Flash and Betty part 7: Apologies to Howard Mackie


Welcome back everyone! I took a break from this summer series to go to San Diego Comic-Con and I had a blast! I spoke with Marvel while I was there and they are aware of this series. They had some funny things to say for sure. We’ll get to that another time though…

This edition is called “Apologies to Howard Mackie” because I feel he deserves my apologies for what I’m about to write. We will be covering the reboot era of Spider-Man which he wrote and I don’t have many nice things to say about some of his scripts.

Before we get to Betty/Flash though, I want to address something that people have been e-mailing and commenting about. Mainly the often asked question “What about FINDING GWEN STACY“?

I know some people are concerned that I abandoned the Gwen essays to focus on Betty/Flash. The truth of the matter is a bit more complicated. The Gwen articles have a very long history going back to 2003 when I originally started writing them for SamRuby.com. A few years later I tried finishing them on my own poorly made Geocities website. I finally completed them and posted them on the Scans Daily community via Livejournal a few years ago. I then started reposting them onto the Crawlspace. Then Scans Daily was deleted. It’s a long controversial story. Luckily some backups of the community existed online which I was able to use to cut and paste the articles. Those online backups were then taken offline by the users. I have the backups saved on my desktop. Posting a new Gwen article has basically become a complicated thing. I have to use the right format to open up the backup, but it won’t let me cut and paste my text (for some reason) which means I have to manually retype everything. I then have to reupload every image which doesn’t always work. Gwen hasn’t been abandoned, but because of the amount of time it takes, she’s on the back burner. I will get back to her though…especially since the requests are pouring in and an upcoming movie is bound to make people interested.

Now onto Flash and Betty…

When we last left our crazy couple, Flash had finally decided to get help for his drinking problem. Overwhelmed with emotions and proud of Flash, Betty proclaimed her love for him and two started dating again.

So what now?

Remember last edition where Norman spooked Betty by saying he had big plans for Flash? Well we find out what those plans are in “Sensational Spider-Man” issue 25.

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The next in the series of Flash’s jobs! You might remember a few other ones from part 5. Interestingly enough he’s an assistant to the owner of the Daily Bugle, which was once Betty’s job. I wonder if they bonded over that? Speaking of bonding, they only recently got back together and now they are coworkers. That sure puts pressure on the new relationship.

Now Betty is happy about Norman taking Flash under his wing? Another case of inconsistency in the late 90’s books. I really have a hard time seeing Betty talk so freely and publicly about Flash’s battle with alcohol whether she is a horrible person or not.

Flash and Betty’s story was mostly told in “Spectacular Spider-Man”, but after Flash decided to get treatment and Betty declared her love for him their relationship went back to the background as other plots (Robbie quitting the Bugle, Jonah being threatened by Norman, Norman being a jerk in general) took center stage. Since they both work at the Bugle, they were seen in the same room many times throughout this era in the background. I won’t be including all those unless they interact.

The next time we see Betty and Flash interact it’s for exposition purposes in “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 255.

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To add some context, Norman Osborn has hired a new Green Goblin (who turns out to be a clone of nobody) to fake the kidnapping of his grandson Normie. A staged attack helps convince the public (including the previously skeptical Betty) that Norman Osborn is not the Green Goblin. Flash “stepping out for a moment” puts him in the running as a suspect for the readers. Sound familiar?

Flash and Betty make time in their workday for love in “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 257.

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Betty sure has a high opinion of herself. Let’s not forget that when Flash tried this stunt on her, she punched him in the stomach.

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Ned Leeds is spinning in his grave.

Actually I wonder if any of Ned’s friends and coworkers are still at the Bugle and what they think when they see this.

Star reporter? I’m not sure Ben Urich will agree.

It almost appears here that Flash is being set up for a fall. Whatever was planned we’ll never know because this is the last issue of “Spectacular Spider-Man” written by J.M. Dematteis. He was the primary writer for Flash/Betty and the alcoholism storyline. With him gone the story fell even further between the cracks, especially with reboot coming up. Other stories were scrambling to wrap up (Spidey being framed for murder, Robbie investigating Allison Mongrain etc) and Flash’s battle with alcohol wasn’t really a priority. In the grand scheme of things I could see that. He finally won Betty’s heart and was getting help. The story didn’t have to go anywhere after that. It could have, but it didn’t have to.

