‘Spider-Man: Life Story’ Versus ‘Fantastic Four: Life Story’

by Benjamin Hall

Spider-Man: Life Story (2019) and Fantastic Four: Life Story (2021-2022) are two series of comic books from Marvel. Due to a certain event in the last issue of both series they apparently share the same universe. They also explore the characters with the possible effects of real time aging starting from their respective dates of first publication. Although they should seemingly share a majority of qualities this article will explore how they are vastly different works. Yet, for the sake of brevity, not everything will see exploration. For example there is no consideration for the handling of the cover art, lettering, or coloring. Not to mention the interior art will only get an occasional reference when appropriate.

Spider-Man: Life Story #5 (2019) cover by writer/artist Chip Zdarsky.

(Warning of spoilers for both series!)

For those who have yet to read one, or both, of these two series their respective plots are as follows: Spider-Man: Life Story focuses on one major event per decade of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s life. It deviates from both real and fictional history only so far as it takes to show the tangential effects of real aging superheroes on society. Thus, Spider-Man: Life Story, minus viewing Peter Parker’s life, does not have a true over-arcing plot. Fantastic Four: Life Story focuses on one character per decade, but uses Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic as the narrative through-line. It also focuses more on the effects superheroes would have on society than any of the Fantastic Four’s adventures. The interpersonal dynamics of the Fantastic Four, especially Reed and Susan Richards/Invisible Woman, are arguably the crux of the plot.

A key difference one can see when comparing both series is how the narrative template set-up with Spider-Man: Life Story sees an inverse with Fantastic Four: Life Story. For example Spider-Man: Life Story #1 (2019) references the Vietnam War, but it gives only a cursory answer of how Marvel’s supers would impact it. While Fantastic Four: Life Story #4 (2021) references the real disease AIDS and says the fictional country of Wakanda would solve it. There is also the fact that Spider-Man: Life Story ends with the death of Peter Parker with Miles Morales/Spider-Man continuing the legacy. Yet, Fantastic Four: Life Story ends their story with most of them being alive and no continuation of their legacy. Yes, one can argue that Reed and Sue’s son Franklin Richards is continuing the family aspect of their legacy, but he does not continue the superhero aspect.

Another difference is Spider-Man: Life Story has only a slight retooling of the mythos to start it off whereas Fantastic Four: Life Story reimagines the entire mythos. In the case of the former there is a simple case of Peter Parker revealing Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin. Thus, Spider-Man’s life and adventures change. While the latter series has changes like Reed and Benjamin Grimm/Thing not knowing each other from college (Fantastic Four Annual #2 [1964]). Instead a child (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch) is the one to introduce the adults (Ben, Reed, and Sue) to each other. Not to mention the entire characterization of Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom is almost totally different from any past incarnation (Fantastic Four Annual #2 [1964]). Overall this means that the former series starts with events in progress with changes occurring where appropriate and the latter trying to reinvent the wheel.

A narrative difference is that the first series has a sense of hope to its ending. Notably with Miles Morales/Spider-Man getting Peter’s costume from Mary Jane. Thus, suggesting a possible sequel series decades from now, and that heroes inspire other heroes.  While the latter series has a sense of absurdity and despair throughout. The despair comes mainly from sadder moments being the highlights of Fantastic Four: Life Story. When it comes to the sense of absurdity one only has to look at how Reed Richards is brain dead for years, and is therefore by definition dead. Yet, in Fantastic Four: Life Story #6 (2022) the art shows him changing positions without help, and his brain activity starts again thanks mainly to his now adult son Franklin Richards.

In conclusion (due to the sense of brevity this comparative analysis is striving for) one can enjoy either series for what they have to offer. However, in this writer’s opinion Marvel should either consider another attempt at telling a real aging Fantastic Four series via the Spider-Man: Life Story model, or simply using the power of retcon by way of joke in the (insert next character’s) life story series.

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