Berryman vs Brand New Day: ASM #552-#554


Amazing Spider-Man #552-#554

Bob Gale & Phil Jimenez’s Freak Arc


Time once again to delve into the darkness that is Quesada’s Brandnewverse.  In this outting we’re taking a look at the Freak storyline that, when it was released, had many Spider-fans scratching their heads and asking “What the Hell was that?”  So where does it all go south?  Read on, True Believers, cause it’s about to get nasty up in here…

Summary:


Lily’s dad enters the mayor’s race.  The crackhead everyone lovingly calls ‘Freak’ steals the homeless shelter’s money box.  He escapes Spidey, stumbles across Dr. Connors’ lab.  Shoots up with animal DNA.  Becomes Freak.  Lots of violent stuff happens.


Specifics:


We finally come to it.  In my memories of reading fan reaction to this arc I recall a lot of complaints.  And with good reason.  This three-parter is over-the-top (to put it mildly) and about as subtle as Bigfoot kicking you in the junk.  It’s occasionally funny; the Bar With No Name sequence was actually pretty fun, with villains betting on who or what was in Freak’s cocoon.  When the Wrecker suggested it was “that X-Men chick” I actually did, as they say, laugh out loud.

However moments like that are few and far between in this grisly arc.  How grisly?  Well we’ve got a graphic inside-out transformation that would make Katsuhiro Otomo happy, a bullet to the head (complete with chunks and matter) followed by a dead, bloody hot dog vendor and later by a dead junkie laying in a pool of blood – while Freak hits the pipe hard and smokes meth above the body.

Now folks… don’t get me wrong.  I’m a fan of old horror books from the ‘old days’ like EC’s books, Marvel’s horror titles and Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.  A little gore doesn’t freak me out.  But in a book rated for “Ages 9 and Up?”  Seriously, are you kidding me?  If there was rated T+ (Suggested for Teens and Up) then we’d just be arguing about whether or not this kind of thing should be in a Spidey book.  Yet it’s not – Marvel’s got it labeled for “Ages 9 and Up.”  And that’s appalling.

If this was in a Punisher book with a MAX label on it I wouldn’t bat an eye.  Hell, worse things have gone down in Garth Ennis’s Punisher stories yet I liked some of those (the first mini-series, anyway).  But in a Spidey book?  That’s inexcusable.

Former Crawl Space Amazing Spider-Man reviewer, CrazyChris, made the following point about Freak’s powerset the other day:

“I like the Freak’s powerset, too. He can never be defeated by the same method twice. That makes him a perfect recurring antagonist for serialized fiction. As a character, he’s one dimensional, but that’s because only mediocre writers have used him.”

And CrazyChris is exactly right.  The ability to be defeated and adapt like the Borg would make a very interesting Spider-Man villain, if he weren’t so uninteresting to begin with.  See if Freak had been handled by great writers like Roger Stern or Tom DeFalco back in the day or even J. Michael Straczynski more recently they’d have made Freak interesting through, you know, good old fashioned character development.  We’d have seen more of Freak’s past, what turned him into a junkie, how bad is he haunted or plagued by his past or the things he does for a fix, maybe people he’s hurt along the way that he might have cared about at some point.  They’d have put a human spin on it and would’ve given us all a reason to give a damn.

Bob Gale gives us absolutely none of that.  Freak’s just some random hophead looking for a fix who can’t stop swearing.  There’s absolutely no reason to invest anything in him.  He’s given a unique power and yet he’s still no more interesting than a random thug Spidey might web up in an alley.  God Almighty, Michael Bay gives more character development than this!

Dexter Bennett’s probably the one character that suffers the most from the inconsistency of having multiple writers early on.  The writers struggle with how they want to portray him: bane of all existence, bumbler or Uncle Dex ‘the Money Store.’  Here he gives Peter another check for two grand, and actually that becomes a nice build-up for the paparazzi story that’s going to be coming along with the Paper Doll story arc.  Still, being seduced by money and struggling with the morality of easy money is something Peter Parker has already gone through and overcome.  He’s already grown through that.

