Saturday, January 2, 2016

'Spider-Man: Blue' is a must-read

Any of my regular readers (thank you, thank you!) will know I often write what I now am going to call retro-reviews. These are reviews typically of comic book stories and/or trade paperbacks published several years ago that for some reason or the other, I'm now inspired to write.

Many times I've just gotten around to reading (or re-reading) the story and my personal time, work schedule and overall inspiration being what it is, then I finally get around to writing a review. But as you CCC readers know; Cary's Comics Craze is all about my views and reviews (with the occasional interviews) of the superhero industry posted on my time.

For the first retro review of 2016, I'm reviewing SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, Peter Parker's love letter to his first love, the late Gwen Stacy.

The six-issue 2002-2003 limited series exemplifies one of comicdom's Dynamic Duos, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, at their very best. And as anyone who has read any of the Loeb-Sale collaborations, when they are hitting their stride they also are knocking it out of the park with the characters they're handling.

For Spider-Man fans, BLUE is an out-of-the-park grand slam and must-read material.

Loeb nails Parker's neurotic insecurity and Spidey's mouthiness. His Aunt May is the dear, sweet old woman we've known for years.

Even Loeb's Flash Thompson is no one-trick pony. The superstar, high-school athlete isn't nearly as much of a bully or as oafish, as written and created by Marvel Comics demigod Stan Lee.

The BLUE version is almost downright likable; sure, Flash is a jerk, but Loeb writes him with the heart of gold Lee never seemed to manage. (No disrespect, Stan; you're still — and will remain — Stan "The Man" Lee!)

How can you not empathize with the clueless stud when he grumbles about Parker (always said with such distaste and befuddlement!) attracting the va-va-voom, one-two punch of Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy?

"What happened? I mean, in high school I had it all. The chicks. Everything," Thompson muses during a walk home. "Now Parker's scoring and ol' Flash is sitting on the bench."

Mary Jane Watson is the care-free, self-centered party girl (or so we assume) we'd expect her to be. MJ is as flirty as she's ever been depicted by Lee and legendary AMAZING SPIDER-MAN artists Steve Ditko and John Romita; but Loeb also gives her a bit a snarkiness I hadn't seen before.

When she first sees Stacy, she says what all of us are thinking: "So … that's Gwen Stacy. She's gorgeous … if you like that sort of blond gorgeous look." (Don't worry, MJ, I am — and will always be — a redhead man. But I must admit I am definitely Team Gwen when it comes to Parker's women.) 

In BLUE, Stacy is woman so alluring and personable any man in his right mind would fall for her. And if you don't think a reasonable, heterosexual man can't fall for a fictional character, here's your proof.

None of this would be possible without Tim Sale's fantastic art. He draws some of the most gorgeous, shapely and appealing women in comics. (Sale's take on Selina Kyle in CATWOMAN: WHEN IN ROME is an equal feast for the eyes.)

Sale does more than give us Spider-Man in iconic Ditko- and Romita-esque poses; he draws Parker as a handsome young man and constructs visually interesting fight scenes. Loeb also gives his artistic partner the chance to do nearly every villain in Spidey's great rogues gallery: An evil looking Green Goblin, a ferocious Rhino, his Lizard is very creepy plus his depiction of the Scorpion, Vulture and Kraven the Hunter are equally great. Steve Buccallato's primary colors make it all pop.

As the BLUE subtitle infers, ol' Webhead/Parker are blue coming to terms with Stacy's death. Parker is stunned — and possibly embarrassed to know Watson has overheard him record his "letter" to Stacy.

But MJ is a woman of class and compassion; she understands her boyfriend and future husband's loss and actually asks him for "a favor." "Will you say 'hello' for me and … tell Gwen I miss her too," Watson says.

One can make the valid argument that this installment of Loeb-Sale's "color" Marvel limited series is just as sentimental as the others (DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, HULK: GREY and now the previously abandoned CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE [issue 1 is reviewed here]), but as is the case in YELLOW, BLUE ends with a sense of hope.

And if you aren't a member of Team MJ, this conclusion just might persuade you to realize there's a lot more to MJ than her easy-breezy Silver Age appearances.

I've already declared SPIDER-MAN: BLUE a must-read. It's just as enjoyable and heart-wrenching as it was the first time I read it years ago. Whether you're a Spidey or Marvel fan or you simply enjoy stories by Loeb and Sale, you should pick this up. You will be glad you did.

Grade: A

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