In early 1972, despite the fact that I’d been reading Amazing Spider-Man for four years (albeit with a single ten-month hiatus between March, 1970, and February, 1971), one of his longest-established supporting characters — Eugene “Flash” Thompson — was, if not exactly an unknown quantity to me, still less than a truly familiar face. My first issue of Spidey’s title, #59, had been released one full year following #47, the issue in which storytellers Stan Lee and John Romita had shipped Flash off to military service in the Vietnam War. Sure, I had read enough reprints of the early, high-school-set material by Lee and Steve Ditko to have a good grasp of the character’s original bullying-Peter-Parker-while-idolizing-Spider-Man shtick. But my “real time” encounters with Flash had been limited to a few scenes that appeared in a run of late-’69 to early-’70 issues, where the young soldier had made a return visit stateside just long enough to incur Peter’s jealousy over Gwen Stacy, due to a misunderstanding that thankfully got cleared up (more or less) before Flash headed back to Southeast Asia.
So I’m not sure what I expected when Lee and his artistic collaborators (Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia, in this case) brought Flash back into the fold of Amazing Spider-Man‘s regular supporting cast — apparently for good, this time — in issue #105. But I’m pretty sure I was surprised to see him, just a few months later, become the focus of a two-part tale which would turn out to be not only Stan Lee’s last original complete storyline for the title he and Steve Ditko had launched in 1962, but also the single all-time favorite Spidey continuity of John Romita, the artist who co-plotted as well as drew both issues. All this, with the still-current Vietnam War providing the story’s dramatic (if also somewhat problematic) backdrop… and, oh, right, Doctor Strange shows up, too.
Actually, come to think of it, I doubt that anyone was expecting all that in early 1972, even if they’d read every single appearance of Flash Thompson all the way back to Amazing Fantasy #15. Still, you get the idea.
We’ll be digging into those two issues — AS-M #108 and #109, to be precise — momentarily. But first, we’ll need to lead into it with a quick recap of relevant events in #106 and #107; and before we even do that, it’s probably a good idea to review just where we are with Amazing Spider-Man at this particular point in time, half a century ago.
As regular readers of this blog will likely recall, in the summer of 1971 Stan Lee had taken a four month sabbatical from the Marvel titles he was then writing, AS-M included — though only after sticking Spidey with four extra arms at the conclusion of the milestone 100th issue. Lee had left it up to his second-in-command and heir apparent, Roy Thomas, as well as to continuing artist Gil Kane, to get the web-slinger out of that one — which they had, though only after introducing Marvel Comics’ first villain to carry the label of that other “V”-word (i.e., vampire). Thomas and Kane had followed that two-parter with another one that was even more off the wall, as Spider-Man headed south to the Savage Land for a team-up with Ka-Zar that riffed on King Kong as well as other giant monster tales.
But with issue #105, Lee was back; and, joined by his artistic collaborators (Gil Kane on #105, followed by a returning John Romita on #106 and #107, with Frank Giacoia on inks for the lot), he launched into a three-parter pitting Spidey against longtime foe Professor Spencer Smythe, inventor of the line of “Spider-Slayer” robots who’d bedeviled our hero off and on ever since issue #25 (Jun., 1965). Following Thomas and Kane’s envelope-pushing tales, this was about as definitive a swing back to “traditional” Spider-Man adventure as one could imagine.*
That said, Lee and Romita did have something in the works which, though not nearly as outré as the wall-crawler’s clashes with Morbius and Gog, was nevertheless something the readers of Amazing Spider-Man hadn’t seen before. And they started laying the groundwork in #106 and #107, in scenes that fell in-between Spidey’s battles against Smythe’s latest Spider-Slayer model.
Issue #106 sees Peter Parker happily heading out on a date with his very serious girlfriend Gwen Stacy, only to be taken aback when Gwen announces she wants to stop by Flash Thompson’s apartment to check on him: “He hasn’t looked well since he returned from Viet Nam.” “Flash?” gulps Pete. “But — but this is supposed to be our date, honey!”
