It is becoming cliché that anything produced by the team of Loeb and Sale is a hit. The duo has produced several popular series such as Batman: Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory and Daredevil: Yellow. All of these titles have been critical and commercial successes and it seems as if they can do no wrong. Very quickly, Loeb and Sale have become one of comic’s most bankable combinations. With their consistently high quality storytelling, the team could become the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of a new generation. Now, with Spider-Man: Blue, the team turns their attention to the mighty Marvel character with equally fantastic results.
One of the strengths of this creative team lays not so much in their ability to look forward as their talent in looking backwards. Every one of the projects listed above is a retelling of part of the main character’s past. But even here, they differ. Where the Batman tales have little specific connection to previously told stories (even though they are told as part of Batman’s “past” history) the Daredevil and Spider-Man books are intricately linked to stories and events already chronicled in previous comics. Where the talent and skill is reflected is in their ability to retell these stories from a fresh perspective without invalidating the original source material.
In Spider-Man: Blue, Loeb and Sale deal with a period of Spider-Man’s history that most current readers aren’t even aware existed. Retelling the stories from a small group of issues from the late ‘60s, they hit the highlights (the fights with some of Spider-Man’s best villains) as well as concentrate on what is the main focus of the series: Peter Parker’s relationships with the most important women in his life.
The plot, like most good ones, is deceptively simple: Peter is dictating a love letter to his dead sweetheart, Gwen Stacey. To many new readers, this is all very confusing. Who is this Gwen Stacey, and where is Mary Jane? For those not in the know, Gwen Stacey was Peter’s first “real” relationship and the love of his life until she was killed during a battle with the Green Goblin. The scene in the recent Spider-Man movie of Mary Jane being rescued from atop the Brooklyn Bridge is a homage to Gwen’s death. It is testament to the skill of these creators that, by the end of the series, we not only know who Gwen is but feel Peter’s intense pain at her death all these years later. In the Spider-Man mythos, Gwen’s death stands second only to Uncle Ben’s as a defining moment in Spider-Man’s life. It was also a defining moment in the lives of many comic book readers.
Back in the prehistoric days, readers had no advance knowledge of what was going to be in an issue or, really, when a comic was even going to come out! Many times, fans would be searching the stands for books that had been cancelled without them knowing. When Gwen Stacey died in issue #121 of The Amazing Spider-Man, it was a genuine shock to many people because you didn’t expect a major character to really die. It just wasn’t done! Her death had the same shock value to many readers as a death in the real world. It was sudden, unexpected and unfair. Gwen was one of the most loved characters in the Spider-Man universe and certainly a strong contender for “hottest babe” in comics. Nearly every comic geek had hopes of growing up and finding a woman like Gwen. Her unexpected death introduced a new feeling of uncertainty in comic books. Suddenly, death was a reality. Not necessarily Spider-Man, but certainly every other character in his book was now a potential target. Everyone was fair game and no one was safe.
Shortly after, Peter and Mary Jane got together and became one of comic’s first married couples. What many readers have forgotten, or were unaware of, is that Gwen and Mary Jane were once rivals for Peter’s affections. It is that period of time that Spider-Man: Blue focuses on and the beginning of the Peter/Gwen romance.
We meet Gwen and Mary Jane as they enter Peter’s life, while he begins the first awkward steps towards being a college student and an adult. For old-time readers, it is a trip down memory lane seeing all of these characters as they once were. Harry Osborne (son of the Green Goblin who would become the Goblin himself eventually), Flash Thompson (one time bane of Peter’s life who would become a good friend later), May Parker (the classic, “frail” version) and, of course, Gwen and Mary Jane (in her most annoying “Tiger” phase). But it’s really Gwen that takes center stage as Peter attempts to sort out his feelings of love, pain and loss as he thinks back to the beginning of their love. This is the true power of the series and where it has the strongest impact.
Who among us hasn’t felt the need to revisit an old, lost love? To go back to the happiest times of that love no matter how painful? Loeb and Sale capture that desire perfectly and we feel Peter’s bittersweet joy at remembering Gwen. By the end of the series, we are just as emotional as Peter is and it is impossible to not feel your heart sink when the present day Mary Jane finds Peter dictating this “love letter” and replies, “I miss her too.”
If you’re looking for superhero slugfests, Spider-Man: Blue has that as well, with appearances by Kraven the Hunter, the Vulture, and the Rhino. But if you want to read a story about mature characters dealing with youth, life, and love, check this series out and chalk up another home run for Loeb and Sale.