While Spider-Man is a character that’s had no small amount of controversy surrounding him ever since the devil (or Marvel’s approximation thereof) erased his marriage to Mary Jane earlier this year in various Spider-Man comics, the past few weeks have seen more political elements work their way into the wall crawler’s world. While we brought you word last month of Stephen Colbert’s run for the U.S. presidency in the Marvel Universe within the pages of “Amazing Spider-Man,” this week the book shifts its focus to the war in Iraq with “Amazing Spider-Man” #574, on sale today.
The story revolves around Flash Thompson, a Spidey supporting character known to most fans as the bully who made Peter Parker’s high school years a living hell while cheering on Spider-Man. The comic is written by “Eli Stone” TV series co-creator (and co-writer on the upcoming "Green Lantern" film) Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Barry Kitson, and is the first of two stories by the writer that are setting off fanboy radar --- and for very different reasons.
“With Flash’s story, the goal there was not to be political or even topical,” Guggenheim told MTV. “Back at our first Spidey retreat, editor Steve Wacker pointed out how Flash was established to be a soldier in the Vietnam war, and wouldn’t it be interesting to establish that he’s been fighting in Iraq."
"As we were going through the list of Spidey supporting characters, it really caught the attention of the room to do something with Flash that honored his heritage as a character," continued Guggenheim. "It felt really organic. It’s not like sending Betty Brandt to Iraq. It’s well within what was established with Flash 20 years ago.”
Guggenheim dove into research to authenticate the portrayal of soldiers in the field both by reading first-hand accounts and by tapping Iraq vet, combat medic and Marvel fan Jeff Guerin for advice. Of course, all the preparation in the world couldn't have provided a more appropriate frame for the storyline as the current political, social and economic environment.
"A lot of it’s luck or chance," said Guggenheim, "particularly when we’re talking the Flash story and the Annual being written months ago and their being published now contemporaneous with the financial crisis and the election and the Colbert issue. I wish I could say that we’re planning things out and so intentional about it, but it’s really accidental."
“We’re always reading the same newspapers and magazines, and you’re always going to accidentally tap into the zeitgeist,” Guggenheim added, noting that more commentary on the events of the moment worked their way into his “Amazing Spider-Man" Annual, scheduled to hit shelves October 29. “The Annual I wrote 11 months ago, and I’d written in this thing about Subprime mortgages which I’d totally forgotten about. And then last week the lettering comes in, and I do my polish on it. It’d been basically 11 months since I looked at that script, and I thought, ‘Wow! Subprime mortgages! That’s a whole lot more topical today than it was when I wrote the sucker.’”
But while social and political stories have been the backbone for Peter Parker’s adventures since Stan Lee had the character dealing with drug abuse and war protestors in the ‘60s, the main draw for fans has been the superhero action, and Guggenheim promised that the Annual won’t skimp on that. In fact, the story serves as the cap on a long-running mystery in the “Brand New Day” initiative of Spider-Man comics by revealing the identity of redheaded bombshell heroine, Jackpot.
“The way I’ve structured the story, it can have very wide ramifications, or the ramifications can be contained over the long term. A lot of that depends upon what I write and what other Spidey brain trust writers jump on. We’re definitely throwing a stone into the pool that is 'Brand New Day,' but how big the ripples become are still in the air.”
What do you think about Flash Thompson going to war? Are you pleased to see more current events making their way into comics?