Title:Night of the Flag
Release Date: May, 1988
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Sal Buscema
Hero: Spider-Man, possibly Captain America
Villains: The Tarantula, Captain America, Gulliver South, Tombstone (in a sub-plot)

Twenty years after I first bought this comic (although not the copy I have now), I still remember the circumstances under which I bought it. I had been given permission by my mother to walk a whole dozen blocks into town with another two boys, and been given a small amount of money for the trip. When I reached our local Minit Mart, I found that the price of comics had recently gone up, and I could not afford a phone call to my mother, a game of the then-fashionable Double Dragon, and the latest issue of Spectacular Spider-Man. I think I ended up foregoing calling my mother. I remember that even at the time, this particular issue of Spider-Man, which was the second part of a story line, was well worth it. In retrospect, it was some serious reading, and it is odd to think that children could be reading these types of stories for the price of four games of Double Dragon.

The story centers around a friend of Spider-Man's wife, who has come to the United States seeking political refuge from a fictional Central American country. The right-wing government of that country has dispatched an agent named The Tarantula to help hunt her down. A right-wing intelligence agent in the US, with the obvious name of Gulliver South is helping the Tarantula round up dissidents, and to that end has assigned Captain America to assist him. (This was not the "real" Captain America, but a replacement Captain America that the government had selected to toe the line more, and caused quite a bit of controversy internally and externally at the time). Spider-Man had interfered in the last issue, so the Tarantula and Captain America set up to ambush Spider-Man in a deserted train yard. Spider-Man is first caught unaware, because Tarantula uses poison and he is ambushed by a Captain America he takes to be friendly. As could be expected, he pulls out a last-minute save and kicks Tarantula badly. Captain America walks away, and in the last pages of the comic, punches out Gulliver South, who turned out to be rogue, anyway. The woman who started the story is still deported, although it is said that her publicity will free her from reprisals.

Like I said, heady stuff for an eight year old! (And this doesn't even include the sub-plots.) The political message is pretty clear, especially when it is phrased by Captain America, doubting his mission:

They looked at the flag I wear, and their faces showed fear. To them, I am the enemy...I don't like the way that feels one bit.

This is a pretty powerful statement for a comic book back in the 1980s, and it might have been the first time this thought was introduced into impressionable young minds. I already was aware in a childish way of some of the problems in US Foreign Policy, but this is still one of the earliest memories I have of such opinions being in the culture around me, rather than coming from my parents. Of course, the story does sugar coat the message a little, since it turns out that it was a rogue agent and not the entire government, and Captain America had a chance to redeem himself and the flag; but it is still a pretty stark story. Recently, Noung messaged me and said that he would be afraid of what The Shock Doctrine could do to an impressionable 18 year old. But just imagine what a Spider-Man comic about political terror and the problems with blindly trusting your country could do to an impressionable eight year old!

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