The Joy of Comics - Spider-Man: Blue

Like every good comic book fan, I have a list of my favorite stories of all time. Things like The Phoenix Saga, The Killing Joke, and Kraven's Last Hunt, to name a few. One in particular that I have loved since reading the first issue (of six) in July of 2002 is Spider-Man: Blue.

It is written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Tim Sale, and is part of their "Color Series" (prior to Spider-Man: Blue, the two had worked together on Daredevil: Yellow and Hulk: Gray, and Captain America: White should be coming out very soon; prior to their Marvel collaborations, this team received huge amounts of praise for their DC work, specifically Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman For All Seasons). The story they're telling here is set very early in Spidey's life, going back to the period of time around Amazing Spider-Man #50, when Stan Lee was writing the book. When the story opens in the first issue, present day Spider-Man is swinging through the night air, and the dialogue boxes are his; he's narrating this story into a tape recorder, and he tells us that it's Valentine's Day, and that on this day every year he 'eaves a rose on the infamous bridge. He's feeling blue (hence the title, right?) and that's why he's using the tape recorder: he's talking to Gwen Stacy.

After we're told that, the flashback hits, and the real story begins. Obviously, emotions are going to be at the heart of this story, but, lest you think there isn't any action, over the course of the six issues, Spidey fights the Green Goblin, the Rhino, The Lizard, two different Vultures, and Kraven the Hunter. As good as all the ass-kicking is, though, make no mistake, this is the story of how Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy fell in love. Or, I should say, how Gwen fell in love with him. He already loves her when the story starts, but from afar. She spends her time with guys like Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, who Peter is not friends with at all. Over the course of the first and second issue, though, things start to change. Gwen and Peter become lab partners in one of their college classes, and she begins seeing things in him that other people don't. It's a blissfully slow process, but they start getting closer. They even make plans for their first date, but, the Parker luck being what it is, as he's about to leave for the date, there's a knock on the door, and, well, it's not one of the most famous lines in comics for nothing: "Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot."

This isn't the same Mary Jane that Peter eventually marries, though. This is the wild party girl Mary Jane who just dominates every situation she's put in and sweeps people up in her wake. She even manages to get Peter to take her to where Gwen is hanging out with Flash and Harry. Yes, Peter Parker is kind of a moron. But even with MJ there, Peter is still drawn to Gwen. No matter what Mary Jane does, Gwen is always on Peter's mind, she's always who his eyes are drawn to. A lot of what happens in the series is about the two of them almost playing tug-of-war with him, which is made even easier once Peter moves in with Harry. All this prompts Flash to ask, "What's so special about Puny Parker anyway?" MJ and Gwen basically reduce Flash into a quivering mass as they explain that when it comes to Peter Parker, he's no comparison at all.

Mary Jane and Gwen's rivalry really comes to a head when Peter is sick in bed after getting his head handed to him by the Vulture. MJ comes to see him in her sexy little dress with some homemade soup from her aunt. Gwen shows up two minutes later, dressed demurely and with a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in hand. When Peter mentions Uncle Ben used to read that to him when he was sick, Gwen confesses that she went to see Aunt May and asked her what would something great she could do to make Peter feel better. Now, MJ might be the hottest chick in the cave, but Gwen... well, Gwen was special. Gwen was the girl you married, provided your arch-enemy/father of your best friend doesn't throw her off a bridge. Naturally, as the two loves of his life are fawning over him, he has to see the Vulture flying past his window, so he has to make a hasty retreat and beat feet. Or beat webs. Whatever.

Early in the final issue, it's Valentine's Day in the flashback story as well, and Peter has a card waiting for him, with no name or anything attached. Later on in the issue, after he bounced Kraven around for awhile, Peter is in his room when there's a knock on his door, and it's Gwen. She sees the card, and asks him if he's read it, and if he knows who it's from. Peter, once again showing that he's a moron, says no. Gwen looks at him, and, in a ridiculously cute panel that I can't find online, simply says, "Peter, will you be my valentine?" and they kiss. The text boxes of present day Peter say "That's when you had me, Gwen Stacy, all of me."

The entire series is filled with touching moments, from the cute courtship scenes and the blossoming romance to the bittersweet narration; Peter's thoughts inevitably find their way back to the fact that he failed to save Gwen, and every time they go there, his pain is palpable. Fittingly, of course, the most touching moment comes at the end of the final issue. After the kiss between Gwen and Peter, the flashback ends, and we see Peter sitting up in his attic with the tape recorder. He tells Gwen that, on the night of her funeral, MJ came to see him, and he was awful to her, because he wasn't up for her "life of the party" stuff. He says that Mary Jane changed that night; she learned that life wasn't always a party and bad things could happen, and without learning that she could never have been in a relationship with him. But because she did change, when he needed to learn how to love again, she taught him how. It's at this point that MJ says his name and he realizes she's been there listening. I guess "wife listening to me record a love letter to my dead first love" didn't set off his spider-sense for some reason. She isn't mad, though. She says, "Will you do me a favor, Peter? Say 'hello' for me... and tell Gwen I miss her, too." It's a testament to how far MJ has come and how strong their relationship is (as I fight off the urge to go on a rant about how badly Marvel has ruined that), and also a testament to how special Gwen Stacy was.

And that's what this book is really all about, why it's such a special series to me. It's about Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. It's about love, life, and loss. It's so spectacularly done, from the beautiful art to the real, heartfelt emotions in the writing. This story... well, it can best be summed up by what Peter says to Gwen as the story closes:

"I guess when I try to sum up how I get -- how I feel sometimes around this time of year... I feel blue. Not like I've been dipped in with the Tidy Bowl Man, but like in music, in jazz... in feeling blue. And I long for a time when a girl I knew with an incredible smile and so much good in her heart made me think... life can be great."