WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS for Spider-Man: Life Story #1 & #2.
One would think that an alternate-timeline in which Captain America betrays his country at the height of the Vietnam War would see such a drastic occurrence as its focal point. Yet this stunning event is only a part of the background of Life Story – a new Spider-Man mini-series that offers a decidedly different take on the heroes of Marvel Comics during the Silver Age of Comics.
The basic idea of Life Story is taken from the classic Marvel What If? series, which explored how the lives of various characters might be forever altered by one little change. In the case of Life Story, the series explores the life of Peter Parker if he had aged in real time after being created as a 15 year old high-school student in 1962. The first chapter of Life Story is set in 1966, where Peter Parker is 19, newly accepted into college and, like most young men of the time, worried about the growing conflict in Vietnam.
While Stan Lee wasn’t shy about confronting the issues raised by the Vietnam War and the student protests against it, he never explored how Peter’s sense of responsibility might leave him conflicted regarding the idea of military service. Ignoring the morality of the war itself, Peter did have the welfare of his elderly Aunt May to think of, but he probably would still wonder if the responsibility of his great power required him to serve society as a soldier.
Writer Chip Zdarksy explores this question masterfully, with Peter turning to Captain America for his own opinions on the war and his advice on what he should do. True to form, Steve Rogers says that he intends to see the conflict for himself before making a decision but that he has seen enough of Spider-Man in action to trust that he will make the right choice for himself.
Peter eventually decides that there is no dishonor in protecting his city from domestic threats while other superheroes support the war effort directly. As for Steve Rogers, the first issue of Life Story dramatically reveals his decision in its final pages, as a group of American soldiers prepare to attack a seemingly unarmed rural village in the jungle of Vietnam. They are all disarmed by one throw of Captain America’s mighty shield, with Cap instructing them to tell Iron Man that “These people? They’re under my protection.”
This subplot continues into the second issue of Life Story, where the story jumps forward to 1977. For reasons that are not precisely explained, the Vietnam War is still going on in this reality, with Iron Man and Giant Man still leading the American troops. Captain America, for his part, is said to still be hiding out in the jungle, fighting a one-man war to prevent deaths on both sides of the conflict.
Again, this interesting idea is only background material. The focus of the story remains on Peter Parker, who has just turned 30, is happily married to Gwen Stacy and is working alongside Reed Richards at the Future Foundation. While Zdarksy spins an engaging tale around Spider-Man, and how an older Peter Parker might have addressed the problems he faced in the 1970s Spider-Man comics, the tale of Captain America changing in the face of the Vietnam War is worth examining in greater detail. It is unknown how this subplot will be developed in future issues but there is rich ground to be explored here and tremendous potential for a follow-up mini-series.
Spider-Man: Life Story #2 is now available from Marvel Comics.
More: Even Marvel Admits Spider-Man’s Worst Story Was a Mistake