at home, enough? When everyday regular citizens without powers, like Flash, are going off to fight in a war, does Peter have an obligation to join them? And he wonders exactly how he would do so, even if he chose to, like would he need to reveal his identity to the government? It’s very engaging the way writer Chip Zdarsky has Peter grapple privately with these questions throughout this issue, while also not skimping on the type of action that we expect from a superhero comics. By that I mean that Spider-Man also faces his arch-enemy the Green Goblin, learning for the first time that the Goblin is really Norman Osborn and that Norman is also aware of Spider-Man’s secret identity. The outcome of this battle will have a dramatic effect on both of their lives.
Captain America also makes a brief appearance in this issue. This is two years since the Captain was revived from suspended animation in Avengers #4, and we see that public pressure has been mounting on him to join the Vietnam War just as he fought in World War II. But Cap is likewise conflicted as he feels that the reasons for this conflict are not quite as clear-cut as it was in WWII. He meets with Spidey and gives him some advice on what he should do. There is also a cameo appearance by Iron Man, who is shown to already been fighting alongside American troops in Vietnam. And there are a couple of extra surprises at the end of this issue, which I won’t spoil.
Well, this is a very good first issue, the story was intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining. And Zdarsky has a great collaborator in artist Mark Bagley, who has long been one of my all-time favorite Spider-Man artists. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.