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Loeb, Jeph

Jeph Loeb

Born January 29, 1958 (Stamford, Connecticut)
American author

"These [superhero stories] are myths. Legends. They actually thrive BETTER when they are retold and retold and each time this part gets changed or that part gets changed."

In the world of superheroes, major characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and others have lived many lives. Most such heroes have had a first life, created by their inventor, and multiple other lives, invented for them by lone writers or teams of writers, each seeking to reinvent the character for a new generation. Since the late 1990s, one of the most consistently innovative and popular revisers of superhero stories has been Jeph Loeb. Working most often with artist Tim Sale (1956–), Loeb has offered loving recreations of Superman's youth, Spider-Man's romances, and Batman's anguished quest to bring peace to Gotham City. He also revived the founding story for Supergirl and made it convincing all over again. Along the way, he has brought to his stories a rare sensitivity to the emotional demands of being a superhero. Though he began his career in films and has played a role in the creation of such television series as Smallville and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Loeb has said that writing comics is all he ever wanted to do.

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

Challengers of the Unknown Must Die (1991; reprinted, 2004).

Batman: Haunted Knight (1995).

Batman: The Long Halloween (1998).

Superman for All Seasons (1999).

Superman 4 vols. (2000–01).

Batman: Dark Victory (2001).

Superman: Our Worlds at War 2 vols. (2002).

Daredevil: Yellow (2002).

Batman: Hush 2 vols. (2003); collected in Absolute Batman: Hush.

Spider-Man: Blue (2003).

Hulk: Gray (2004).

Catwoman: When in Rome (2005).

Superman/Batman. 3 vols. (2005; includes Superman/Batman: Supergirl).

Other

Loeb has also written numerous stories for comic books, either in single issues or series, including Coven, Kaboom, Supergirl, Witching Hour, X-Force, and X-Men. He also wrote screenplays for the films Teen Wolf (1985) and Commando (1985) and the television series Smallville (2001–05).

From film to comics

Joseph "Jeph" Loeb III was born on January 29, 1958, in Stamford, Connecticut. He told Superman Home Page interviewer Neal Bailey that his mother gave him the nickname "Jeph" on the way home from the hospital after his birth: "My legal name is Joseph Loeb III, and she didn't want TWO Joes in the house, so she took the 'o' and 's' out of Joseph and got Jeph." He's been Jeph ever since. Loeb's parents did not remain married long after his birth, and he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, when his mother married his stepfather, then a vice president at Brandeis University. It happened that both father and stepfather encouraged Loeb's early fondness for comic books, which were undergoing one of their periodic revivals in the 1960s. When Loeb was twelve, his father bought his son a comic collection that included every Marvel Comic published between 1961 and 1970. This purchase jump-started a collection of comics that has grown so large over the years that Loeb frequently jokes that it has overrun one garage and is spreading to his home. While he was in his teens, Loeb's stepfather also introduced the boy to Elliot Maggin (c. 1950–), a comics enthusiast who would later write many stories in the Superman series.

Despite his love of comics, when it came time to attend college, Loeb chose to study film. He attended Columbia University in New York City, where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees. From there, Loeb gravitated to Hollywood, the mecca of American filmmaking. In the early and mid-1980s, Loeb developed his skills as a screenwriter, someone who writes scripts for films. In 1985, Loeb made a splash with his efforts on two very different films: he wrote the script for Teen Wolf, a teen comedy starring Michael J. Fox (1961–), and for Commando, a high-powered action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947–). These hits helped land Loeb on a project that suited his youthful interests: a film about the DC Comics comic book character Flash, the fastest man alive. When it became apparent that the movie would not get made, DC Comics publisher Jeanette Kahn asked Loeb if he might like to write a comic book. "It was a little bit like Santa pulling up in front of the house and asking would I like to go for a ride on his sleigh on Christmas Eve," Loeb told an interviewer on the BBC's Buffy the Vampire Slayer Web site.

The story of how Loeb got his first comics assignment sheds light on his personality and on the difficulty of getting started in the industry. Asked by DC Comics editor Dick Giordano which character he'd liked to write on, Loeb told him: Superman. "It never occurred to me that there was a regular team and that you couldn't just have a kid come in and write one issue," Loeb said in an interview for Comicology. Loeb worked his way down through the ranks of DC superheroes, down through the Creep and the Atom, before he landed on the Challengers of the Unknown, four adventurers who, after escaping a serious accident with their lives, dedicate themselves to daring adventures in the name of justice. It took Loeb a long time to write the script, and longer to find an artist, but eventually he discovered Tim Sale (see sidebar). The pair produced eight issues through 1991 under the title Challengers of the Unknown Must Die. It was the start of a successful comic book career for both writer and artist.