Flash continues to sing Norman’s praises in “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 259.

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This was pretty much Flash’s role during this period. He would be seen by Norman’s side constantly and sing his praises to others. It’s almost like Norman is taking Spider-Man’s place in Flash’s heart (although Flash continues to defend Spidey). Perhaps that is what Norman wanted all along? To steal Spidey’s number one supporter?

I also wonder how Betty feels about Flash gushing about Norman. Does she grow tired of it?

Peter grows tired of it though and lets Flash know in “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 260.

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I don’t really like Betty ordering people around, but you have to admit that Flash and Peter’s faces are priceless in the second panel.

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Minor continuity note that means nothing: Betty didn’t have that haircut until after Peter lost his glasses. I think it’s supposed to be more symbolic than actual reality though.

Peter brings up an interesting point about all three of them working together. That is an interesting status quo. I actually wonder how that is affecting their (Betty and Flash’s) relationship. Does working together hurt it or help it? We can only speculate. The irony that Betty was once Peter’s girlfriend isn’t lost on me either.  Betty and Flash have been through a lot, but I have to wonder if after the dust from the revenge affair settled, did the fact that she used to date Peter ever make things weird? I suppose Ned’s memory was a bigger obstacle.

Speaking of Ned’s ghost….

Roderick Kingsley has escaped prison and Betty is taking the story personally because of what happened to Ned. Flash tries get through to her but only winds up frustrated.
Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 261..

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Flash brings up that Ned was never a good husband once again. I hear this a lot. Aside from the time he grabbed her (which was bad), how was Ned a bad husband? All he did was work a lot. Heck, here Betty is doing to Flash what she always claimed Ned did to her. No wonder Flash throws his hands up in the air in frustration. I suppose it’s easier for Flash to tell himself Ned was a bad husband. It makes it easier to justify his involvement in their breakup.

This is the last we see of Betty and Flash’s relationship before the reboot. We see them in group shots with the rest of the Daily Bugle employees during the final issues before the reboot, but they are merely in the background so I’m not including those here.

Around this time Marvel was trying something different with their recap pages. The front covers of their books would fold out and basically gave you a spread of everything you needed to know about the hero of the books, recent events and characters. It was a great tool for new readers which I find more effective than their current stuff. Betty and Flash both got their own bios which mentioned their relationship.

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“Occasionally dates Flash Thompson”? This seems more in line with how Howard Mackie was writing the relationship than the way it was with Dematteis.

At this point everything started to change for the Spider-Man books. All the books were cancelled and “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” and “Amazing Spider-Man” restarted with new number ones after a month break. None of the writers from this era, with the exception of Howard Mackie, were involved. It basically becomes Howard Mackie and John Byrne running the Spider-Man universe. Norman Osborn (after being the big bad for the past year) exited stage left as other villains were revamped. There were lots of changes during this transition which were too numerous to get into here.  Lots of character arcs were halted and some were plain forgotten. Many characters disappeared never to be seen again.

With Norman Osborn exiting the books, this means he’s no longer in control of the Daily Bugle and that Flash Thompson is out of the job. What is Flash’s role now? How does this affect his drinking problem or relationship with Betty? We get a hint of some of these answers when Flash shows up for the first time since the reboot in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 3.

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Harsh Jonah! Come to think of it, is that a little too mean for Jonah? I know he’s always been a blowhard, but that seemed a bit much.

It must of cut Flash deep since Jonah picks at the very wounds which drove Flash to the bottle.

“Nice seeing you again Betty”.

HUH!?
As of before the reboot they were dating and going strong. There is nothing on this page that explicitly says they are no longer dating, but as they were written by Dematteis they were past the point of saying “nice seeing you again” everytime they met. My guess is Mackie is going off of his previous characterization of “Betty/Flash” where Flash is an admirer of Betty’s who (as the biography page says) occasionally dates him to throw him a bone. Kind of like Lucy Lane and Jimmy Olsen in the 60’s. I don’t know what’s in Mackie’s head or if he read Dematteis Flash/Betty stuff, but it seems he doesn’t realize that these two have progressed beyond where they were when Mackie wrote them right after the Clone Saga.

