Here's another flashback from Smilin' Stan Lee and those boys at the Marvel Bullpen. Long before Peter became Spider-Man, he was just this panty-waist pushover - easy pickings for a tough young kid named Flash Thompson. This is the story of the first time Peter met Flash, and of what happened next...
Look, I'm not going to give too much away about this book, because I recommend that you read it - if you haven't already. Essentially though, it paints the picture of two kids and their respective fathers.
Kid one is Peter Parker, and Uncle Ben is his dad. The one thing that the flashback stories have done is shown us a little more about Uncle Ben, and his desire to see Peter grow up as a balanced sort of guy. Sure Ben is happy that Peter is real smart, but he also wants him to play sports, go fishing, and have friends. Two things go against this; firstly it just ain't in Peter's genes to do any of those things, and secondly we see that Aunt May's over-protectiveness of Peter started a long time before Uncle Ben's death.
So we see that Peter doesn't have any friends, can't figure one end of a baseball bat from the other, and has the courage of a worried hamster. Still, his Uncle and Aunt truly love him, and that's got to be good.
Kid two is the Thompson Boy - "Flash" to his friends, Eugene to a very select group. We meet Flash's Dad, the local cop, who we had formerly seen in a recent issue of Untold Tales. We are also introduced to his sister and his mom.
The problem with Flash is that he's a real bully - and because his dad is a local figure, he figures he can get away with heaps. The other problem is that his dad is an alcoholic with an anger management problem and some low self-esteem issues. Now, let's just do a quick count on abusive fathers in Spider-Man comics. Mary-Jane, Tiny, Janine, and now Flash. Fathers don't get good press in Marvel comics, and the idea is being rather done to death, I would have thought. I was already to get stuck in and trash this story, but...
...this is DeMatteis, and he's got a twist. What's the twist? Well, it's pretty scary really - but Mr Thompson really loves his family. On the other hand, he doesn't like himself very much, and he isn't satisfied with what he has acheived with his own life. Sound familiar? Kind of like Flash in recent Spectacular, huh? Nice guy in a lot of ways, but filled with self-pity and self-hatred, and can't quite cope with the fact that the world didn't crown him king after all that it promised.
Every time Mr Thompson strikes out at those who love him, he can see inside himself what is happening, and seeks forgiveness. He promises that it will never happen again - but it doesn't take a genius to see that here is a family on a road to self-destruction.
This story could have been awful - I expected it to be awful. Firstly, it is very hard for comics to deal with issues like this without coming across as being initially preachy, and fundamentally shallow. Secondly, as mentioned, the Marvelverse has been overrun by the Political Correct brigade and abounds in abusive parents who were sketched in 2D, held up as paragons of wickedness, and then discarded after their "we're more than just guys in tights fighting each other" value has been used up.
Surprisingly, this tale was told with startling realism. While depicting very little violence, it managed to disturb me with the unpleasant underlying truthfulness of the way it sculpted a picture of a decent man who let alcohol turn his weakness and disappointment into something abhorrent and destructive.
Compare this with Mary-Jane's father, a failed writer who blamed his family for never letting him concentrate. It's the same idea, but DeMatteis is so much more subtle. Thompson doesn't blame his family outright, and nor is he painted in solid black as Mary-Jane's dad. It's the reluctant compassion that I could feel for Mr Thompson that made the story so tragic as we see his self-hatred winning the battle over his love for his family.
Stories of this type walk a very fine line. A story of this kind which is poorly written can be nauseously bad. Stories like this which are told too often can lose their impact and become pathetic. This story does neither. Whether the medium is appropriate is a moot point. The story succeeds on its own, and also lays the solid groundwork for current issues of Spectacular. Full marks.