“Oh, we’ve a whole lifetime ahead of us, Pete!” Those poor kids… if they only knew…
“I used to think I just loved you for your looks“. Gee, that’s kinda shallow, Pete. (Although maybe I should be addressing Stan…)
Anyway, that’s as far as we get with the Flash subplot in issue #106. Moving on into #107, we find that Peter is a little too busy as Spider-Man, dealing with Smythe and his Spider-Slayer, to give any thought to his old frenemy’s problems (at least up until the last page). Not so Ms. Gwen Stacy, however, who’s approached by Flash as she’s strolling alone across the Empire State University campus..
“You’re more to me — than just a friend.” Hmm, I guess Peter’s not completely imagining things, at least as far as Flash’s interest in Gwen is concerned — though, obviously, the lady doesn’t reciprocate Mr. Thompson’s feelings.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man finally defeats Prof. Smythe and the Spider-Slayer, just in time for that last page I mentioned…
And just like that, our subplot advances to main plot status, as we head straight into Amazing Spider-Man #108. With this issue, John Romita returned to both pencilling and inking Amazing Spider-Man for the first time since #93 (Feb., 1971) — which had, in its turn, represented the first time he’d done both jobs since #48 (May, 1967). Since your humble blogger hadn’t started reading AS-M until #59 — and since #93 had come out during my ten-month sojourn away from the title — that meant that this was actually the first Spider-Man story fully illustrated by Romita that your humble blogger had ever seen — well, outside of a back issue or two, anyway.
Even longtime fans more familiar than I was with Romita’s full art from early in his initial AS-M run might have discerned something different about his work in issues #108 and #109, however. That’s because, according to the artist himself, he was specifically inspired by the settings and plot elements of this storyline to evoke the style of one of his most profound influences, the newspaper strip cartoonist Milton Caniff — creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon — in a way he never had before.
As Romita wrote in his 2009 afterword to Marvel Masterworks – The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 11: “I was channeling Caniff — big, bold brush strokes, great foreign intrigue, shadowy scenes. It all fell into place.” And indeed, these are two good-looking comic books; it’s not at all hard to understand why they’re the artist’s two favorites out of all the Spider-Man comics he ever drew. Still, while one hates to begrudge Romita the obvious joy he felt in paying tribute to one of his artistic heroes, it’s clear in retrospect that Terry and the Pirates — in Romita’s own words, “an adventure strip about a young American kid in China during the 1930s when pirates and warlords plagued the Orient” — was perhaps not the best place to start if one really wanted to offer an authentic portrayal of Vietnam in the early 1970s.
Note the use of the so-called “chop suey” font for “Vietnam” in the story’s title lettering — an attempt to visually evoke an “Asian” vibe that’s typical of the era, but which really has nothing to do with Vietnam.
Actually, before we go further, we should probably take a moment to provide some larger historical context for what we’re about to read, in regards to America’s war in Vietnam, circa early 1972.
Back in 1968, responding to the war’s growing unpopularity at home, Richard Nixon had successfully campaigned for President on a promise to bring “an honorable end to the war in Vietnam”. Once in office, the Nixon administration pursued a policy of “Vietnamization” which. focused on training and equipping the military forces of South Vietnam to take over the war effort, while simultaneously reducing the number of its own troops “in country”. This policy was successfully carried through, at least in regards to the drawdown of American personnel; from a height of 543,482 in April, 1969, the number of U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam had been reduced to 156,800 by the end of 1971. In other words, the returning Flash Thompson had a lot of real life counterparts.
But it was still very much a hot war, as not only American troops continued to die (2,414 in 1971 alone), but also thousands of Vietnamese soldiers (on both sides), and many civilians, as well — in the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia as well as in Vietnam. In December, the New York Times reported that, according to an investigation conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office, American and South Vietnamese bombing was contributing substantially to a growing refugee problem in Cambodia, where over two million civilians had been driven from their homes since the war spread to their country in 1970 — as well as to civilian casualties.
And despite American offensive ground operations coming to an end in November, the U.S. continued the war in the air, culminating in an intensive five-day bombing campaign against North Vietnam at the end of December.
This would have been the real-world background that informed Stan Lee and John Romita’s storytelling, even if the driving idea behind their plot was Romita’s conception of Flash Thompson as (in his words): “A young American in the Orient, tangled in a war with characters good and bad” — a contemporary take on Caniff’s Terry, in other words. And, of course, it would also have informed the reading of at least a portion of these comic books’ original audience, in February and March of 1972.