What about the in story explanation?

Everything must have changed for Flash and Betty once Osborn disappeared. That was Flash’s employer and idol. He was all of a sudden out of a job. The abandonment he must have felt had to have made his sobriety hard to maintain. Did he put pressure on Betty? Did she need space after working with him everyday? We can only speculate and file it away in “off panel land” or “Howard Mackie continuity land”. My guess is they didn’t break up, but Betty and Flash took some space from eachother post-Norman. 

Peter wonders about the status of Betty/Flash in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 4.

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Remember when I said Howard Mackie was picking up where he left off with Betty/Flash? Compare this exchange with the one Peter and Betty had in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” issue 76.

Peter has decided not to whine about his spouse being away for long periods of time. Betty should take notes.

Betty didn’t have time to take notes here because she is abducted into the sewers and Peter was knocked out before he could rescue her. As usual, everyone blames Peter.

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Anyone noticing any parallels between this and “Amazing Spider-Man” issue 665? Peter is in the hospital people….can anyone please feel sorry for him for like two seconds and not make it all about Betty? I get that she’s missing, but Peter got hurt too.

Flash continues to yell at people about Betty throughout the story…

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“My girl….my friend”

Sounds like Flash is uncertain about the current definition of his relationship with Betty.

Real explanation: Howard Mackie most likely didn’t read “Spectacular Spider-Man”.

In-universe explanation: Maybe there was something to my “take a break” theory..

As he has in the past, Flash tries to go in for the rescue and winds up getting knocked out. We don’t ever see him and Betty interact in the story but she does try to nurse his wounds while he’s unconscious…

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The great Flash/Betty freeze continues in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 6.

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OKAY FOR REAL WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

Scroll back up and look at the scans for “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 257! How on Earth did we go from that to this?

We never actually get a clear answer to why Flash is ignoring Peter and Betty either. You’d think it was a plot point because of the emphasis the writer (Howard Mackie) puts on it. Over in “Amazing” Flash was going through a storyline being stuck in Mysterio’s virtual reality world, but that has nothing to do with him ignoring his girlfriend (or un-girlfriend) and best friend.

Flash was just calling Betty “his girl” two issues ago. Now he is ignoring her? Something is going on in the Flash/Betty romance that we’ll never really find out about. I am just going to have to continue to make up reasons…

We get some fun over in “Amazing Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 7.

Mysterio has kidnapped various members of the supporting cast and put them in a virtual world hoping it will shed light on Spidey’s secret identity. Flash’s subconscious takes over the whole thing becomes Flash’s deepest fantasy.

Flash is a superhero…Spidey is his sidekick and everyone loves him. This is actually funny in hindsight considering Flash now has his own superhero book with “Venom”.

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I love Betty being drawn with her original haircut.

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It gets funnier. Even the married Marvel woman all want to jump Flash’s bones!

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The reboot era had lots of clunkers, but this storyline is one of the few that I would recommend seeking out. How could you not find Reed patting Flash on the back as Sue makes out with him hilarious?

The story continues in “Amazing Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 8. Flash is getting married….

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For those wondering, the Spider-Man here is actually an avatar for Mysterio.

Something is really wrong with Flash and Betty’s relationship if Flash’s dream world has him marrying Mary Jane Watson instead. This is Flash’s dream world…his perfect world….and in it he’s not with Betty. The woman he is suppose to be in love with. Very interesting.

All good things must come to an end and Flash is not pleased about having to leave his fantasy.

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His alcoholism isn’t discussed here (come to think of it, Mackie never brings it up) but this must have been a big setback to his recovery. He’s very down on his luck, is given the perfect world and has it taken away from him. Flash is very pained in that second panel.

Mysterio escapes and Flash is given a cold dose of reality. He decides to ignore his previous characterization and take things out on Peter.

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Uhhhhh I don’t get it..

Is the moral of the story that Flash is going back to being a jerk (as per his rant to Peter) because of what happened to him?
Is it that he is going to make the most of his life?

