WRITER: CHIP ZDARSKY
ARTIST: MARK BAGLEY
RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 25, 2021
Spinning out of the recent Spider-Man: Life Story mini-series, this annual spotlights the life of perpetual thorn in Spider-Man’s side, J Jonah Jameson.
For those that may be unfamiliar with the Spider-Man: Life Story mini-series, in that story, Peter Parker still premiered as Spider-man in the 1960s. Only unlike the traditional Marvel Universe, there is no sliding timeline as events unfold. The series moves ahead in relative real-time. Each issue spotlighted Spider-man in each decade as he got older. Think of it as a sort of What If? story where the creative team was free to change things up. Characters died, changed roles, and went in unexpected directions. While still finding a way to pay tribute to Spider-Man’s long comic history. If you haven’t read it yet I recommend it.
This new Annual is by the same creative team that put together the mini-series. Early in Life Story J. Jonah Jameson is arrested for his part in a supervillain attacking Spider-man. Unlike the main Marvel Universe where JJJ seemed to always avoid responsibility for his actions, in this story, he was actually sent to prison for a long sentence. The new Annual takes a look at his decades-spanning prison time. How it affected Jonah and his family. As well as how much (if any) Jonah changes over time.
Writer Chip Zdarsky gets Jonah. In his own mind, Jonah will always be the hero in his own story. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he can never really get over his hated for Spider-man. In this story, we learn that Jonah’s wife was killed by someone in a mask. As theorized by someone working with Jonah in prison, this may have lead to his pathological hatred for all “masked menaces”. Of course, this wouldn’t excuse Jonah’s actions but it does make him slightly more sympathetic.
As the issue, and decades, go on it is interesting to see Jonah struggle with his demons. While he never truly accepts what he did to Spider-man was wrong, he does learn how his hatred destroyed his relationship with his son and grandchildren. The prison visit between Jonah and his son is particularly heartbreaking.
Despite what this sounds like, there is some costumed action in the issue more towards the end and I won’t spoil who is involved. As well there is a final shocking scene that ties directly into the previous mini-series that makes the issue even more worthwhile to read.
As for the art, to me, Bagley will always be “my” Spider-man artist. His clean cartoony art with his command of body movement is always fun. My only complaint is that in both the mini-series and here he has some trouble showing characters aging. In some parts of the story, 40 or so years have passed and except for a beard and some grey hairs, many characters don’t look like they have aged that much. It is a minor nitpick in otherwise nice art.
Spider-Man: Life Story Annual #1 is a nice side story from the recent mini-series. It is more a character piece rather than an action-packed story as some might expect from a Spider-man comic. That being said, watching Jonah go through decades in prison is fascinating to follow. The story never falls into the typical prison clichés. It also gives Jonah the depth that few writers seem to give him.