Why is Spider-Man melancholy and blue in this heartfelt, very personal, miniseries? The story is familiar, but the execution of it is not what the reader will expect from this amazing marriage of story and art by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. This is the saga of a young Peter Parker dealing with loss and his journey into adulthood. It’s a coming of age tale told in an ingenious way, letting the reader immerse themselves in the mind of a young man who retains his sense of humor even through days of darkness. Peter reminisces on his past, with the reader not knowing the time period that this tale resides within. It’s a timeless tale of a timeless character, with relationships taking center stage over plot. Peter interacts with his paramours Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson, has a deep relationship with his Aunt May, and fights villains such as Green Goblin, the Lizard, Rhino, and the Vulture. Through interpersonal relationships and superhero battles, every moment is personal in this tale about “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Jeph Loeb has written a very personal story and, through Peter Parker’s own words, conveys what it’s like for a young man to go through many intense emotions that every human being encounters throughout their lives. The reader will empathize with him because of Loeb’s plot and words. Even though he’s a larger than life character, Spider-Man still goes through the same life experiences everyone navigates through. When “faced with a personal problem”, Parker says he does what he does best: “I go webslinging.” He tells himself that he’s always wary after something great happens in his life because something good always leads to something bad. The Spider-Man humor that is evident throughout the book makes sense, then, as a coping mechanism to keep his spirits raised, with the “webslinging” being his break from the more scary experiences of the usual machinations of personal relationships.
Guilt and regret are the primary emotions that Loeb has Peter work through over the course of his journey. When Gwen comes by with “Huckleberry Finn” to read to a sick Peter, he remembers how his Uncle Ben would read the same book to him when he was a child. That book, according to Peter, has always reminded him of the guilt he still feels over the death of Uncle Ben. The look of guilt in his face, while lying in bed, is evident through Tim Sale’s art. Peter also feels regret over being Spider-Man, believing that time was lost before Gwen died because he was out webslinging. Toward the end of the story, he tells himself, “How many dates – how many kisses did I miss because I was doing this instead of being by your side?” Writer and artistic talent on this book convey that the role of Spider-Man entails much sacrifice. With that sacrifice comes a cost.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale work in tandem perfectly as creators and storytellers. They reveal so much emotion, spoken and unspoken, in every panel they create together. One particular scene in the fourth issue is one of the most powerful and beautifully rendered in this Spider-Man story, conveying fear, pain, love, acceptance, and humor all in just six pages of astounding artistry, This scene opens with a splash page of Aunt May’s house, which Sale and colorist Steve Buccellato portray as an idyllic, homey place. Leaves are falling from the trees and it’s a calm Fall day. The imperfection of the curtains on the top floor of the house add to the feeling of a home full of life. The next two pages add up to one big splash page, with Aunt May making tea and Peter eating cereal. No words are spoken, but through the exceptional art the reader can see that both of them have something on their minds. Peter’s brow is furrowed and Aunt May has a look of contemplation. The next page has three panels, with the first one showing Aunt May looking at Peter. The second panel has Peter looking at May, with her back to him, stirring her tea at the stove. Both have something they have to say to each other and, through the art alone, the reader can see the courage building up to that moment in both of them. Peter, in the third panel has taken a drink of milk and now has a milk moustache. The look on his face and in his eyes is of a lost, innocent little boy. Throughout the two page splash and the three panels on the fourth page, the “cuckoo” sound of the cuckoo clock is going off in the background. With the time being declared by the cuckoo bird and the milk moustache, Loeb and Sale are communicating the loss of innocence that runs throughout this book. The time for childhood is ending, and new beginnings are imminent.
On the fifth page of the same scene with Aunt May and Peter, both announce they have something to ask of each other. May inquires if he would mind if she moved in with a friend since he’s going off to college. The look on her face is pained, with, again, the eyes portraying so much emotion through excellent artistry. She’s afraid he’s angry with her and, on the sixth page, there is a poignant panel with his hand upon her aging hand assuring her that he is not angry. May knows Peter wants to live with his friend Harry Osborn and must mature into an adult. After the tension of this scene, Peter breaks that tension with his trademark humor, with May playfully going along with it. This scene, which is so small, conveys so much of what Loeb and Sale are so successful at doing. They have made a personal tale of a superhero who goes through the same emotions and life changes as any other non-powered individual. Peter Parker, along with Aunt May, comes alive on the page.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale weave a story where every word and image has a reason, whether it be related to plot or character. During a college science class, Peter and Gwen are working on an experiment when Gwen says something that aids him later on during his fight with Rhino. Peter loves this young woman and demonstrates that by how intently he has listened to her. Not only does the scene add resonance to their budding friendship, but also shows how Loeb is tightly weaving a story with meaning that can be read multiple times on multiple levels. In the same classroom scene, the art is just as important as the words. Tim Sale adds to the storytelling by using foreshadowing, with the reader already knowing that Gwen will die in the future. In the panel where Peter and Gwen are interacting, the intense yellow of Gwen’s hair contrasts beautifully with the lighter yellow of the sun shining through the window. A few panels later during the same scene, there is a panel almost identical to that same panel with Peter and the sunshine, except this time the only bright color in the second panel is Gwen’s hair with a dark haunting gray coming through the window. Also, Peter is standing near Gwen in the first panel, while Gwen is farther away and much smaller than Peter in the second panel. He is standing with a look of worry on his face. The loss of Gwen Stacy will be part of Peter’s loss of innocence. Colorist Steve Buccellato must be given credit for this scene and the overall artistry of “Spider-Man: Blue.” As evidenced by this scene with Gwen and Peter, Buccellato’s colors are just as integral to the story as the contributions of Loeb and Sale, aiding in the expression of emotion and story on every page.
The first meeting between Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker is a classic moment made sexy and funny at the same time. The three panels that make up the page are artfully arranged. The top panel is Mary Jane’s eyes, the middle panel is the shocked visage of Peter Parker, and the bottom panel contain Mary Jane’s lips, which have a sly and sexy look on them. The feel of the page is that of Mary Jane having her eyes set on Peter, turning him into her target. The red of her hair and lips is dark and conveys a sense of darkness and seduction. This is a woman on a mission, who, in a classic line repeated in this book, says, “Face it, tiger. You just hit the jackpot!” Loeb, by using these words directly from a classic Spider-Man moment, is paying homage to Spidey history. He does this throughout the book in words as well as images. Peter refers to himself, in another notorious line, as “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” in this book. Although you can’t tell the time period in which the book takes place, 1960s touches are a wink to the birth of Spider-Man in that decade. In the scene at the Silver Spoon diner, there’s a poster for the Russ Myer film “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” There’s also a “2001: A Space Odyssey” fim poster, a Bob Dylan poster, and an old jukebox that adds a nice touch. Loeb and Sale, by adding historical homages, truly express their love of Spider-Man and his mythos.
“Good follows bad.” From his journey through loss and pain (both mental and physical), Peter Parker reverses his expectation of something horrendous happening after something good. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have brought the character to a point where everyone expects him to be. He retains his humor and positive attitude, yet, at the same time, has a depth and pathos that is relatable for anyone. Inside the mind of Spider-Man resides a character with enough history, emotion, and personality to last forever. When the last page of this exceptional yarn is reached, tears of understanding will drop and, through the course of this modern day Spidey classic, Peter Parker’s journey has become our journey.
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Colors by Steve Buccellato
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Wes Abbott
Published by Marvel Comics
Originally published in 2002 and 2003