NEW: The Thing: Freakshow

September 20, 2018
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The Thing: Freakshow

Year: 2002
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Scott Kolins
Rating: **

Geoff Johns wrote this four-part mini-series, while Scott Kolins was on pencils. Perhaps the most notable part of the line-up is inker Andy Lanning (joined by Doug Hazlewood on the third issue). The reason why Lanning is so notable is that he seems to consciously avoid all shade, leaving a very cartoonised look to events, as there’s no shadow or definition involved.

The basic plot involves Ben accidentally going back to a “freak show” circus he saw as a young boy, and becoming embroiled in a Kree-Skrull war. If it sounds hugely contrived, then there’s a serious pay off in that the whole thing was initiated by the power of a baby Watcher… though this doesn’t quite settle the fact that the only thing that caused Ben to leave New York in the first place was being brutally attacked by the Wrecker.

For a four-part story it could be the kind of thing (no pun intended) that gets wrapped up in a couple of issues, rather than dragged out and costing readers a cool $11.96. ($17 in 2018’s currency). Johns is a much lauded writer, so this is presumably him far from his best, as it’s a story full of traditional comic book dialogue in the worst term of that phrase, along with countless, over-laboured references to the Thing being a freak himself.

If there’s any kind of genuine irony involved in the story, it’s that Ben marks his first visit to the “freak show” stating “think I’m gonna be sick”… and two issues later, as an adult, does precisely that, throwing up a Kree egg. That the real line of wit in the book revolves around Ben vomiting – something that even forms a cover – shows the level the book is at.

However, what really sinks this story and gives it such a low rating is that the entire venture is based around the concept that Ben as a young boy would laugh at people with deformities and physically assault them. Marvel’s range is based upon heroes having conflicted personalities, giving them genuine grey areas, but this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Ben’s character. Though as an older Ben taunted Logan a couple of years earlier in the Before The Fantastic Four series, maybe the Ben Grimm of the 2000s was being retooled by newer writers as always being mean.

It makes a disappointingly run-of-the-mill story even harder to take, as it presents a decades-old hero as not just having a darker side, but being downright cruel, something Ben never was. Presumably a follow-up series would have featured a young Captain America drowning kittens while the Hulk robbed blind orphans, but it was never to be…

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