Born to be Blue: Jeph Loeb on 'Spider-Man: Blue'

[Spider-Man: Blue]If you had superhuman powers and an uncanny knack for uttering witty barbs while battling sinister bad guys, you'd probably be on top of the world all the time, right?

Wrong-o. Not if your name is Peter Parker, anyway. Because if you're Peter Parker, life is a roller-coaster ride that's got just as many dismal lows as it does thrilling peaks.

At least, that's the way comics scribe Jeph Loeb sees it.

"When I approached Spidey, what I wanted was to figure out how his life works," said Loeb, who is teaming once again with longtime creative partner Tim Sale on the upcoming "Spider-Man: Blue" mini-series. "And I hit on the idea that things have to get really, really bad before they can get good. It's a yin-yang thing."

The six-issue "Spider-Man: Blue" will be Loeb and Sale's follow-up to "Daredevil: Yellow," which wrapped up in January. Like "DD:Y" and most of the duo's other projects - including "Batman: The Long Halloween," "Batman: Dark Victory" and "Superman For All Seasons" - the new series will focus on an early part of Peter Parker's crime-fighting career. But unlike "DD:Y," the story occurs some time after Parker adopts his masked alter ego.

"It's not quite Year One," Loeb says. "We think folks have done quite enough with that (for Spider-Man) - don't you agree? No, this is more like Year Three, I guess. Peter is in college and no longer wears his glasses. He rides a motorcycle - that's an important plot point. And he's established himself both personally and as Spider-Man. So we don't have to deal with the origin or anything."

To be a bit more specific, the series takes place during Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.'s run on "Amazing Spider-Man," which began in 1966 with issue #39 - the same issue in which the diabolical Green Goblin is revealed to be Norman Osborn.

"The story begins with the downfall of the Green Goblin and the revelation that it was Norman Osborn," Loeb says. "This led to a series of changes in Peter's life, mostly in his love live as he went from a nebbish to an 'all right guy' with the gang - Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy and, shortly thereafter, Mary Jane Watson."

Loeb and Sale want the new series to be the second in a series of four "color" projects for the Marvel Knights imprint. But whereas "Daredevil: Yellow's" title referred to the horn-headed hero's original costume, the color in the new book's name does not refer to the hue of Spider-Man's long johns.

"Before everyone thinks that the colors have to do with costumes and asks why it's 'Spidey: Blue' and not black or whatever, colors can mean a lot of things," Loeb says. "In the case of Spidey, it's about blue as in sad, or lovelorn, or like in jazz music. But, unlike 'DD:Y,' which was about the catharsis of losing Karen Page, "Spider-Man: Blue" will mostly play against that, since that's how Peter dealt with the calamity that was his life at the time."

Although Loeb's been working in comics for years on titles as varied as "Cable," "Captain America," "The Fantastic Four" and "Superman," he has never handled a Spider-Man book until now. But his fondness for the character goes back to the 1960s, to when he was first reading about Peter Parker's superhero adventures - and the misadventures that made up Parker's romantic life. "Spider-Man: Blue" promises to bring some of those elements back to life for modern readers.

"Each of the 'color' books are intended to remind or introduce the readers to things that have fallen by the wayside," Loeb says. "With 'Daredevil: Yellow,' many folks didn't know DD wore a yellow costume - but that wasn't nearly as important to us as the relationship Matt had with his father. The idea that Daredevil was the son of a boxer was the lynchpin of the story, and Jack Murdock was being forgotten in the annals of Marveldom. The same holds true, from our perspective, of Gwen Stacy. We fell in love with Gwen as Peter did - and ultimately, we were torn between Gwen and MJ. Hopefully, 'Spider-Man: Blue' will leave our readers equally divided."

One of the things that makes Spider-Man such a powerful icon is Peter Parker's emotional balancing act. It's something everyone can identify with - including Loeb himself. "Unlike nearly every hero that came before him, Peter couldn't make it all work together," Loeb explains. "If the superhero part was going well, his personal life was in the crapper, and vice-versa. Spidey's stories are very emotional and in some way touch us all. 'Spider-Man: Blue' is in many ways the most personal story I've told because it is so much about how I look at life. It's a roller coaster, and nobody knows that better than Spidey. It's sheer joy butted right up against depression. Bad and good are so close together, it almost becomes blurred. And I'm not talking about good and evil. I'm talking about how you feel on a given day. My friends know - my wife knows - what I'm talking about. Maybe when this is done, some of the readers will too."

The character of Spider-Man certainly is different than Batman or Superman, two of the characters Loeb is most identified with. The writer thinks he's up to the challenge of scripting this particular hero. "I hope to get his voice down right," Loeb says. "He makes jokes, and that's very odd to me - but I'm willing to give it a shot. Batman certainly is easier since all he does is brood."

Loeb and Sale have taken some heat in Internet chat rooms and on Web message boards for rewriting comics history and messing with continuity with their projects. "Spider-Man: Blue" likely will elicit similar gripes. Loeb has heard the criticisms but shakes them off.

