Flash Thompson: superhero, Pt. 1Posted: 09/03/2013
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.
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.
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.
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?”
And while punching the Rhino or dodging pumpkin grenades certainly makes web-slinging a scary game, nothing compares to that real life stuff.
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.
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.
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.