Until he can figure out who’s who, Spidey decides that he’d better try to keep everyone on the scene away from Flash — though he wisely decides to give his initial attention to the gas-masked guys with the guns. That works well for a page or two, but then our hero is struck hard from behind…
Spider-Man’s use of the term “Orientals” is likely to make contemporary readers wince. His “refugees from Fu Manchu” remark, however, which along with invoking the “Yellow Peril” trope assumes that Chinese is the default nationality for Asian people, is arguably even worse (though, as we’ll see momentarily, he’s about to get called out on that assumption).
While the gas is still clearing, Spidey picks up Flash and swings off with him; the MPs who had the young veteran in custody don’t shoot for fear of hitting him rather than his presumed abductor. And so, moments later…
Flash’s use here (and in later dialogue) of the term “natives” reflects what was likely an unconscious (though still unfortunate) condescension on Stan Lee’s part towards the people of Vietnam; I mean, I’m pretty certain that you’d never have seen that word used in any of the writer’s scripts for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos to refer to European civilians during World War II.
“It is written — to save one life is to save the world.” Indeed it is, although the text in which this sentiment first found written expression appears to have been the Jewish Talmud. — not a work you’d normally expect to find in a Vietnamese temple, no matter how ancient or mysterious. But then again, we’re never told just what religion the hidden temple is a temple of, so who knows? (The most logical assumption would be would be that the temple’s denizens are Buddhist — but Lee’s script is so non-specific in regards to their beliefs and practices that there’s really no way to say for sure.)
On their way to return Flash to the military’s protective custody, the young vet confesses to Spider-Man that because he can’t remember what happened when he blacked out, he can’t be completely certain that he wasn’t responsible for the deaths of the people at the temple, “in some way”. “That’s a heckuva doubt to have to live with!” Spidey responds sympathetically.
After dropping Flash off at the Federal Building, our hero changes back into Peter Parker and returns to his apartment — where Gwen soon shows up, asking Pete to join her in going to said building so they can try to find out what’s happening with their friend. (How’d Gwen, who last saw Flash being driven away in a car, find out where he was? Your guess is as good as mine, as the story doesn’t say.)
Certain that the “giant chauffeur” and his associates must be there to make another attempt at kidnapping Flash, Peter tells Gwen he needs to duck out a moment to call J. Jonah Jameson about some photos for the Daily Bugle. But instead, he ducks out a window, and then (after removing his shoes to facilitate his wall-crawling) creeps over to another window to toss a Spidey-Tracer™ onto the chauffeur’s jacket. Before he can retrace his steps, however, there’s an explosion, which knocks out the building’s lights. Peter realizes that there’s no time to change into Spider-Man, and so…
John Romita designed the chauffeur specifically as a callback to one of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates characters, Big Stoop — a mute strongman described in Wikipedia as a “9-foot-tall (2.7 m) Mongol”, who assists the strip’s white American heroes in their Chinese adventures.
Peter manages to evade the blows of the chauffeur (who refers to himself as “the giant one”, incidentally) and even gets in one good lick — but then the giant one grabs him by the ankle, and…
When Gwen and the military personnel arrive on the scene, Pete explains that he was knocked for a loop by the explosion, the force of which blew off his shoes (riiiight). But he’s OK now, he says — and then he asks Gwen to wait for him, as he’s got unspecified “things to do!” “No, Peter,” she implores. “No!”
That’s quite the bind our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has gotten himself into, isn’t it? Let’s proceed directly on into issue #109 to see how he inevitably gets himself out of it…
Peter excuses himself to go to the men’s room to wash up, and while he’s in there, he gets an idea…
You’re right about that, Stan — though I’ll be darned if I can recall the precise circumstances of the last time he did.
Anyway, as soon as he’s out of sight of the Fed Building, Spidey stashes his Peter web-dummy on a rooftop, and then the search is on:
Despite not being able to see the person talking to him, Spider-Man nevertheless finds himself unerringly guided by his spider-sense into the heart of Greenwich Village, where…
Wow, Stan was really casual about his footnote references for this issue, wasn’t he? No time to look up those back issue numbers, apparently.
