Spider-Man: Blue, by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale — comic book review

I’ve read Jeph Loeb’s work before.

He wrote Batman: Hush, an excellent Batman story drawn by Jim Lee. I liked that one a lot.

He also wrote Batman: The Long Halloween, with art by Tim Sale, the artist in the Spider-Man limited series. I didn’t hate this one, but I didn’t like it as much as I did Hush. I wasn’t crazy about Sale’s art, to be frank.

Mine and Loeb’s paths have crossed repeatedly over the years, even when I wasn’t aware of it. He was writer/producer on Smallville, Lost and Heroes. He was the head of Marvel Television when the best Marvel series were on Netflix. He also co-wrote the scripts for the original Teen Wolf movie and the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando.

I am aware that Loeb and Sale also collaborated on Daredevil: Yellow and Hulk: Gray, but I haven’t read those stories yet. I’ve listened to Michael Zapcic talk about these comic books, along with Blue, for several years. But, honestly, after reading The Long Halloween (which I graded as a B: read my review here), I wasn’t in any hurry to read more Loeb/Sale material.

I probably would never had read Spider-Man: Blue if it hadn’t been offered to me as part of my Amazon Prime membership. But, it was. Although I pay for my Prime membership, I still thought of this as a “free” digital collection and immediately queued it up to read. After I finished reading The Immortal Hulk.

Right up front, before we get into anything else, I feel compelled to tell you that Tim Sale’s artwork in this series is top-notch. It almost seems like the work of a different artist than the one who did The Long Halloween. I have absolutely nothing critical or snarky to say about the art in this book. I love the character designs (or redesigns), the panel compositions and the myriad details on every page.

In this series, “blue” refers to sadness, melancholia, and grief.

The surprisingly affecting series is told as a frame story. In the “now” of the story, Peter Parker is married to Mary Jane Watson, but begins thinking about his first love, Gwen Stacy, on Valentine’s Day and talks to her via a tape recorder. Other than the story structure, there’s nothing really new in this trade collection. We get yet another retelling of the Spider-Man origin story, then are reintroduced to the love triangle almost as old as Archie/Betty/Veronica, as Gwen Stacy and M.J. Watson are brought on-stage. Of course, there’s also Harry Osborn and his dad, Norman. Flash Thompson. While the characters and story lines are familiar, Loeb seems to invest the pages with an even deeper layer of emotions. Like Parker, I felt a little “blue” while reading this.

I don’t intend to spoil it for you, but characters die in this. No real surprises if you’re at all familiar with the Spider-Man mythos, but I’m not naming names. One new twist that I liked was that Peter Parker’s dramatic change due to a radioactive spider bite was known by Norman Osborn from the beginning. In fact, it was this knowledge that results in the creation of the Green Goblin. He’s just simply The Goblin in this story, but is no longer a man in a goblin costume with a fancy hoverboard; the character is truly a superpowered monster. Another change I liked.

I have not read enough of Loeb’s comic work to suggest that the writer has some predictable patterns. But, there are unmistakeable similarities between the three Loeb collections I have read. Batman: Hush, Batman: The Long Halloween, and Spider-Man: Blue all seem contrived to bring all of the heroes’ best-known allies and enemies into the stories somehow. I get it. As a comic reader, that adds value, more bang for the buck, so to speak. Video games do the same thing, and I’ve never complained about it. But, it does strain the willing suspension of disbelief a bit. Minor quibble.

Otherwise, Loeb writes this familiar tale with a great deal of sensitivity and a mature grasp of psychology. Never have the characters in Peter Parker’s orbit seemed as real to me. The framing device itself—with Parker talking to Gwen from the future—gives the story both some narrative distancing and, at the same time, a rich emotional dimension. I don’t know why that’s not a contradiction, but it’s not.

I recommend Spider-Man: Blue to anyone who wants more than just fight scenes in their superhero stories, especially those of you who are already Spider-Man fans. Oh, there are fight scenes, too. Don’t despair.

Firewater’s With-Great-Power-Comes-a-Lot-of-Other-Stuff Report Card: A

Many apologies to Tim Sale. The man can draw!

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