Hot off the heels (and feels) of Kraven’s Last Hunt, I decided to check out another book starring the old webhead. This time it was Spider-Man: Blue, written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, a team you might know from a certain Batman tale called The Long Halloween. It’s a meditation on Peter Parker’s formative years, as defined by his relationship with (the not yet killed) Gwen Stacy, where he thought his life would be right now, and how things have changed since. If I had one word to describe this book, it would be…
Let’s get two things straight: the art is amazing, and the concept is sound. Peter has always been one to look back at his past failures and torture himself over them. Further, I would argue that Gwen Stacy’s death has had more influence over Peter’s life than even Uncle Ben’s. No, I’m serious. The thing is, before his life as a super hero, Peter was a nobody who, when finally granted power of his own, misused it and paid the price. Gwen Stacy was different. Peter had stepped up to the challenge of being the hero. He’d been following his uncle’s code of power and responsibility. And the result was… still bad. Peter’s struggle has often been framed as the separation of his life as a hero and as a man, and Gwen Stacy’s death is the greatest failure of this ideal. So there’s a lot of material to mine when it comes to reflecting on this struggle.
This book simply doesn’t do that. And unfortunately, the main problem is Gwen Stacy herself.
In a book reflecting on the Gwen-Peter relationship that could have been, one of the characters isn’t really a character. At no point do we learn anything about Gwen Stacy: who is she? What does she want? Most importantly, what does she see in Peter? These questions are never addressed. Instead, she appears only as a prop for Peter’s sadness. If she is his first great love, she should be much more than that. Or, if she’s not, Peter should admit that their connection was just puppy love, based on physical attractiveness, lacking any real substance.
This issue is not new to the Spider-Man canon, and women aren’t its only victims. The word “character” barely describes most of the key figures, their caricatures what we remember instead. Uncle Ben was the wise old father figure, Aunt May is the fragile mother figure, Mary Jane is the firecracker, J. Jonah Jameson is mean, and Gwen Stacy is… blonde. And dead. And the fact that her caricature stands out as lacking, after the list that precedes it, says a lot.
Spider-Man: Blue dedicates plenty of panels to the classic Spider-Man action set pieces, and though that’s an important aspect of Peter’s life and one of the main reasons he’s so unlucky in love, nothing in this book offers a deeper understanding of the relationship that he missed out on. MJ has a bit more going on here, with some (limited) exploration of how she’s changed from free spirit to devoted wife, although even that’s under-utilized. But even the lack of characterization isn’t the most important missing piece. There’s an elephant in the room, one that the book ignores completely.
The fact that Peter killed Gwen Stacy.
Now, this has always been a debate, regarding how much of Gwen’s fate was in Spider-Man’s hands and how directly he’s tied to her death. Peter was sick and off his game and not thinking clearly. Maybe the Green Goblin killed her before he got there, or maybe the fall killed her before the webbing touched her. To me, it was always implied that Peter made a judgement call and judged wrong (or maybe there was no way to do it right), and that’s why it’s such a defining moment. But it doesn’t matter, because doubt of whether or not Peter could change it if he was a better hero is the ultimate effect of that death. That doubt is ineradicable, no matter what actually happened, and is what haunts our protagonist. Or it should – because at no point do we feel the guilt from Peter over his role in this defining moment. Even if you disagree that Peter killed her, one thing we know to be true to his character is that he would obsess and believe he was responsible. That’s the whole point of the character. See: Uncle Ben.
To me, this is just Loeb and Sale getting to work together again. The content is not interesting or nuanced enough to warrant a read. In the end, it’s the story of a disappointed man who’s a super hero, and the two hot girls that like him for… what? Being a nice guy? Why did they like him? What did he see in them, other than being hot? WHY THE FUCK DON’T WE MENTION HOW SPIDER-MAN, INTENTIONALLY OR NOT, KILLED THE WOMAN HE WANTED TO SPEND THE REST OF HIS LIFE WITH, AND THEN ENDED UP WITH SOMEONE ELSE LIKE A CONSOLATION PRIZE?!
And that’s the failing of the book. It stirs up the dust on a certain subject and then, instead of exploring the storm, ignores it and lets what’s left to hang on the beauty of Tim Sale’s art. I love Jeph Loeb, really, many of his comics being why I got into comics to begin with, but Blue didn’t leave me blue.
It left me angry.