Flash and Betty part 8: Friendly Neighborhood Tantric Energy


Welcome back to our tour of one of the most dysfunctional relationships in the Spider-Man universe! This edition is going to be a bit different. For the first time in the “Flash and Betty” retrospective, we will only be covering one writer and one title. Several years ago, Peter David brought Flash and Betty back together and had them take center stage for an arc in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”. Peter David is no stranger to the couple and wrote many of their classic stories like “Cult of Love”.

Under the cut you will see…

*Betty Brant character moments that I actually find redeeming!

*Exactly what “tantric energy”  is and why it’s in this title.

*A woman whose sole mission is to stop Flash from having sex (no it’s not Betty).

* The worst possible thing that could happen to Betty Brant on the toilet.

At this point in our chronicle Flash is in a coma and resides in Peter’s apartment building courtesy of Liz Osborn’s checkbook. Betty has disappeared with the exception of sporadic cameos, but may have gone crazy again because she is seeing her dead mother.

The press for Reginald Hudlin’s 2005 “Wild Blue Yonder” story said Ethan Edwards (the Superman parody in that story who turned out to be a Christian Skrull….yea) would sweep Betty Brant off her feet. When the story came out in “Marvel Knights: Spider-Man”, Ms. Brant was nowhere to be seen. I’ll have e-mail Hudlin and ask him about that one day…

What brings this two together in Peter David’s “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” title? First a thing happened in “Amazing Spider-Man” issue 518 which made me wonder about Flash’s fate the first time I read it. Spider-Man is fighting a villain I’ll call Molten Man Lite in Peter’s apartment and winds up making the floor cave in, causes a fire and lots of collateral damage. According the story nobody was hurt, but I read it at the time imagining poor Flash in his wheelchair unable to move as his building is destroyed.

Flash and the other residents of Peter’s apartment building (remember Big John the Kiwi Kid?) were not mentioned in the story. This came as no surprise since J. Michael Straczynski, the writer, used virtually none of Spider-Man’s supporting cast in his run.

So what happened to Flash? We don’t learn about his current status until “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 4.

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Frankly I’d be more concerned about his erratic job history, arrest record and the fact that he wrecked a section of the school in a drunk driving accident (engineered by Norman Osborn).

Brain damage making someone a kid abuser? Please correct me if I’m wrong but has that ever ever ever been a real concern?

The interview continues and ends with..

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Flash is (partial amnesia aside) completely recovered from the accident that had him in a coma when we last saw him. He had permanent brain damage (or so we were told). Is this a bit of a cheat? Yea…but it’s comics so  what are we gonna do? Far bigger stuff than Flash’s recovery has occurred off panel.

Sigh.

Flash does not remember any encounters with Peter Parker since high school.

This is very problematic. It’s convenient for Marvel if they want to regress Flash back to “Jerk Flash” (last seen in the Mackie run). However, Peter was a big part of Flash’s life and some emotional milestones within it. Without memories of Pete post-high school, does Flash have memories of these key moments in his life or the impact they had on him? Here are a few examples..

* Sha Shan was Flash’s first serious relationship. While it was his romance with Betty that ultimately killed the union, the relationship took a serious dive in it’s final months when Flash suspected Peter of having an affair with Sha Shan.

* Flash’s fight with alcohol was made much easier when Norman Osborn took him under his wing and hired him at the Daily Bugle. During those months at the Bugle, Peter was Flash’s coworker who he saw almost daily.

* Flash was living in Peter’s apartment building. Peter was “babysitting” Flash during his coma on an almost daily basis. Did nobody tell him when he woke up? How did he not notice?

These are just off the top of my head…I could spend a whole essay on taking this idea apart. Peter David, you are an awesome writer but this wasn’t one of your finer hours.

Peter runs into his new co-worker in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 6. Peter was unaware that Flash had come out of his coma. Did Peter stop checking on him or something after the events of “Skin Deep”. I imagine the events of “The Other” and it’s fallout left him pretty busy (as well as his membership to the Avengers), but that is also a hard pill to swallow.