Loeb does Batman

Though Challengers of the Unknown didn't sell particularly well, it did gain them attention in the comics industry, and the duo was offered the opportunity to create some stories about one of DC's most famous superheroes: Batman. They created a three-issue series for the Halloween season each year from 1993 to 1995; they were later collected as Batman: Haunted Knight. The first two stories in the collection, "Fears" and "Madness," brought new depths to the villains Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter, and in them Loeb experimented with psychological insights into the main character that would characterize his best work. Most reviews judged the collection to be only a moderate success, with the last story, "Ghosts," widely considered to be one of the pair's weakest works.

Tim Sale: Artist

Jeph Loeb's success as a comics writer was, for a number of years, closely intertwined with that of artist and illustrator Tim Sale. Together the two created numerous stories of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and others. Tim Sale was born in Ithaca, New York, on May 1, 1956, but he grew up in Seattle, Washington. Though he was a huge comics fan as a child, it took him some time to break into the field. He bounced in and out of art studies in college, attending the University of Washington for two years before heading east to New York to briefly attend the John Buscema Workshop and the School of Visual Arts. It was later, while working at a taco stand in Seattle, that he realized that he wanted to make his career in comics.

Sale's first job came on Myth Adventures in 1983, and in the late 1980s he worked on Thieves World. By 1991, however, Sale had hooked up with Jeph Loeb on Challengers of the Unknown, which soon led to their breakthrough work on Batman (later collected in Batman: Haunted Knight). In their working relationship, which continued into the 2000s, Loeb provides a full script, with detailed descriptions of the placement of characters, buildings, and other elements. Loeb and Sale work together to come up with the best possible combination of words and pictures before passing their work to a colorist—a needed role, since Sale is colorblind.

Loeb and Sale built off of their initial Batman work with a thirteen-issue series that many felt was a breath of fresh air for the Caped Crusader. Batman: Long Halloween is a sustained mystery story built around the efforts of Batman, Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent to solve a string of killings, committed on major holidays, that threaten to ignite Gotham City's already violent, mafia-dominated underworld. In this long story, Batman confronts a string of villains and is forced to explore his trust of Harvey Dent and his commitment to pursuing justice instead of just revenge. Reviewing the graphic novel in which the stories are collected, Yannick Belzil noted on the 11th Hour Web site that "Batman: The Long Halloween is certainly the prime example of how a storyline should treat Batman … by putting him in his natural element: a mystery." "We're not often treated to the emotional side of Batman, other than the personal tragedy that took his parents away," continued Belzil, "but this story reveals his feelings about his city and the people that surround him."

Loeb has revisited the world of Batman several times since Long Halloween. In 2001, he and Sale teamed up on Batman: Dark Victory, and two years later Loeb joined artists Jim Lee and Scott Williams on two volumes of Batman: Hush. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised the book, claiming that "Loeb is especially talented at underwriting, not crowding the page full of long explanations and snappy patter." Yet other reviewers felt that this Batman story, in which Batman fights against Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, among other villains, did not stand up to Loeb's earlier treatments.

Back to the superhero's roots

Though Loeb had clearly shown his superhero storytelling skills in his several Batman books, it was Superman for All Seasons that revealed the real depths of his talent. Superman had long been one of Loeb's favorite characters. "I just always loved the character," Loeb told Golden Age Superman Web site interviewer Patrick M. Gerard. "He is so simple to identify with—you put on a cape and you fly around the house. Great stuff. All comics lead from that single point of creation. He's important!" In Superman for All Seasons, Loeb and Sale take readers back to the very early days of the Superman legend, when Clark Kent is a farm boy discovering his remarkable powers and determining to use them for good. The story, which is largely without the epic battles so common in superhero stories, traces Clark's dawning awareness of the difficulties and complexities of protecting the world. Told in four chapters from the perspectives of his mother, Lois Lane, his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, and his first love, Lana Lang, each of the stories is infused with the melancholy of those who try to understand Superman, and the result is a graphic novel with a powerful emotional pull. Loeb told Blitz and Lamken that he returned to Superman's early days "because I've always found the mortal side more interesting than the superhuman side." Yannick Belzil, in his review for The 11th Hour Web site, concluded that: "Ultimately, this is a great book. It's a good story with beautiful, uncluttered art—very easy to read and accessible to someone who's never read a Superman comic (or any comic, for that matter) and therefore can serve as a perfect introduction to the world of comics."

