Today I put my best foot forward and tackle one of the year’s most divisive, but indisputably important, Spider-Man comics. I hope you get a kick out of it. With funny books costing and arm and a leg these days, you really have to know which ones have a leg up over the others. Read my critique to learn whether it hits the ground running or if it just ends up dragging its heels. I promise this won’t be a knee-jerk reaction. Post a comment, but don’t think you can change my opinion. I’m really putting my foot down on this one.

WRITER: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILS: Barry Kitson
INKS: Mark Farmer
COLORS: Antonio Fabela
LETTERS: Cory Petit


We catch up with Flash Thompson, now a candidate for the Medal of Honor in the Iraq war. Lying in a military hospital, he recounts his tale to a general. Insurgents ambushed his unit, injuring one of Flash’s comrades in the ensuing battle. Flash carried the soldier to a MEDVAC, ignoring his own wounds. When he got around to seeking medical attention for himself, it was too late. The doctors had to amputate both of his legs.


I love it when a creative team demonstrates such technical proficiency that my reviews can move past laundry lists of craftsmanship flaws and react purely to a story’s literary merit. “Flashbacks” has clever dialogues, beautiful pictures, and seems fantastically well researched. All that’s left to ponder are the effects of these artists’ creative choices.

Those looking for anti-war propaganda won’t find it here, not really. Mark Guggenheim doesn’t depict Flash’s loss of limb as a horrifying and pointless waste of human tissue caused by the latest bead in the futile string of violence we call human history, but as a hero’s glorious sacrifice. Judging from the dedication and Steve Wacker’s editorial at the end, the creators intended to craft an uncritical valorization of American warriors. One does not take from this the message that war sucks because folks loose their legs; the implicit statement here, intentional or not, is that war is honorable because it creates heroes willing to loose their legs for the sake of good.

One may or may not consider that a worthwhile message, but Guggenheim conveys it uncompellingly either way. Though maimed in the flesh, Flash never shows enough spiritual vulnerability for it to feel like he really lost anything. His resolve never shakes, despair never tempts him, right and wrong remain clear, and he has no regrets. He cuts a mythic figure, that of a saint, not a fallible human being with whom fallible human readers can empathize. We see a snippet of his abused childhood, and learn that he draws on Spider-Man’s example for strength when the going gets tough, but he never has a true moment of uncertainty to remind us he’s a human with something to lose. Even Christ had a last temptation.

Part of Spider-Man’s appeal lies in granting the superhero, a modern mythic figure, realistic ambiguities, so I find it interesting that the gray edges suddenly vanish once the fiction abandons the fantastic and errs toward reality. One can tell a story about honor and sacrifice in a real-life war and still write the good guys as something more human than one-dimensional martyrs and the enemy as deeper than motivationless devils in turbans.

With no such layers, these events feel like they happen to symbols in a contrived allegory, not living, breathing human characters. We never even experience the brunt of Flash’s sacrifice because, after showing his heroic act, the comic cuts to a point sometime after Flash has come to gripes with and fully rationalized what happened. I understand that if the comic had shown the full agony of the surgery and Flash’s reactions immediately afterward, it would have made a last page dramatic reveal of the sort this issue contains impossible, but I wish Guggenheim chose to fully explore Flash’s process of pain and grieving instead of exploiting shock value. For such a visually gritty comic, it came out emotionally sanitized, and for that it’s something less than it could have been.

2.5 webheads out of 5. That may seem harsh for such a polished comic, but the shoe fits.


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