Because nobody demanded it, Peter and Flash arguing like in the “old days”….

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Flash doesn’t remember Mary Jane either. That only raises more questions which the book can’t really answer.

Once again I question why Marvel wants this status quo for Peter and Flash..

It’s funny that Flash mentions “tell me you’re Spider-Man” because that is just what Peter does months later…to the whole world. Flash reacts with denial at first but then see’s Peter in action. I was going to post those scenes but the image count was getting too high and it’s not really “Betty/Flash”.

Debra Whitman, an ex-girlfriend of Peter’s who had been forgotten, writes a scathing book on Peter to cash in during the “Spider-Man Unmasked” hoopla. Betty Brant is given an active role in the Spider-Man books for the first time in years when she shows up to a book signing to give Debra a piece of her mind.

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 15.

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As I said before, Betty was absent from the books (save cameos) for a long time. I speculated based on her references to “seeing her mother” that she may have been having another mental breakdown. It almost seems like Peter’s unmasking “snapped her out of it”. It’s a pretty big coincidence that her last major role had her “going to her mother” (which was a sign in the 80’s of her insanity) and the next time we see her she speaks of her life finally making sense.

I love that montage of Betty’s life. It’s good to see Ned remembered in a modern comic and not replaced by Gwen (as he was in the recent “Deadly Foes of Spider-Man” one shot).

Flash hears about the book signing and heads over to give Debra a piece of his mind….

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.….which sets up for a reunion for the long lost lovers. Look at Betty’s face in the above panel.

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WOW! That’s passion….at least from Betty’s end. Flash just seems confused.

Speaking of confused I was puzzled as to why Debra had vague memories of Flash Thompson and Betty Brant when I first read this. Betty and Debra had one phone call during the Roger Stern run and (to my knowledge) never met Flash Thompson. I asked Peter David about this on ComicBoards at the time and he said he was just playing it safe.

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I reviewed these pages with our “Amazing Spider-Man” reviewer Donovan and he had the following to say about this scene…

“Last time I knew, you were in a coma.” Last time I knew. Last TIME I KNEW. Implying, intentional or otherwise, she had only heard he was in a coma and never visited or saw him.  Not last time I “saw you”. Not last time “we were together”. Knew=”heard”, in this instance, the two words are synonymous. “And you’re just-you’re whole?” This may be seen as a stretch, but it infers that she’s wondering if all of his organs function properly BECAUSE when he says he has memory issues, she IMMEDIATELY goes for their relationship. Not being accused as the Hobgoblin.  Not being attacked by the Green Goblin. Not beating his alcoholism. AND THEN! On the bottom panel, before the man even explains, EVEN RESPONDS she has a nasty look on her face, as though she’s reached her opinion on him. As though she can’t associate with him because he has memory loss, As though he could help it, as though he should be able to help it, as though he weren’t a victim, as though SHE were a victim. I hate this broad!

 

I couldn’t have said it better myself! As we discussed in “Part 7”, all of Flash’s friends crawled out of the woodwork when he got hurt. Liz Allan, his high school girlfriend, went above and beyond in helping Flash. Betty, his most recent girlfriend at that point, was nowhere to be seen.

By the way, Flash remembers his relationship with Betty but does not remember seeing Peter since high school or ever meeting Mary Jane. How does that work?

If you thought Donovan was exaggerating about Betty’s anger over Flash’s brain damage, check out the next panel…

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That’s Peter in disguise making the comment. It’s as if Peter is amused over Flash being put in the doghouse by Betty and the whole brain damage thing is being played for laughs. And yes, that is Stephen Colbert on the other side of Flash. He had speaking cameo this issue.

The Vulture shows up and Betty reveals that she still packs heat.

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The battle with Spider-Man and the Vulture continues into “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 16. Spider-Man almost falls to his death while Debra, Betty and Flash look on.

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Debra slapping Flash is kind of funny because it makes me remember that they dated (for some reason) in the 1990’s Spider-Man Animated Series.

