“With great power comes great responsibility,” is the axiom repeated ad nauseum in any Spider-Man comic book story. The creators of Lifeline, a three-part mini-series featuring our friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler have, to their credit, managed to twist this over-used maxim ever so slightly.
This time, the truism is rephrased as a question “what would you do if you had the power to make your wishes come true?”
In this case, the “power” resides in the Lifeline Tablet “the single most significant archaeological find regarding lost languages and the medicinal practices of pre-Sumerian civilizations” containing a secret formula of incredible power. Naturally, with this “power” comes great lust, desire, and covetousness to those who would possess the secret formula. This forms the basic plot of Lifeline various parties are drawn into the tangled web of confrontation and violence to be sorted out by Spider-Man.
For mob lawyer Caesar Cicero, it is the lure of the almighty dollar; for mob leader Hammerhead, it is the life of his ailing sister; and for Dr. Curt Connors, it is the chance to destroy the savage creature inside him known as the Lizard. Together with various hired lackeys viz. Man Mountain Marko, the Australian Boomerang, and the Eel - these individuals provide Spider-Man with enough grief, distraction, and motivation to survive the dangerous situation. However, Spider-Man is not left untouched by the temptation the Lifeline Tablet poses; in the end, a choice is given to him to resurrect one deceased loved one. Whilst Spider-Man never gets the chance to act on this offer, the lost opportunity would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Which brings us back to the where we started. Creators Fabian Nicieza and Steve Rude have elected to tell the Lifeline story in the style of the legendary Stan Lee light-hearted with a subtle message or moral. Rude even manages to illustrate the tale in a manner evoking the great Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko by being both bombastic and quirky at the same time. This gives Lifeline a fairly nostalgic feel although Nicieza seems obliged to pepper the script with current pop culture references (e.g. Matrix, The Sopranos, Flat screen TV etc). A tad annoying but a standard requirement for mainstream comic writing.
Where Lifeline succeeds is in its dynamic plotting, which with Rude’s vibrant art, literally leaps from the page in the best way a super-hero comic can. However, the deeper issues are only superficially touched upon revolving around THAT maxim again. Considering the target audience (presumably 13 year olds), it translates into “the power to make your wishes true comes with a price.” Fair enough, though the somewhat deus ex machina aspect of the conclusion where Hammerhead, imbued with the full Lifeline power, is quickly stripped of it by what Dr. Strange describes as “a protective element against those unprepared for the enormity of its effects” is particularly suspect. Okay, a bit too convenient for comfort but sensible in the context.
That said, Lifeline fulfils its function admirably a competently fashioned Spider-Man tale with awesome Steve Rude supplied eye candy. Good enough.