The story seems to act like this is some sort of big character turning point for Flash Thompson. Maybe I’m reading this wrong (if I am let me know), but I have no clue what it is.

Then Mary Jane “died’. One of the big dark mistakes of the reboot. She was on a plane and it exploded. Peter is genre savy at this point and spends many issues telling people she’s alive. He even reminds Aunt May that she came back from the dead too.

Regardless, the supporting cast remains unconvinced and show up at the Parker penthouse for a wake in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 14.

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Flash is next to Betty but this is a wake so their presence together means nothing. Just worth noting since their interactions or lack thereof are so inconsistent throughout this period.

So what is up with Flash and Betty? Are they still together or not? Howard Mackie finally puts the question to bed in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 18.

Peter runs into Flash at ESU. Flash has just been hired as their new gym teacher. Mark that one down in Flash’s list of jobs.

WARNING: If you like Flash being portrayed as a good character, then don’t read these scenes…

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“And best of all Peter, I have two legs! Boy am I ever so thankful for my two legs! Life would just suck without them”.

Is Flash drinking again? What’s going on? Is this him becoming a jerk again as a result of the Mysterio story?

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Howard Mackie finally clears it up! Yes, Flash and Betty continued dating after the reboot….but they are breaking up now.

Except that is hard to reconcile with what is on the pages of previous issues.

And according to Peter, Betty has been trying to get rid of Flash for months.

WHAT THE HECK!??

There is so much here I am confused about.

First of all, Peter (like Howard Mackie), seems to be under the impression that n0ne of the Dematteis Betty/Flash stories happened. But he was around for those and has to know they were seriously dating. So was Betty really trying to get rid of Flash FOR MONTHS or is Peter an unreliable narrator?

And what kind of a relationship involves one partner ignoring the other partner for months? Wouldn’t somebody get the hint early on? There is seriously something weird about Betty/Flash’s relationship during the reboot.

In the second issue of the current Venom series, Betty has this to say about Flash..

“Are you kidding? Breaking up would be too easy. Flash prefers to just ignore me”.

Well Betty, it appears that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE DOING HERE if Peter is to be believed.

Seriously what the heck happened to the two people from “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 257?

Easy answer, they changed writers.

Piecing things together in-universe though…

With them working together and trying to overcome Flash’s addiction things were moving much too fast. Kingsley’s return brought back memories of Ned which also put some tension in their relationship (as shown in “Spectacular Spider-Man” issue 261). Flash’s life was thrown for a loop when Osborn left and he lost his job. Betty needed some space and the couple took a step back. Flash turned into a jerk after the Mysterio incident and Betty didn’t want to be around him. Flash, knowing the relationship is over, decides to save face and dump her himself.

That is the best I could do to make sense of Betty/Flash’s relationship post-reboot. It isn’t much but I don’t have much to work with..

Flash’s characterization gets worse as the issue goes on..

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My eyes are wide as I read this. Flash is smiling as he comments about how all the women near Peter die. One of the girls he mentions was someone he perused in college and was devastated when she died. The other girl is the one he FANTASIZED ABOUT MARRYING not too long ago. Flash’s response to them dying is simply “lol”?

Look at him! He is smiling! He is so flippant about it!

This is the same Flash who a few years earlier cried with Peter and Mary Jane over the lose of their unborn child.

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No he hasn’t Randy. No he hasn’t.

This isn’t even the worst Peter’s friends treat him this issue. Behold Liz Allan’s finishing move of jerkiness!

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So Peter is cursed Liz? Let’s look at Liz’s track record…

She is running a company involved in many criminal scandals.

Her stepbrother is the Molten Man.

Her (at this point) dead husband was the Green Goblin.

Her father-in-law is Norman Osborn (nuff said there)….who by the way killed one of the people Liz claims Peter cursed.

AND FLASH STANDS BY AND LETS HER TALK TO PETER LIKE THIS.

This is suppose to be about Betty and Flash though so we’ll get back on track. Figured I’d show that scene because it shows how far Flash has fallen as a character.

We never see Betty in that issue so we don’t know the status of Flash’s talk with her. He says he is going to the Bugle to break up with her, so we assume he breaks up with her off panel. It’s another off panel breakup, but at least this one had an explanation unlike their first.