But just so you know, Spidey and Doc Strange had met at least a couple of times before at this point in Marvel Universe history. The most recent, as far as I’m aware, had been at the wedding of Yellowjacket and the Wasp in Avengers #60, back in late 1968 (and that’s assuming that they actually spoke to each other on that occasion — all we know for sure is that they were both there). But the biggie by far, had been their epic team-up in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (1965), as chronicled by Lee and Steve Ditko. (Your humble blogger was a Marvelite of too recent standing to have read that tale in its original presentation, but I’d caught it when it was reprinted as a last-minute fill-in in Doctor Strange #179 [Apr., 1969], with a new Barry Windsor-Smith cover, to boot.)
Returning to our present tale… Doc informs Spidey that he knows where Flash is being held, and then bids him observe what the Eye of Agamotto will reveal…
“Their priest now sleeps the endless sleep,” Dr. Strange explains, “and they truly believe only the death of your friend can mystically give him life renewed! Thus we must hasten — for the holy hour draws near!” Sure thing, says Spider-Man, just say where to find ’em. Strange replies that he’ll do even better than that:
“Maybe — someone has to die — to make up — for all we’ve done to them!”
As restrained as Flash’s statement is, I think it’s probably the closest thing to an expression of disapproval towards America’s role in the Vietnam War that had been made in any Marvel comic to date — whether in-story, or in such supplementary content as Lee’s monthly “Stan’s Soapbox” column. Prior to this, growing public opposition to the war had been reflected in Marvel’s comics mostly by the drastic ramping down of the staunchly anti-Communist rhetoric that had informed such early-’60s stories as Iron Man’s Vietnam-based origin in Tales of Suspense #39 (Mar., 1963), to be replaced by general sentiments along the line of “war bad, peace good”, without ever specifically criticizing the morality of this particular war. So while I won’t attempt to claim that anyone would ever mistake “Vengeance from Vietnam!”/”Enter: Dr. Strange!” for Archie Goodwin and Joe Orlando’s “Landscape!” (Blazing Combat #2 [Jan., 1966]), or Neal Adams’ “A View from Without” (Phase #1 ), the subtle rebuke of U.S. policy Stan Lee offers here still goes a good way towards balancing out the unfortunate Orientalism which otherwise suffuses this story — or, at least, it does for me.
Lee and Romita now switch scenes, albeit briefly, to Peter’s apartment, where Gwen shows up, understandably worried about what she thinks has happened to her guy. Pete’s roommate Harry Osborn tries to get her to keep it down, so as not to alarm our hero’s frail Aunt May, who’s visiting. But it’s already too late — May has overheard, and anxiously asks Gwen, “What happened to my poor, dear boy?” To which Gwen, in an uncharacteristic show of anger, retorts, “He’s not a boy! He’s not! He’s a man!”
This is probably a conversation that these two women needed to have, although the timing of Gwen’s outburst seems less than ideal. But, hey, real life is messy like that too, sometimes.
Meanwhile, Flash’s fated hour has come at last:
Using his webbing as well a judicious application of leverage, Spidey manages to throw “the Giant One” into a couple of his fellow compatriots, taking them all out of the fight, at least temporarily. But there’re more where they came from…
“…I’m in the clear now, Spidey! …Wait’ll I tell groovy Gwendy about all this!” Having been cleared of any guilt for the specific act of the temple’s bombing — in his own mind as well as in the eyes of the world — Flash is apparently ready to ditch that more generalized sense of guilt over the war in Vietnam that he was expressing back on page 11, and get back to the simpler business of being a thorn in Peter Parker’s side.
Or is he? In the years (and even decades) to come, Marvel’s artists and writers would take Eugene Thompson through a number of difficult personal situations — depression, alcoholism, and relationship problems among them** — which demonstrated that he was in fact still haunted by his experiences in Vietnam. These stories may have been crafted by other creators than those that got Flash into (and out of) America’s Southeast Asian war in the first place — i.e., Stan Lee and John Romita — but Flash’s long character arc nevertheless has its roots here, in a story which presents a view of a Vietnam veteran that (to the best of my knowledge) hadn’t yet been seen in American superhero comics. From the uncomplicatedly heroic Eddie Brent in Justice League of America #50 (Dec., 1966), to the physically wounded warriors Willie Lincoln (Daredevil #47 [Dec., 1968]) and Willie Walker (New Gods #3 [Jun.-Jul., 1971]), to the outwardly unscathed but inwardly troubled Flash Thompson of this storyline, the genre had taken a not insignificant journey — though it undoubtedly still had some ways to go.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, Amazing Spider-Man #108 and #109 represent the last original complete storyline scripted by Stan Lee for Marvel’s number one title. As such, I consider it his swan song on the series, even though — as my careful qualifiers should have already indicated — it wasn’t at all his last credit on the book.
