A while ago I wrote a blog post called “The Status Quo of Comics.” In it I summarized how on a long enough timeline any significant changes in a comic storyline will inevitably return to the status quo. I use a recent character arc of Doctor Octopus as an example. Over the course of several years (maybe even a decade) he went from being sick and dying, to inhabiting Peter Parker’s body, to a robot, to a clone of Peter Parker, to finally returning to his original self. The status quo had been restored. The reason for this status quo is built into the very nature of the industry. Because these characters are iconic and everlasting they don’t really age. Yes, sometimes they mature and have kids and those kids grow up, but for the most part, characters of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) exist in a time-compressed world where a rotating roster of creators get there chance to play around with a blank slate. But Marvel has cracked the code of the status quo, and it has come in the form of a series titled “Life Story.” The concept is simple: what if characters aged in real time from their very first appearances? The result is a refreshing breath of storytelling desperately needed in comics. The series started with Spider-Man and has since expanded to the Fantastic Four. Recently, Marvel released an annual issue of Spider-Man focusing on J Jonah Jameson. (Minor spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet.) The story starts off much the same way the original story did in the 60’s: Jameson assists in the creation of the Scorpion in order to beat Spider-Man. But something happens in Life Story that wouldn’t in an ordinary comic. After Mac Gargan, AKA the Scorpion, is arrested he realizes he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison and talks to the police, implicating Jameson in his creation.
In Life Story, characters age and die. They are forced to face their own mortality and have to come to terms with everything they’ve done during the course of their lives. Good and bad. Normal comic characters are ageless. Yes, they do face consequences for their actions in the short term, but decades later, the past gets wiped clean and a new creative team gets to work on these characters with more or less a blank slate. Life Story doesn’t get that luxury. The stories have real stakes and the characters face real growth because of it. I’m not sure if Marvel (or DC for that matter) has any more Life Story plans for the future but I’m all for them.