Thursday, July 3, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #-1 - July 1997


That Thompson Boy
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Peter is sent out of the house by Uncle Ben to spend a Saturday outside.  He bumps into Flash Thompson for the first time outside of Izzo’s, a store where Peter buys comics.  Flash’s sister later finds Flash at the ballpark and tells him to bring their father home.  Flash finds him at a bar, and when Flash “back talks” him, Flash is slapped.  He immediately asks for forgiveness and Flash helps to carry him home.  Flash then knocks Peter over as Peter returns from the library.  Later that day, Peter catches a ball hit by Flash at the ballpark.  Flash mocks Peter’s effort.  That night, Flash is hit by his father again for being late.  He looks out the window and enviously watches Peter and Uncle Ben, taking a walk and eating ice cream.  


The Subplots:  None.


Web of Continuity:  This issue establishes Flash’s family: his parents Harrison (Harry) and Rosie, and his little sister Jessie.  Flash’s father is a large, aggressive police officer, which contradicts the portrayal of Mr. Thompson as a lanky intellectual (one clearly reminiscent of Peter Parker) from Amazing Spider-Man #372’s back-up story.


Review:  J. M. DeMatteis takes advantage of Flashback Month to press forward with his Flash Thompson alcoholism subplot.  Like I’ve said before, I don’t personally like having alcoholism grafted on to Flash, but DeMatteis is getting some good material out of the idea.  This issue is also notable for presenting Peter’s first meeting with Flash, an important moment from Peter’s past I’m relatively certain we’ve never seen before.  


Contrasting Peter’s life with Flash’s, we see Peter as a sheltered boy who never wants to leave the house and Flash as the neighborhood bully, obviously passing on what he’s learned from his father.  Flash’s father could easily be the stereotypical abuser from a Lifetime movie, but DeMatteis does an admirable job of fleshing the character out in just a few pages, emphasizing his own insecurities and self-loathing.  And while Flash the abused kid deserves most of our sympathy, DeMatteis also writes an anxious twelve-year-old Peter as well as you think he would.  He’s a meek introvert who likes to read, doesn’t fit in with the other kids, and doesn’t understand why sports are such a big deal.  Not familiar at all is it?  Luke Ross also conveys the human elements of the story well, even if his cartoony kids are so cartoony they feel out of place in a child abuse story.  Then again, that could’ve been an intentional choice.


Overlooking the continuity error regarding Flash’s father, which is genuinely irksome, this is a strong use of the Flashback concept.  I think Marvel also deserves some credit for allowing at least one of the Spider-Man Flashback issues to have no action scenes or supervillains.  That was extremely rare for Marvel at the time, and I’m not sure if the decision helped sales at all, but it makes for a better story.  A somber depiction of Flash’s abusive childhood would’ve lost just a smidgen of its impact if the story had to shoehorn an appearance by Paste Pot Pete just as he was discovering glue for the first time.

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