The woman looking on with the stingers is Ms. Arrow. More on her later..

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Gosh darn! Betty is sure marking her territory! She won’t stop making risque references, reminding him of their history and is very quick to remind Flash to introduce her as his former girlfriend. Also recall how she jumped him with a kiss last issue and immediately wanted to know if his brain damage prevented him from remembering their relationship. What do we learn from this?

That Betty wants Flash….physically…very bad.

I’m not going to pretend to be clever for realizing this as a six year old reading the pages can conclude this.

What changed from the Betty who avoided Flash towards the end of their last relationship….aside from a better writer? Could it be that Betty heard what happened to Flash and it made her realize how she felt about him? Then seeing him healthy again was like a miracle? That’s what the narrative would have us believe in upcoming issues…but I still go back to Betty being the only one who didn’t visit him.

Still, it’s the only thing we have to go by since Betty was gone for a long time.

Flash makes an important phone call in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 17.

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This comes mere panels after Flash promises a (now fugitive) Peter Parker that he won’t turn him in. The readers are teased into thinking that Flash will betray his idol Spider-Man!

Instead we learn next issue he’s doing something far worse…asking Betty Brant out.

The date of doom happens in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 18.

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Flash remembers Betty being a huge part of his life but not seeing Peter since high school. SIGH.

Here we get Betty’s motivation for her renewed interest in Flash. As I said before, it doesn’t work for me but it will have to do.

Now it’s time for Betty to do what she’s been doing since the Ditko days…scope out the competition.

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I’m getting the impression here that Flash and Betty were very good at the physical aspect of their relationship. Betty hasn’t stopped her seduction dance since she met him at the bookstore.

And now a bunch of panels of Betty Brant on the toilet. That isn’t even the grossest thing about this scene…

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Peter David was very proud of this scene in the months preceding it’s publication. He wanted it to end on a “grossest moments” feature for a certain comic blog I don’t remember at the moment.

And geez Betty, don’t be such a jerk to Debra.

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Yup, Ms. Arrow was all those spiders. That actually makes the scene creepier. I really can’t blame Flash for not believing her. Betty has a history or thinking her dead mother was alive and thinking Ned was as well. Her track record on maintaining reality isn’t too good. 

The fallout from the date occurs in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 19.

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Once again, I don’t blame Flash. Betty has a history of delusions. This isn’t some exaggeration of Betty that I making for the purposes of bringing her down a peg. This is a canon!

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Can they really arrest Betty for not staying in the car? She wasn’t even the driver. I suppose it’s about time she got arrested…Flash has already been arrested twice in these articles. The balance of the universe demands Betty take a turn.

I love her she thinks her name and the newspaper she works at will somehow keep her from jail.

Betty seeks out Flash in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 20 but reunites with Peter (holographically disguised as Ben Reilly…the name another ex of Betty’s had) instead.

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Betty is not Flash’s girlfriend at this point. She isn’t in his good graces after their “date of doom” either. As a result, I don’t think Betty has the relationship with Flash where it is okay for her to enter his apartment without his permission…especially when his roommate says “no”. She hasn’t even been to his current place before.

You don’t enter the apartments of ex-boyfriends without permission. Unfortunately, this is a reoccurring problem with Betty.

Betty see’s through Peter’s disguise and he eventually gives in and the two have a great emotional moment.

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As much grief as I’ve given Betty I need to give her credit here. She is one of the only members of the supporting cast who supported Peter during the fallout of “Civil War”.

Liz Allan betrayed him and accused him of ruining her life.

Jonah sued him.

Deb Whitman accused him of ruining her life and wrote a book.

Parents of students picketed the school Peter was employed at.

Even people like Felicia who helped him had some selfish statements (“It was better when only we knew”) during this whole thing. Given Betty’s prior hatred of Spider-Man, I was pleasantly surprised to see her stick up for him during this period.

But back to to Flash/Betty’s predicament…

Flash goes on a bowling date with Kelly Kulick, an old friend of his and apparently a real life bowling celebrity.

