REVIEW: Spider-Man: Life Story Annual #1 – I Want Pictures of J. Jonah Jameson!

A detail of the Spider-Man mask; red hood, black webbing, expressive but blank white eyes - against a blue backdrop

Providing a trenchant character portrait of J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man: Life Story Annual is deep and dark and beautifully written — but doesn’t feature much actual web-slinging from Peter Parker himself.

Spider-Man Life Story Annual

Mark Bagley (Pencils and cover); Edgar Delgado (Cover); Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Cover); Andrew Hennessy (Inks); VC’s Travis Lanham (Letters); J.P. Mayer (Cover); Matt Milla (Colors); John Romita Jr.(Cover); Chip Zdarsky (Writing and Cover)
Marvel Comics
August 2, 2021

 

A detail of the Spider-Man mask; red hood, black webbing, expressive but blank white eyes - against a blue backdrop. Against Peter's chest is J. Jonah Jameson, who clutches the stripes on his outfit like prison bars while looking at the ground in a downcast manner

 

Spider-Man: Life Story Annual is a time-hopping odyssey featuring a pretty inflexible J. Jonah Jameson. Writer Chip Zdarsky has previously taken a deeper look into Peter Parker’s boss’ dark heart in books like Spider-Man: The Spider’s Shadow. But this time, he gives us a Jameson who’s unwilling to back down or away from his barely-contained jealousy of Spidey, which makes spending an entire issue with him heavy sledding.

Peter Parker has grown into a 20-year-old superhero as the 1960s come to a close. Also coming to a close is J. Jonah Jameson’s ability to stay still and silent as Peter seems to effortlessly seduce all of New York City with his wit and capabilities.

He sees the young man as a menace (as always) and his attempt at moonlighting as a supervillain has resulted in him being jailed. Ten years pass, and JJ’s now estranged from his son, who has a family of his own. Peter is 30, grappling with the recent death of Gwen Stacy, his wife, which he could not prevent. Jameson, who’s been spending his time in jail writing his autobiography, tries to talk Peter Parker into speaking out against the webbed menace, but nothing doing.

By the time the ‘90s rolled around, Jonah has grown increasingly bitter, and now he must contend with the death of Norman Osborn, who has responded much more positively to rehabilitation than he has. Jameson is paroled in the ‘00’s — and even though he’s a senior citizen, he still has a super suit. Will he claim vengeance on Spider-Man? Or will his attempt at fixing the mistakes he’s made spiral out of control?

Panel Art for Spider Man: Life Story Annual #1: Mark Bagley (Pencils and cover); Edgar Delgado (Cover); Romulo Fajardo Jr. (Cover); Andrew Hennessy (Inks); VC’s Travis Lanham (Letters); J.P. Mayer (Cover); Matt Milla (Colors); John Romita Jr.(Cover); Chip Zdarsky (Writing and Cover) C Marvel Comics August 2, 2021Spider-Man: Life Story Annual is about the grace of forgiveness. Jameson cannot forgive himself for his mistakes or Spider-Man for his bold heedlessness, which reminds him of the man who killed his wife in an armed robbery. Others are fortunate enough to find peace for themselves, but Jameson has to crawl over broken glass before he realizes that maybe he’s the one who is the problem.

Zdarsky’s writing is uniformly good, but being stuck in Jameson’s incredibly single-minded point of view for an entire issue is a drag. It takes him years of confinement to see beyond his own frailties, but eventually, he evens out. There’s a real lack of period feeling tying the story to the Life Story theme, which is also a little disappointing. There’s also very little Peter in this issue, so if your favorite flavor of Spider-Man comic isn’t “brooding J. Jonah Jameson” then this isn’t the issue for you.

Bagley’s art has a kind of Jack Kirby feeling to it – the characters are a bit square and blocky, with emotional eyes. The story is a dark one. But Bagley knows how to throw some light into the scene, sketching claustrophobic jail cells and big battles with equal aplomb.

Fans who like their drama dark and their JJJ obsessed will enjoy this story, but those who want a little more Parker in their web-slinging should stay away. But Spider-Man: Life Story Annual is so beautifully written it is hard to ignore.

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