52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
One creator who has become synonymous with Jeph Loeb is his frequent collaborator, Tim Sale. Together the two men have produced countless bestselling series, especially under the Marvel Comics banner wherein they’ve produced multiple “colour” stories for some of the most popular superheroes available to them. Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Hulk have all got the colour treatment, with Captain America actually set to get in on the treatment as well come this fall. The partnership shared between Loeb and Sale goes beyond comics though, as when Loeb was a writer and producer on the show “Heroes”, Sale’s artwork was used repeatedly throughout the shows run, as well having the fonts used in the show modeled after Sale’s style of handwriting. It’s quite difficult to talk about one creator without mentioning the other as the two men are best known for their work with each other. It would be an injustice to do an article about Jeph Loeb’s work without mentioning Tim Sale in the same breath.
Peter Parker’s sits in his attic with a tape recorder, talking to the lost love of his life, Gwen Stacey, telling the long dead ex-lover about how he nearly missed his chance to fall in love with her. It all started right around the time he had a climatic showdown with one Norman Osborn, otherwise known as the Green Goblin. Following a fight that burns down a warehouse, Norman Osborn suddenly experiences amnesia and becomes comatose. Peter Parker, under strict orders from the Daily Bugle, is tasked with getting in close to see if Osborn will wake up and snag some pictures while he’s at. What starts out as a selfish task for the Bugle actually leads to Peter befriending Norman’s son, Harry Osborn. As Harry and Peter begin to forge a friendship, Peter is invited into Harry’s group of friends and catches the eye of Gwen Stacey. Immediately stricken by her beauty, Peter is often a bumbling buffoon around her but catches a break when she wants to go on a study date with him. Peter’s love life becomes surprisingly complex with the sudden and unexpected entry of Anna Watson’s niece, the redheaded bombshell, Mary Jane Watson. As the two beautiful women begin to vie for Peter’s affection, his life as Spider-Man becomes equally difficult when all of his major villains seem to be going after him over a price that’s been placed on his head. Little does Peter realize that one of his longtime foes is pulling the strings, attempting to set up his death.
When it comes to Spider-Man, he’s always had two constants in life: Bad always comes before good, and his love life is always complicated. That’s what’s on full display with “Spider-Man: Blue”, a touching retelling of two love stories simultaneously. I’ve said before during this weekly challenge that, in my opinion, some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever find are the ones that take a character’s history and weave in untold tales that still remain true to the already established history whilst also enhancing it. At its core, that’s exactly what “Spider-Man: Blue” does, as Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale chronicle the evolving love life of Peter Parker during the period where Mary Jane first entered into his life. The end result is a beautiful examination of two of Peter Parker’s most meaningful relationships and how they helped form him into the man he is today.
“Spider-Man: Blue” is basically a retrospective story from the stance of Peter Parker as he talks to a long deceased Gwen Stacey about how, if it wasn’t for her, he likely would’ve never ended up with his “perfect” match in MJ. During this retrospective, Jeph Loeb goes to great lengths to show the reader why either woman was perfect for Peter Parker at the time. You get to see two love stories unfold at the same time, both of which are excellent and a true treat to read for not only Spider-Man fans but for anyone who wants to emotionally invest in characters. Weaving in the romantic woes of Peter Parker with the strain of being Spider-Man and how it affects his personal relationships is exactly why Peter Parker is one of the most well-loved comic book characters ever created. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale just get that element of Peter right as they show you how badly he wants to commit to one woman or the other but always seems to get pulled away to save the day, as protecting innocent people is far more important than his own needs. Loeb and Sale somehow manage to make you love these characters even more than you thought you could, as you struggle to pick a side, even though you know the decision was already made decades ago.
The reason that you can become so engrossed by this love story is largely in part to how well Loeb and Sale characterize your lead females and Peter Parker himself. They take the “old timey”, classic ideals of all these characters but manage to not make any of them feel outdated or cheesy, a feat that is much easier said than done. With Gwen Stacey she is this dynamic force of emotion that has this “girl next door” quality to her whilst also being insanely smart. She’s sharp, witty, and gorgeous but in a way that feels attainable for Peter, making her a more down to Earth option for him in the long run. To contrast that, Mary Jane is everything Peter never thought he could have. She has this hourglass figure that turns every head in any room she enters. Mary Jane is the life of the party, not someone who just attends. She loves to live fast and a bit of danger excites her, making her an obvious match for the Spider-Man side of Peter in some ways. The two women couldn’t be so similar yet so different at the same time, making it all the harder for you to root for which one you would have loved for Peter to choose back when he actually had any say in the matter. It is how Peter is as a character that makes everything so interesting though, because as different as these two women are from each other, they are both somehow equally perfect for Peter at the exact same time. With Peter’s personality being so loveable and fluid, it’s easy for him to fall in love with both women and for them to fall in love with him. It’s the age-old “Archie Andrews” equation where this goofy guy manages to have two wildly different but equally beautiful women fall in love with him and they’re both perfect for him in such different ways that it’s impossible for him to choose which side wins out.
The romantic elements and character relationships are what carry this story the furthest, while the villainous aspects ultimately fall flat. Before I even go into criticizing that element of the story, let me lead off by saying that anyone who reads this story for just the villains is completely off-base. They couldn’t be more unimportant to what’s actually going on here. The whole point is that this is a LOVE story, with the fact that it’s set in a superhero world being a secondary element. I imagine the need to pack so many different villains into the story was more so of a way to keep the wheels churning and appease comic fans who didn’t just want boy-girl drama for six issues straight. Even though Sale and Loeb still brought that drama, the villains are used as a way to break up the constant “I can’t choose” element of the story, using these villains as a catalyst to move Peter into the next situation that only heightens the difficulty of choosing between Gwen and MJ. The secondary plot of these villains hunting Spider-Man down is fairly average and pays off in an unsatisfying way in the end, feeling rushed and swept to the wayside just to get back to the real meat of the story with Gwen and MJ. Without the villainous element this series would’ve been dramatically shorter but potentially felt too streamlined. In adding the villains in you get a bit of a mystery to distract readers temporary from Peter’s constant love life woes.
Collects: Spider-Man Blue #1-6
Best Character: Mary Jane Watson
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “And I remember being foolish enough to think…let’s fall in love.” – Peter Parker
Best Scene/Moment: Peter Parker in the attic – Issue 6.
Best Issue: Issue 3. We’ll go with issue 3 because this is the first full story with MJ in the series. In one issue we get a complete character summary, telling us who she is, what she wants, and how she lives. For anyone who favours the Peter Parker and MJ relationship, your heart will grow ten sizes while reading this issue. On top of that it also sets up some of the other major parts of this series. Lastly, this issue has a pitch perfect ending for anyone who understands the complexity of Peter Parker’s life.
Why You Should Read It: As a Spider-Man fan this is an essential read as it gently touches on Peter Parker’s complicated love life and “job” as Spider-Man to tell an engaging love story. It’s one of the best depictions you’ll see of the two most important romantic fixtures of Peter Parker’s life, while also showing a great portrayal of a young Peter to boot. Tim Sale’s design work is as great as ever, yet again displaying just a visual knack for making stunning pages. With all that in mind, this story also neatly weaves between important moments of early Spider-Man history, enhancing everything you ever knew about the character and his supporting cast.