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Note Flash calling Betty a  “crazy lady”. “Date of doom” incident aside, he has a point. Don’t forget “Ned is alive” and “Mom is alive”.

Meanwhile, Betty continues pouring her heart out to be Peter.

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It’s been hinted through the years that Betty still has feelings for Peter. Here is our confirmation. Interesting to see where her feelings for him stand in the modern era. 

Betty and Peter talk about Ms. Arrow’s recent appearances in Betty’s life and we learn that Kelly isn’t the only one Flash is giving an earful about Betty.

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See! I’m not the only one who calls Betty “crazy”!

Why didn’t Flash mention to Peter that it was Betty? Did he want to spare Peter’s feelings about Betty? Does his partial amnesia somehow make him think that Peter doesn’t know Betty?!?!

Long story very short, it turns out Ms. Arrow is actually a mystical spider creature who initially fought Peter (while she was in spider form) in “The Other” crossover. Peter rushes to save Flash but Ms. Arrow has already kidnapped him.

Over in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 21, Flash learns that Betty’s delusions may not have been so delusional.

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Okay Flash we’ll give you that, but did Ms. Arrow make Betty blow up your apartment? This never would have happened if he would have given Betty that cookie.

Turns out that Ms. Arrow was interfering in Betty’s relationship with Flash because she needed Flash as a mate…

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To be blunt, if Flash has “relations” with anyone, Ms. Arrow’s plan is ruined and Flash will become useless and lose his “tantric energy”. I find it funny that her villainous plot hinged on keeping Flash and Betty from hooking up and that it was difficult due to the way Betty threw herself at Flash every second since the bookstore encounter.

The storyline comes to a close in “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” issue 22.

Spider-Man has shown up to rescue Flash, but it’s not going too well. Believe it or not, it’s up to Betty Brant to save the day! This means they’re screwed right?

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OH SNAP! It’s THAT version of Betty! The one who has an armory! The situation is well in hand as long as she doesn’t hallucinate dead people!

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I normally don’t like Betty…but I’ll admit Peter David wins me over here! This changes nothing though….those other instances of “Betty Brant is a horrible person” still exist….but they don’t take away from how awesome this moment is!

The toilet line was pure gold!

Ms. Arrow survives Betty’s gunshot assault and flees with Spider-Man in pursuit.

Betty doesn’t want to be left out of the fight so she angrily follows...

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Come on Flash…this is not the first time Betty has abandoned a man she loves. Don’t worry Flash, she used to do this to Ned all the time (including their honeymoon).

Spider-Man is able to defeat Ms. Arrow without the help of Betty.

Peter, Flash and Betty get together to debrief and unwind at Flash’s apartment.

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That scene sets up a great Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontation which was inspired by our very own Zach “Spideydude” Joiner when he and the podcast crew interviewed Peter David around the time of “Civil War”.

Betty and Flash are sitting together nice and cozy. Flash feels guilty for what happened and plans to make it up to her physically. Good for them, they’ve only been trying since they ran into eachother at the bookstore. Judging by this scene, it appears the two of them are now back together. At least until their next off-panel breakup (it’s coming).

That is the last we see of the Betty and Flash coupling in this era. “One More Day” is around the corner and will be bringing some major changes with it. While Betty does show up in the next issue (with presumably less tantric energy), Flash does not and this issue is the last we see anything of their relationship.

I really liked Betty and Flash in this era. They were handled by a great writer. It was also interesting to see Flash and Betty fighting side by side with an unmasked Peter. While I thought the unmasking was a bad thing long-term, this dynamic between the three of them was really interesting. I loved them taking center stage, especially since the two of them have been shoved in the background far too often.

Next time:
Our retrospective comes to a conclusion! We’re going to cover everything that leads up to the current “Big Time” era. Everything you’ll need to catch you up to the “Venom” series. Tune in for..

*Flash starts drinking again, and nobody notices.

*Another off panel breakup!

*How Betty  could’ve been used in Michelle Gonzalez’s place.

*The return of Sha Shan!

All this and more! Leave a comment…I love them!

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