Flash Thompson: superhero, Pt. 1

The one-time Peter Parker bully turned Spider-Man’s #1 fan turned alcoholic turned war hero turned superhero.  That Flash Thompson.  Remember his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko?  Boy, stereotypes did not grow subtle in the 1960s.

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But as time went on, Flash Thompson has evolved into one of the most interesting and complex characters in the Marvel universe today.  We’ll take the first half of this journey today in Amazing Spider-Man #108, written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita, and Amazing Spider-Man #574, written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Barry Kitson

During Eugene “Flash” Thompson’s stint at Empire State University, his number pops up to serve his country in Vietnam.  Due to Marvel’s sliding time scale (and also because Flash isn’t now 60 years old), it’s some unnamed military conflict.  No fighting the good fight alongside the Punisher deep in the jungles of Hanoi.  But he did see some stuff over there, man.

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As you can imagine, Flash handles the PTSD badly.  He dives into some serious alcoholism — the same disease that affects his father –although he does become one of Parker’s dear friends as well (watching a village or two explode sort of makes bullying seem petty).  Then the Green Goblin puts him in a coma.  Bad times.  Eventually time heals all wounds, as Flash awakens and trains young minds in the art of dodgeball and stuff as a P.E. coach.  But when war in the Middle East rears its ugly head in the late 2000s, Flash steps up to serve his country.  And thus begins one of the most powerful stories ever told in a Spider-Man comic.

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So what happened during Flash’s most recent army gig?  Heroism, that’s what.  The decades of comics have been kind to Flash’s personality.  His fanboy-ism towards Spider-Man becomes genuine respect, so much so that Flash’s entire morality has been shaped around what he’s seen Spider-Man accomplish.  Guggenheim does a great job incorporating Flash’s decisions based around the simple idea of, “What would Spider-Man do?”

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And while punching the Rhino or dodging pumpkin grenades certainly makes web-slinging a scary game, nothing compares to that real life stuff.

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Everything goes bad.  Everything.  As many SHIELD agents flung across the helicarrier by an angry Hulk can tell you, a rifle and grit alone rarely provide the protection needed that, say, a healing factor or optic blasts do.

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Everything gets worse.  Much worse.  Y’know, I remember before the assassination of Captain America during the Iraq war, the left wanted him on street corners protesting this war and the right wanted him in the trenches punching terrorists.  But the more I think about it, a man with a shield and flamboyantly bright costume kind of cheapens the war.  Makes it silly.  And this is not silly, though I so wish it was.

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On Friday, we’ll watch as he becomes the man he deserves to be — and I’ll show you slivers of the past five years as he deals with recovery, rekindled relationships, alien symbiotes, and some major daddy issues.  But those’re spoilers, and we’re better than that.


2 Comments on “Flash Thompson: superhero, Pt. 1”

  1. How many sacred hidden temples are there in the Marvel universe, anyway?

    Seriously, Flash Thompson is an interesting character for you to examine. If Flash existed in real life, he would have been considered one of those people who peaked in high school, and after that it was all downhill. Indeed, in the post Lee/Ditko/Romita stories, it really seems that the majority of the writers on the Spider-Man titles struggled to find some sort of direction for him, an identity beyond “that jock guy who used to bully Peter Parker back in high school.” Flash drifted from one career to another, one relationship to another. It a certain respect that makes sense in that, as I said, that type of person in the real world often belatedly realizes that they never planned for the long-term, and they now have severely limited options, whereas those “geeks” and “nerds” they once picked on are off working at companies like Microsoft. But from a fictional, narrative point of view, I think the presence Flash got really tiresome as succeeding writers tried anything & everything to make him a relevant character once again.

    Consequently, when I first heard that Flash had become the new Venom, I must have rolled my eyes and muttered “Here we go again.” But, in retrospect, it seems to have been a good creative decision, as he is now forced to finally grow up and be responsible, much like Spider-Man, the hero he had admired from so many years. And the events leading up to his transformation, the grave injuries he received in combat while patriotically serving his country definitely helped to demonstrate that he had come a long way from the one-time schoolyard bully.

    • Jason Levine says:

      There’s nothing we love more than a good redemption story, and Flash Thompson has totally been riding that road for decades now. Cullen Bunn said Flash still has a place in the Marvel universe after his series ends, and I really hope he keeps a prominent place. Because you’re absolutely right, he used to be a one-dimensional bully jock, but now he’s a haunted, desperate superhero trying to make up for both his past sins and improve the world he lives in — despite seeing some very unforgivable stuff in his life. You’re awesome and thanks for the comment!


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