In the next issue, #110, Lee and Romita introduced “the grinning Gibbon”, just as the “Next” blurb at the end of #109 had promised. As explained by Roy Thomas in his intro to Marvel Masterworks – The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 11, this rather underwhelming character had his genesis on an occasion when Lee was “walking through a small zoo with some fans on a speaking appearance. He joked about how he could make up a villain from just about any concept—and someone dared him to make a menace out of a lanky gibbon frolicking in a nearby cage. So he did.” That makes for a nice anecdote, I suppose, but not much more than that, at least as far as your humble blogger is concerned.
Lee didn’t hang around to conclude the storyline that brought us the Gibbon — that duty fell to Gerry Conway, who took over the gig of scripting Amazing Spider-Man with issue #111 and remained on the book for the next three years. Even so, we hadn’t seen the last writing credit for Stan Lee in AS-M, as issues #116-118 presented a three-part storyline that was credited to both Lee and Conway. The deal here, however, was that Lee’s contribution was essentially a reprint — the story was a revision and expansion by Conway and Romita of a tale originally presented in the black-an-white comics magazine Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (Jul., 1968), and thus didn’t feature new any writing from Lee, at all. (At the time these issues first came out, my continuity-conscious self was highly irritated at this repurposing of old material, because even though the monthly color Amazing Spider-Man title had never referenced the events in SS-M #1, another comic published around the same time in 1968, Daredevil #42, had. That seemed sloppy, if nothing else.)
So, I’d just as soon consider #108 and #109 to represent Stan Lee’s farewell to Amazing Spider-Man, if nobody minds (and, hey, probably even if they do). For all the flaws in the story presented in these issues, it was at least something new from Lee, both narratively and thematically — which was more than you could say about many of his other latter-day scripts for Marvel, in the period just prior to his ascension to the role of Publisher, and his simultaneous permanent withdrawal from regular comic-book writing.
We’ll close by noting that while AS-M #109 might well have also been Lee’s farewell to the other major Marvel character on which he’d collaborated with Steve Ditko — Doctor Strange — that, rather surprisingly, turned out not to be the case. But for more about Stan Lee’s last dance with the Master of the Mystic Arts, you’ll have to check back with us in about six weeks.
UPDATE 3/16/22, 12:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Flash Thompson volunteered for military service in Vietnam, rather than being drafted. Thanks to Blake Stone for the correction.
*According to Roy Thomas’ 2009 introduction to Marvel Masterworks – The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 11:, he himself actually produced the plot for #105, the first issue of the Spider-Slayer trilogy (despite not being officially credited for such), in collaboration with Gil Kane — although, as he notes, the basic idea to bring back Smythe and his invention was probably Lee’s.
**Flash’s later “relationship problems” involve, among a number of other women, Sha Shan, who, some time after the events of AS-M #108 and #109, emigrates to the United States. After an extended period of being portrayed as a put-upon girlfriend, Sha Shan (eventually granted a proper Vietnamese surname, Nguyen) would, thankfully, be allowed to evolve, ultimately transcending the “lotus blossom” stereotype she was originally conceived as. Her independence and competence would be demonstrated when, following Flash’s loss of his legs during his second tour of duty overseas (long story), she re-entered his life in the critical role of his physical therapist, helping him to learn to walk again on his new prosthetic limbs.
If Stan was good at anything (and for the record, he seems to have been good at many things), it was in writing “relevant” stories within the framework of the super-hero narrative. The stories he wrote about the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Drugs and now the War in Vietnam, were all excellent tales that informed a great deal of my early ideas about a wide variety of political and social issues. And since my folks weren’t talking to me about this stuff, assuming that at fourteen, I was too young to understand the global-economic underpinnings of such a big issue, even though I was only four years away from being considered old enough to go fight to defend it, Stan and other comics writers were pretty much my first teachers on most, if not all, of these topics. And my folks thought comics were worthless…hmph.