What happens to Betty after this? “Amazing Spider-Man” reviewer Donovan Grant brought something to my attention that I had missed in “Amazing Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 25.

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Read that carefully and tell me what’s wrong?

Could it be this?

In the past Betty has had nervous breakdowns and assumed her dead mother was alive. It’s canon. Here she is talking about visiting her mother. It’s all on the page. Therefore I could only assume (BASED ON WHAT IS ON THE PAGE AND NOT WHAT I’M MAKING UP) that Betty has gone crazy again.

Funnily enough she has an extended absence from the Spider-Man books (minus a few scattered cameos) after this. Hmmm

Maybe she’s been going crazy for a while and that also influenced her breakup with Flash? I imagine that Betty’s nervous breakdown and recovery will have to stay in our imaginations though. I doubt Marvel writers noticed this or even care.

While the following isn’t related to Betty and Flash’s relationship, it is included here because it’s a very important turning point for Flash Thompson.

Norman and Flash reunite when Osborn picks him up from an AA meeting (first mention of Flash’s drinking problem since the reboot) and offers him a job. It all happens in “Peter Parker: Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 45.

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The Green Goblin is the worst AA sponsor ever.

I forgot who made the joke originally so apologies for not being able to give credit.

This is actually one of the more evil things Norman has ever done. Dang! He’s forcing alcohol down a recovering drinkers throat!

It doesn’t end there! Norman straps Flash to an Osborn Industries truck and sends it right into Midtown High. This isn’t something that Flash walks away from..

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So now Liz is desperately trying to get in touch with Peter? What’s a matter? I thought he was cursed and kills everyone he touches?

For the next dozen issues, Peter visited Flash in the hospital constantly and shows guilt regarding Flash’s brain damage. Flash doesn’t wake up right away. The writers are (at first) smart and realistically make his recovery slow. 

Luckily for Flash there was someone who stood by him through all of this. Even though she was his ex-girlfriend and even though their relationship didn’t end well, she devoted all her free time and money to making sure Flash got better. She truly was a blessing for Flash during this trying time.

You can see her selfless behavior below in “Spectacular Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 2.

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Come on! Did anyone REALLY think I was talking about Betty?

As you can read above Liz has devoted so much time to Flash. Where is Betty through all of this? We see people like Randy (who hates Flash apparently) and Jill show their support…..but never Betty! Is she still off having her nervous breakdown? Does she even know? Does she even care? It’s just very weird to see Liz sacrificing so much, while Flash’s frequent on again off again girlfriend is nowhere in sight!

Betty hallucinated seeing her dead loved ones. Flash was there to help.

Betty joined a cult. Flash was there to help.

Betty needed a place to live. Flash was there to help.

It was Christmas and Flash was homeless and alone. Betty wasn’t there.

Flash is in a crippling accident which leaves him brain damaged. Betty wasn’t there.

Remember the hard time Betty constantly gave Liz in the Ditko days? Well who is pulling through for their friends now?

But I digress….Flash’s living situation is resolved in “Spectacular Spider-Man” volume 2 issue 3. Flash moves into Peter’s apartment building where Peter (and assorted members of the supporting cast) will take turns taking care of him….along with a wacky live-in nurse. I betcha hijinks will ensue!

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Once again this is a far cry from the Liz who told Peter to stay away because he was cursed. What changed? THE WRITER DID! Paul Jenkins is handling these characters now and is doing a great job!

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Throughout “Spectacular Spider-Man” volume 2, Flash is wheeled around to various supporting cast events and the gang all takes good care of him. They slowly notice small things like him moving his fingers and we get the sense that he is having a slow healthy recovery.

As I said various supporting cast members all look in on him….but no Betty. 

NEXT TIME: How does Flash’s recovery go? Where is Betty? How does she react to Flash’s condition? Where does it leave things with them? Only two more parts to go! Join us in “Flash and Betty” part 8 for some Peter David goodness!

And a final word for Howard….sorry if I was presumptions about some things. I don’t know everything that was going on behind the scenes or in your head when you did the reboot.

 

 

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