I know Marvel’s excuse will be “Well other readers haven’t seen that” and frankly I don’t care.  If you’re not willing to fully reboot the character’s continuity (see Ultimate Spider-Man) then you’re working with numerous life experiences that have made the character who he is today.  A ‘soft reboot’ doesn’t lend itself to rehashing moral lessons that the hero learned twenty years ago.

And hey, don’t those two grand checks make Peter more relatable now?  I’d love to be able to take pictures of myself and get paid two grand.  But wait – doesn’t that go against the hard luck hero aspect of the character that we’re told was so preciously vital?  Oh Hell with it – “it’s just comics,” right?  Just check logical reasoning at the door.  Heh.

Vin Gonzalez is the angriest cop in the world and he hates Spidey.  We can tell because he’s real quick to pull a gun on him despite his fellow officer, Al, trying to calm him down.  So I thought Vin was the angriest cop in the world until I saw Officer Al shoot the mutated Freak through the head (the aforementioned headshot complete with chunks and matter) when Freak hadn’t even threatened anyone in the crowd.  At that point Freak was just trying to get away, and BOOM! Headshot.  So naturally I assumed Al was the angriest cop in the world.  But then when Freak resurfaces, both Vin and Al yell out “Shoot for the head!” and do exactly that.  No “Stop, Police!’  No “Freeze!”  At least before he got shot in the head the first time they threw out a “Stop or I’ll shoot.”  Here?  It’s just straight for the head.  It’s a sloppy, generalized representation of cops.  Now that’s not a big major gripe for me (though it is over-the-top) but merely something I noticed when reading.  The purpose of all this?  Establishing that Vin’s “Captain Anger” and he really hates Spider-Man.  And evidently proper procedure, too!

At one point in the second part of this arc Jonah’s in a hospital bed reading ‘the DB.’  There in the spread is “Blizzard on the Way?”  This of course is foreshadowing for Zeb Wells & Chris Bachalo’s Blizzard story arc (ASM #555 – #557) that we’ll review next time.  Yet there’s a problem.  In Wells’ arc Dexter Bennett talks about making the blizzard that, as he describes it, came out of nowhere all of a sudden.  Yet two issues before that his own newspaper reports on the blizzard he’s apparently clueless about.  Just pointing that out for fun.  It’s just a flub.  I doubt Gale wrote that into the story; that was probably editorial.  It did make me chuckle when I read Bennett commenting on the “out of nowhere” Blizzard during Wells’ story.

Knowing how the Lily Hollister stuff pans out waaay down the line I find myself wondering why they spend as much time as they do having Peter act like a horny teenager around her.  We’ve seen it a couple of times by now and we also see it again as late as ‘New Ways to Die.’  Seems like they decided to change course midstream on something or other and shuffled that to the back.  And for good reason.  It’s awkward and clunky.

We finally get a pass on running out of web fluid this arc.  Unfortunately it’s replaced by a webshooter jam.  It’s less irksome knowing that Marvel did finally correct that recurring bit (again, a problem of having four writers on one title) but I can see why people were getting so tired of it when these stories were *ahem* ‘brand new.’

Overall:


Good stuff?

It’s purposefully fun in at least one scene, which sets up some fun stuff coming down the line.  And I’ve always liked Phil Jimenez as an artist;  I especially liked his earlier stuff when he was at DC.  Again – the art’s seldom a problem for the books thus far in my reading.

Bad Stuff?

Damn near everything else.  A missed opportunity with what could’ve been an interesting villain, over-the-top shock use of gore in an “Ages 9 and Up” book that’s completely out of place for this title, ‘fake’ swearing all over the place and two cops whose laughably obvious “out of control” routine makes ‘The French Connection’ look like ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’


–George Berryman

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