168 pages $20
This is the second of the “color books” from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale I have read, the first being the wonderful Daredevil: Yellow. I can’t say I liked this one as much as that volume, but this is still a strong entry. The 2011 collected volume contains the six issue series from 2002 and some bonus material in the form of notes and sketchbook pages.
Many people who I have asked expressed a preference for the Spider-Man book, which puzzles me a bit. I think they generally feel closer to this material because it’s Spidey. He is the more familiar character to even the most casual fan, and more people have a reference point with the MJ and Gwen Stacy characters than Karen Page from DD. This book is more immediately accessible than the DD one for many reasons, but it is not a better book, just different.
The first thing that strikes you about this volume compared to the Daredevil one is the look of the book. DD was a much more “designed” book and had a slicker look. The art and page design here is much cleaner and less busy. This is not a knock on either of these fine volumes, just a comparison. The Spider-Man pages and panels are closer to a minimalist style that suits Spidey well. Daredevil SHOULD feel busy. Fill his world with texture and form, while Peter Parker’s environment should be free of clutter. He is a very flexible character in many ways, and this book continues that, but it is contrasted by a static looking world that he inhabits. More tight close-ups and a personal feel to the panels makes you identify more with Peter and his friends. I have heard the Flash Thompson part of this story by many different writers and artists, but this is the first time he seemed human to me instead of just a caricature. I never was all that familiar with the Gwen Stacy character before. I had read the “death of…” story, but that was it, this story is a complete work as far as the Gwen character is concerned. She is interesting and rich here just like Karen in Yellow. You feel a strong affection for the character, just as you are supposed to. The Mary Jane of this book seems less interesting and more like a pest, but the last few pages of this story are a good MJ moment and pull you right over to her side.
This Spider-Man is less the jokester than in the current books and more of a sad figure. His life at this stage in his history was not fun and this story emphasizes that strongly. Also powerfully done is the conflict of emotions he feels about Gwen and MJ’s interest in him. His inexperience with women is obvious, but it is not played for anything other than realism here. There is emotional and personal depth in this whole story that was not here in the first telling.
Like Yellow, this book is telling a story we have all heard before, and like that volume, it takes the form of a letter to someone lost to us. This is an old storytelling device, but in this medium, heavy with first person narration, it works nicely. The sadness and regret of the failure of the hero to save someone close to him is immediate and painful to read, though I didn’t feel the strong emotional pull as easily with this book as I did with Yellow. By the time I finished reading it though, this was a complete experience. Loeb is a writer that has begun to impress me. Since much of his work I have been exposed to I have not cared for, I have avoided these books and other “big” ones in his career. I still have not read The Long Halloween, and I still don’t plan to. Not soon anyway. I need to back away and assess what I like in his work and decide from there which ones I will try next. Hulk: Grey seems the next most obvious choice, but I may change my mind on that.
This is a special book. Any book that can revitalize one of the classics and make it relevant for a modern audience is good, but Spider-Man: Blue is, along with Daredevil: Yellow, something everyone that wants engaging characters and a well written book over huge breasts and fisticuffs should be reading.