Heroes Never Rust #29 by Sean Ironman
Filling in the Gaps
One of the more frustrating aspects of comics in the 1960s is how fast-paced they seem. Each issue has a villain rise, fight the hero, and then get defeated. At times, at least by today’s standards, there’s no room for the story to breathe. Within a few issues, characters like Spider-man seem to have a handle on being a superhero. Weeks and months pass between issues. Relationships go from being good to bad and back again in no time. But, what that approach has given us in modern comics is the ability to fill in the gaps. Comics today can go back and tell previously untold tales in a character’s early years to connect events and relationships, and even add a new dimension to the comics.
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have worked on the Color Series (although I don’t think that’s an official name) for Marvel Comics. The series focuses on relationships in a character’s early years. There have been three mini-series so far—Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey, and Spider-Man: Blue. (A fourth, Captain America: White, was announced but never released.) Spider-Man Blue, I believe, is the greatest of the series. I’ve used it on many people to show them what superhero comics are capable of. The series is memoir-like in that Peter Parker from the current day reflects back on his relationship with Gwen Stacy, his first love who was killed while Spider-Man battled with the Green Goblin.
The comic begins with the present-day Parker testing a recorder device. It’s Valentine’s Day. He’s speaking to someone, but we don’t know whom, not yet. “I remember the first time. How you sent me a Valentine that wasn’t signed. You just drew in one of those happy faces.” Spider-Man, in a blue tint, swings toward the George Washington Bridge. He places a rose—the red color sticking out from the blue tint background—on the bridge. When he swings off, the rose falls into the water. “Hello, Gwen. My funny valentine.”
Then the comic jumps back. Spider-Man in the ‘60s has been captured by the Green Goblin. This isn’t when Gwen died, though. Spider-Man breaks free and defeats the Green Goblin. “At first, I thought he was dead. And I’m ashamed to say, Gwen, in that moment, I was relieved. It could have ended right there…all my worries…gone. And Maybe you would still be…” The Green Goblin lived. Spider-Man helped him out of a burning building. Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin and the father of Peter Parker’s best friend. Trying to help his friend cost Peter Parker his first love in the end.
Throughout the six issues, we get a balance of Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. For a while in the comics, Peter Parker had his choice of beautiful women. Gwen Stacy was the nice girl type. Mary Jane was the wild one. By showing the balance between the two loves of his life, there’s sadness in the story. In the final interactions Peter has with Gwen, there’s another woman—another woman taking him away. Many of Spider-Man’s enemies show up—Rhino, the Lizard, the Vulture, Kraven the Hunter. Aunt May, of course, is used wonderfully. In a breakfast scene halfway through the story, Peter looks at Aunt May, and in the captions from the present day, Peter says, “I never, ever, though I would be burying you before her. It’s just no the way life is supposed to work.” No matter where the comic goes, Gwen stays the focal point.
The greatest strength of the comic, though, is that it never shows Gwen’s death. The story doesn’t exist to capitalize on a past story—to repeat what has already been done. While reading, I expect to see Gwen die in the end—to have Spider-Man fail. The Green Goblin doesn’t return, though. Kraven is the final villain of the piece. It turns out the Green Goblin had previously hired Kraven to kill Spider-Man. Even in defeat, the Goblin still had reach. “I look back on my life as Spider-Man, and God help me, there are days when all I can think of is how much time it’s taken away from my family…and from everyone I’ve loved.” In the end, the cost of being Spider-Man comes back to Parker—a theme that reoccurs throughout the early years of the comic.
The final shot we get of Gwen is of her kissing Peter. “That’s when you had me, Gwen Stacy. All of me.” It’s a full-page shot, usually reserved for big battles. The last few pages catch up on the present. Peter’s in the attic of the home he shares with Mary Jane, his wife. He talks into a recorder about trying to find something he could call good that came from Gwen’s death. “But something happened that night. I think now your death was MJ’s wake-up call—that we weren’t all going to live forever and the party was going to end.” The comic, which is still about Gwen, becomes also about Mary Jane, and even Peter growing up. The comic doesn’t just repeat Spider-Man’s past, or even just show previously untold parts. It helps characterize the current timeline. It’s important to the characters in the present. In class, I’ve heard professors go on about how flashbacks can be bad for a story because they end up stopping the present-day story from moving forward just to explain things the reader never needed explained. But in Spider-Man: Blue, we get an understanding of Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane that goes beyond the traditional love triangle into a story about how there’s always something good, something hopeful, even in death.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.