Anyway, if this was going to be Stan’s last Spidey story, it’s not a bad way to go out. Flash’s struggles with the war and the guilt and PTSD it riddled him with were the things that finally made the character grow and become more than the two-dimensional bully he’d been in his earlier incarnation. It’s a shame that Stan’s keen understanding of what Flash was going through as a man and of the futility of the war didn’t spill over into his understanding of the Vietnamese people and his unfortunate use of several Asian stereotypes, but hey…baby steps, amirite?
Still, despite the stereotypical nature of the story overall, there are some nice touches here. Flash’s trouble in assimilating to his return home and his hostility to those who were only trying to help him was and is typical of that particular kind of PTSD (even though I don’t think it was called that yet in 1972) and even Flash’s military commanders weren’t complete tools since they clearly wouldn’t have attacked a temple if they’d had anything other than Flash’s word that it was there, plus they provided protection for him against the vengeful priests. Why they let Flash return to NYC without any additional protection is a conversation we could have, but it got Flash were he needed to be for the story to kick in and that’s what counts. Doctor Strange doesn’t really seem all that necessary here; I mean, it was nice of him to help out and all, but except for the end when he brought the High Priest out of his trance, he didn’t really do that much and, come on…are you going to tell me that the old Priest didn’t have some way to bring himself back? And why didn’t his acolytes realize what he’d done and not try to murder some poor guy to bring him back? This is where the plotting of this story really goes off the rails, but fortunately, it doesn’t take long to resolve.
The Lee/Romita run on Spider-man was probably more significant to me than any other. I appreciate Ditko’s contributions in creating the character, but I didn’t read those stories when they were new, only later in re-prints, so the Lee/Romita books were the ones I looked forward to reading.Thanks, Alan, for reminding me of that and for this look back at, not only a great fifty-year-old comic, but a truly tragic time in world history.
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I think this was around the time that Marvel was trying to re-establish Dr Strange as a viable character who could support his own comic. His appearances in Marvel Premiere were probably already scheduled so this was probably a way of re-introducing him to a new and wider audience with the hope that they would be interested enough to seek him out elsewhere. Thankfully it succeeded and we had the Frank Brunner and Gene Colan depictions to look forward to.
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One curious aspect for me regarding the use of east Asian characters in Marvel stories in the ’60s and ’70s was the coloring of their skin, which far too often was a pale yellow that didn’t at all resemble that of anyone who ever lived aside from people who were very ill with jaundice or some such thing. The skin tones used in this story for the Vietnamese characters wasn’t noticeably different than that used for the Caucasion cast, which I think was reasonable as many people of east Asian heritage, particularly Japanese, have skin tones that aren’t that much different from people of European heritage, although there are also various shades of tan to dark brown and most Vietnamese people I’ve known are of bit darker tone but not by much. About the color of caramel, brownish-orange but certainly not yellow. In a Yellow Claw story in Captain America & the Falcon a few years later, the Chinese characters all were colored with that ridiculous yellow tone. It also showed up in Master of Kung Fu, mainly for Fu Manchu himself and a few other east Asian baddies, but not for Shang Chi or Leiku Wu, and most other Chinese characters, who were mostly colored a sort of orangish-tan or light brown.
BTW, I’ve had two Filipina sisters-in-law (women my brother Terry met in high school — his first girlfriend was a Filipina he met when he was 13 and they were together about 5 years — she left him the day they graduated from high school in 1981; about two years later he got married to yet another Filipina classmate whom he had gotten pregnant — they were married about 13 years until she left him; in the meantime, he’d remained friends with his old girlfriend’s family — her brother was one of his best friends, and he kept in touch with her younger sister, who just happened to be going through a divorce at the same time that he was, and within another couple of years they got married and they’ve now been together over 20 years). I’ve also had three Filipina stepmothers and my dad’s youngest brother also married a Filipina he met in Los Angeles, and after they retired about 12 years ago, they moved to the Philippines. My brother, dad & uncle all obviously have a thing for Filipinas! Oh, and one of my close friends, Michael, here in Jacksonville had a brief fling with a woman named Ming Ming who is ethnically Vietnamese but culturally Chinese, to the extent that she looks down on Vietnamese people as “inferior” despite both of her parent being Vietnamese (she was born and raised in China). That romance didn’t work out, but Mike’s now been married for several years to a woman from Thailand.
