The real proof of a man is not how he treats his friends…but his enemies! — Kid Flash – Teen Titans #33
The real proof of a man is not how he treats his friends…but his enemies!
Spider-Man: Blue is the story of Spider-Man’s first love, Gwen Stacy. With writing by Jeph Loeb and art by Tim Sale (Superman For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween), it was released in six issues before being collected as a trade paperback. Just when Peter’s life is seemingly coming together, things fall apart like they always do. The light at the end of the tunnel is the power of Mary Jane Watson, but Gwen and Pete’s relationship is an important element to that, which is what Loeb and Sale artfully detail.
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Age: Teen (warning: contains traces of melancholy)
The story is narrated by Peter Parker, seemingly transcribed from audio recordings he made on a machine that’s as old as Uncle Ben. These are voice notes meant for Gwen Stacy, Pete’s first love and the first and last student of the Green Goblin’s failed chiropractic business. The voice recording angle isn’t too played out and makes the book feel intensely personal. If it was about someone I knew, I would feel ashamed to be listening in, but it’s about Peter Parker (who I guess I’ve have known all my life), but whose adventures have been playful for me since I was a kid so I don’t feel as voyeuristic.
Spider-Man’s signature wit is here, he even sneakily quotes his own 1960s theme song as a way of rooting the character in that time and place (and also ’cause it’s funny). In the book we see him face-off against the classic villains that make up the Spider-Man rogues gallery. This means we get witty banter about goblins, rhinos and lizards. Most of it is excellent, and one line in particular is peculiarly and maybe unintentionally hilarious (“Beat the pants off the Lizard!”).
The book does an excellent job of balancing all of Pete’s female loves, from Gwen to MJ to Aunt May (wait, what?). At first this threw me off a little, but it does make a ton of sense. A lot of what informs a person’s future relationships comes from their connections with their parents. As we all know, Peter lost his parents at a young age, and then lost his dear old Uncle Ben. This information is all necessary to the formation of Spider-Man, the hero. But what is most important to Peter Parker, the man, is his relationship with Aunt May. It’s a key point that has been mined over and over again by the House of Ideas, and doesn’t need to be unpacked in this review. Suffice it to say, it was a little jarring to see Aunt May included as one of the points of reference to Spider-Man’s love life. In the end, it makes perfect sense when you think about it.
The book even features two Vultures fighting over one thing (the title of world’s best Vulture, naturally). This eventually becomes a metaphor for MJ and Gwen competing for Peter Parker’s affection. This has got to be the weirdest trick that Spider-Man: Blue pulls, but again, it somehow works. I think it’s because Jeph Loeb keeps it subtle while making all these connections that could only exist in the crazy world that Spider-Man’s life takes place in.
Fans of Spider-Man’s earlier adventures will remember a lot of the events that take place in Spider-Man: Blue. We get to enjoy the events through a different, more nostalgic, lens. Many of the characters feel like archetypal versions of themselves. I find this to be a good way to handle the characters as none of them are redefined, and there are no shocking revelations that might be intriguing initially but in hindsight are cheap and add nothing lasting. Given that the central conceit of the book is that these are Spider-Man’s memories, I think that this isn’t just the way that he remembers the ladies of his life, but all the people that he has met and that have influenced him. This means that he somewhat feels pity for Flash, who antagonizes Peter Parker and idolizes Spider-Man. He sees Harry Osborn as the unfortunate son of the Green Goblin that will always defend Pete. Finally, he sees the villains as characters that caused him to miss out on a lot of family time. With great power comes a cast of people who are apparently dedicated to making your life miserable and trying to kill you.
Tim Sale’s art is incredible. The city looks stunning and classically New York in a Marvel sense (my whole concept of New York, it should be noted, is pretty much formed by comic books and the second Home Alone movie). The girls in this book are mind blowingly sexy, for drawings I mean. Sale gets that this story is about two women who thoroughly capture a young man’s heart and that i’ts necessary for the reader understand this as well. We are blown away by MJ and Gwen just as much as Peter, and that’s about as much as I can write on this topic without sounding creepy. Then there’s the extended cast: Pete’s high school and college gang. It really is like hanging out with a bunch of friends, which means that the art is naturalistic and the opposite of cardboard stiff. His work with the rogues gallery is great as well. These are tried and true characters that I’ve seen designed, re-designed and imitated, but Sale does the smart thing and just draws them in a classic way.
Between the story and the art, Spider-Man: Blue is a great read, albeit one that is tinged with melancholic nostalgia. Don’t let that be a deterrent however, because the love story is handled with respect for the source material and respect for the reader. I definitely recommend this trade paperback, whether for yourself or as a gift.
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