"I'm not sure I agree with it," he says. "It isn't helped when I joke that continuity to me is that Jimmy Olsen never became Robin the Boy Wonder, and that everything else can go to hell. It's all a matter of degrees. 'Daredevil: Yellow' is a prime example. The harshest critics, the Continuity Police, were bothered by when we branched off from what Frank Miller had established in ("Daredevil: The Man Without Fear," the now-classic Year One mini-series). I don't know - doesn't it bother anyone how much that branched off from what Stan Lee and Bill Everett had created? There isn't even a yellow costume in it!

"What the most vocal of these folks seem to not realize is that I don't work in a vacuum," Loeb continues. "I don't own these characters. I answer to an editor, a publisher and a publishing company. If they say I can't tell a story, then I can't tell that story. But, if they do, then they must have some reason for that to be happening and hopefully it's out of respect for the material and to the character. Besides, I will always insist that if you want to, you can find our stories right in between the pages of the stories you already know."

"Spider-Man: Blue" will be printed in the same format as "Daredevil: Yellow," with a card-stock cover and glossy pages. It also will be followed up by an oversized hardcover edition compiling the entire story, Loeb says. The first issue is scheduled to be released in May, about the same time the "Spider-Man" motion picture hits movie theaters across the nation. Whereas many comics fans are looking to the film as a possible savior of the industry, Loeb's expectations are a bit more realistic.

"Anything is possible," he says. "My son and I listen to the 'Superman' radio shows from the 1940s, and one time the announcer signed off, 'Be with us tomorrow, kids, where anything can happen and something does!' That's how I see the comic book industry. Will the 'Spider-Man' movie cause a boom like the 'Batman' movie did? Probably not. But the world of comics will live on and I'm looking forward to being part of it."

Loeb is one of the many industry pros who have contributed to the various comics benefiting the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His story - drawn by former "Fantastic Four" partner Carlos Pacheco - is titled "A Hard Day's Night" and appears in the second volume of the recently released "9-11" project. Sale also has a piece in the book, one page before Loeb and Pacheco's story begins.

"On a personal level, I was very shaken by the events of 9/11," Loeb says. "The only way I could get my head around it was to believe - and I do - that something good will come out of this. In a small way, it already has, as I see a country that is less divided than it was before. How long will it last? Is it for the right reasons? I could care less. I just like the idea that something good came from something really bad. When you apply this kind of thinking to Spider-Man's life you can see a system of checks and balances that has helped keep him sane and to a certain extent, happy. But please, don't think for one second that I compare the events of 9/11 to a comic book character in any way, shape or form - it's about how I think about life, not about the specific incidents themselves."

Loeb, who gained a reputation for being an excellent secret-keeper during interviews about the mystery-laden "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory" series, isn't very talkative when it comes to the possible stars of the next two "color" books he and Sale want to do for Marvel. "Clearly, they will be icons," Loeb hints. "But, like 'Blue,' the color doesn't necessarily have to do with costume or skin tone. So those of you have guessed 'Thing: Orange' or 'Professor X: Pink' should go to your rooms. They'll be very cool. But again, this is just in theory. There is no paperwork. We're not sure that Marvel is going to want to do them. But so far, the relationship with the Knights has been very strong and we would hope to continue with them in this regard."

Loeb wouldn't say much about whether he and Sale are planning to return to the Dark Knight Detective or the Man of Steel anytime soon, either. Fans of their work in the DC Universe may find some relief in what he did let slip, however. "If a story warranted Tim's time and energy, yes, I'd do it in a second," Loeb says. "Tim draws that character and the supporting cast extremely well and folks seem to like 'his' Batman. Some folks are just born to draw the Dark Knight. Tim is one of them.

"There are a lot of characters we want to get our hands on - but the odd thing is, there are very few stories we want to tell with them," Loeb adds. "I'd be fine if I never told another Daredevil story because I was so pleased with 'Daredevil: Yellow.' But I've got lots of Batman stories to tell and Superman tales, too - and if all goes according to plan, Tim and I will be doing all that and more. But, at the end of the day, if Tim said he wanted to do a, I don't know, Secret Six story, we'd be doing a Secret Six story - if DC would let us. I'm interested in finding tales that get him to draw interesting things. It's the way the partnership works."

That partnership has been one of the most successful in comicdom in recent years. A Loeb/Sale comic is practically guaranteed to be a hot seller. Loeb says his writing style with Sale is different than when he's working with another artist.

"My background is as a screenwriter, and that entails writing dialogue for specific actors and creating images that entice specific directors," says Loeb, whose credits include the films "Teen Wolf" and "Commando" and the upcoming "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" animated series. "When I work in comics, I can't turn off that side of my brain. I think my best work comes when I'm writing for an artist, working toward his strengths and avoiding his weaknesses. Tim and I have worked together for so long that there are certain things I know he does well, and I try and structure a story around those things. He does facial expressions, hand gestures and body movement almost better than anyone I know - so conversations between characters is always a delight. Someday, I'll get to do a story that only has the secondary characters - Jim Gordon, Foggy Nelson, Lois Lane, Perry White - all in a room. Group therapy or something. Tim would draw the heck out of that!"

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