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I enjoyed Spidey in this era, except for the “baby blue” of his costume, and was glad to see a return to a deeper, darker blue a year or so later. Though you only briefly touched upon #111 I thought it was a classic in both story and art.
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I don’t find this story arc problematic at all (well, except for the coloring of the Asian characters which I did not think about in 1972). Actually, the U. S. military comes off much worse for attacking the area in the first place “to prevent enemy infiltration”. I obviously didn’t think about it in 1972 but acknowledging this we have to destroy the village to save it policy must have been very controversial at the time while the war was still going on and the American part in it would still go on for almost a year. This story also came out about a year after the Lt. Calley court martial for the My Lai massacre. Stan and John have the U.S. Army squarely at fault for attacking the temple and while the Vietnamese attempts at retribution against Flash are extreme and based on inaccurate information, the idea of using Flash to bring the priest back to life and not trusting an American soldier considering what the American soldiers were doing to Vietnamese villages every day is not a stretch. (Also, as you noted Alan, Flash’s comments about the war, at least while he is a prisoner, are also very daring for a comic book in this era).
With regards to Sha Shan, yes, she acts as an obedient woman dedicated to her love but calling her a “lotus blossom stereotype” is ignoring the bigger picture. Practically ALL Marvel women at this time would fit the “lotus blossom” stereotype to some extent including Sue Richards. Also, women of that era (and even today in less enlightened areas of our country and the rest of the world) were raised and expected to be submissive.
I don’t see the “Chop Suey” lettering on the title of issue 108 to be particularly problematic either, or even the use of “native” (which can also be used in the context of “native New Yorker”). It certainly does not rise to the level of the horrible “Frito Bandito” commercials that we kids were bombarded with in 1972 (to say nothing of the truly horrible stereotypes of South American and Latin American countries that Marvel stories often used during this era). If anything, Marvel’s stereotyping of Asians grew much worse during the 1980s when, if you were Japanese, you were either a Ninja or a Yakuza and always followed ancient rituals and codes.
I also don’t have a problem with Gwen’s outburst to Aunt May. Gwen is obviously distraught about what she thinks is Peter’s kidnapping by Spider-Man and undoubtedly her thinking that Spider-Man was involved in her father’s death. She’s just being human and venting her stress.
My main problem with the story is the use of Dr. Strange. I understand, as one of the commenters stated, that Marvel was trying to keep Doc in the public mind to set the stage for a new series, but it’s kind of like using an elephant gun to kill a gnat. Doc could easily have done the job himself and he acts as if this is one of the Defenders’ level save the Earth jobs. I also find it somewhat unfortunate that John Romita Senior decided to use this story with its serious theme to channel his Milton Caniff fandom, although it could have turned out worse (and would have probably if it had been a story without the gravity of American actions in the Vietnam War).
One thing that you and I share Alan is that our first issue of Amazing Spider Man was #59 and it is significant for both of us that this last major Spider Man story arc written by Stan Lee would finish exactly fifty issues later (and have the same penciller and letterer, I guess “Mickey Demeo” wasn’t available to embellish this one). I lost issue #59 in the Agnes flood of June 1972, but I bought an original at a comic convention and got Stan Lee to sign it in 2018, as well as had a photo taken with him with me displaying the comic. I wish that I knew how to post that photo here, but my technological expertise hasn’t changed much in 50 years. 🙂
While I appreciate Stan Lee’s efforts in this storyline, I am savagely critical of his concurrent Galactus storyline in Fantastic Four, but I’ll save that for in case you bring that storyline up later.
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““I used to think I just loved you for your looks“ That’s the kind of thing I say tongue in cheek to my wife often enough, and I’m not unique. I take Peter’s comment in the same vein.
I don’t have an art eye so it would never have occurred to me this was Romita doing Milt Caniff if it hadn’t been spelled out here.
I don’t have a problem with Dr. Strange showing up as the high priest invited him. But yeah, it’s odd the rest of the temple has no clue.
Any flaws in the portrayal of Vietnam pale compared to TOS 61 (https://atomicjunkshop.com/i-became-head-of-the-pentagon-because-of-my-fame-as-a-luchador-no-seriously/).
One thing that bugs me is that Stan established not that long before that Peter and Spidey have a business relationship — Spider-Man tips off Peter which is how he gets the cool photos. Then they forgot about it. It would have been logical to mention when Spidey carries Peter off, for instance.
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