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

Loeb explored other origin superhero stories in a set of books he wrote for Marvel Comics in the early 2000s. In Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, and Hulk: Gray—the colors evoke the early days of the character's outfits or skin color—Loeb went back to some of the original storylines from these classic Marvel heroes, but infused them with new insight and emotion. For example, in Spider-Man: Blue, Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) tells a story lamenting the death of his first love, Gwen Stacy, at the hands of the Green Goblin. PopMatters Web site reviewer Sam Gafford praised the story for offering "superhero slugfests," but concluded that "if you want to read a story about mature characters dealing with youth, life, and love, check this series out and chalk up another home run for Loeb and Sale." In Hulk: Gray, Loeb and Sale retell the tale of the forty-eight hours after Bruce Banner is first transformed into the Hulk. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "Loeb raises questions about these characters' motivations that, until now, haven't been incisively investigated," and reinterprets the story "to expose and illuminate its underlying psychological depths."

Through the 2000s, Loeb continued to work in the superhero genre. He penned a series of successful Superman stories, a number of which were collected in graphic novel form. He ventured into the Superman/Batman series in 2005. In one volume of the latter series, Loeb revisited the story of Supergirl, which had been told in several ways over the years. Loeb's version returned to the original and, as usual, breathed new life into it. The story was so popular that Loeb followed it up with several single-issue comics in the Supergirl series. Loeb nurtured his love of superhero origins in another way as well: from 2001 to 2005, he served as a writer and producer on the Smallville television series, which was set in the small town of Clark Kent's youth and told of Superman's life before he ever put on tights. Grooming him to eventually write stories of his own, Loeb's son, Sam, had joined his father in this work. Tragically, Sam Loeb died of cancer in 2005. His father told a Krypton Site interviewer that Sam "was a truly gifted writer—and a magical son." The crew of Smallville dedicated the 2005 season to him.

By 2005, Loeb had his hands in a number of projects. He was wrapping up his work on Supergirl for DC, and looking forward to rejoining Marvel to write stories about The Ultimates. He told Frederik Hautain of Broken Frontier that he anxiously anticipated the opportunity to try his hand at a new set of characters: "The challenge as a writer, as a creator, is to find new chances to hone your craft. And as a storyteller, to come to a place where maybe I'm not as well known and there is a new audience to read and hear my tales." Loeb has no plans to invent characters of his own, he told the Dynamic Forces Web site: "For me, the fun of writing comics is working with the Icons." One of those icons that Loeb was planning on working on was The Spirit, a revival of the classic series created by comic book legend Will Eisner (1917–2005; see entry). Fans of Jeph Loeb can look forward to a whole new set of stories that reveal his mastery of action and emotion.

For More Information

Periodicals

Radford, Bill. "Supergirl Is Back—and She's the Real Deal." Seattle Times (August 22, 2005): p. E2.

Web Sites

Bailey, Neal. "Exclusive Interview with Jeph Loeb." Superman Homepage. http://www.supermanhomepage.com/tv/tv.php?topic=interviews/jeph-loeb2 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Belzil, Yannick. "Batman: The Long Halloween." The 11th Hour. http://www.the11thhour.com/archives/062000/comicreviews/batman.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Belzil, Yannick. "Superman for All Seasons." The 11th Hour. http://www.the11thhour.com/archives/022000/comicreviews/superman.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Blitz, Stefan, and Brian Saner Lamken. "Jeph Loeb and Superman." Comicology no. 1 (Spring 2000). Reproduced at Superman Through the Ages. http://theages.superman.ws/Creators/loeb.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"DF Interview: Jeph Loeb." Dynamic Forces. http://www.dynamicforces.com/htmlfiles/interviews.html?showinterview=IN10130554250 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Gafford, Sam. "Spider-Man: Blue." PopMatters. http://www.popmatters.com/comics/spiderman-blue.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Hautain, Frederik. "Jeph Loeb: When at Marvel—Part I." Broken Frontier. http://www.brokenfrontier.com/lowdown/details.php?id=246 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"Jeph Loeb Interview." Buffy the Vampire Slayer/BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/buffy/interviews/loeb/index.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).

"KryptonSite Interview: Jeph Loeb Talks About His Smallville Departure." KryptonSite. http://www.kryptonsite.com/loeb0805.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Tim Sale Official Web site. http://www.timsale1.com/home.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).

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