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Untangled Web: Freak-Out!

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Hey, webheads. You may have noticed the decreased presence of Untangled Web these last few weeks. That’s because we’ve decided that instead of running this column thrice-monthly we’re going to distill three articles into one monthly comprehensive examination of the current events in Peter Parker’s Brand New life.

This month saw no shortages of developments for our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. For one thing, writer Marc Guggenheim handed off scripting duties to the man behind Back to the Future, Bob Gale. Phil Jimenez, the artist who penciled DC’s mega-crossover Infinite Crisis, also stepped onboard to take over art duties from Salvador Larroca. A new villain was also introduced into Spidey’s life going by the name of Freak, and a classic villain also made his return to the rich supporting cast of Brand New Day: Dr. Curt Connors.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a brief look at the life and times of Dr. Curt Connors, otherwise known as the Lizard. Introduced all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #6, Dr. Curt Connors lost his arm during an explosion while serving as a medic in the Army. Years later he developed a formula based on reptilian DNA that could potentially regenerate his lost appendage. Unfortunately, the formula came with a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type side effect. It periodically transformed the kindly doctor into the monstrous Lizard.

Connors has always served as a curious member of Spidey’s rogues gallery due to the fact that while in his normal human state he often aids Spider-Man against other villains. It’s only after he’s involuntarily transformed that Spider-Man is forced to subdue him. Occasionally, beginning in Amazing Spider-Man #102, Connors was able to control the Lizard personality, but that was done away with during the 1980s crossover, Inferno.

In the most recent arc of Amazing Spider-Man, drug addict Freak accidentally transforms himself into a deranged monster after shooting up with various stem cells that Connors was using for an experiment. However, this would not be the first time that a member of the Marvel Universe used Connors’ scientific research in order to transform themselves.

Komodo, one of the major players in Dan Slott’s Avengers: The Initiative series, modified the original Lizard formula to give herself similar powers, the only difference being that she retains control of her personality at all times and can transform at will. With the recent battle between Komodo and Spider-Man in the pages of Avengers: The Initiative #3 (pictured left), and taking into account that series architect Dan Slott is also one of the key members in the Spider Braintrust, is it possible that the Lizard and Komodo will be making an appearance in future Amazing stories?

Only time will tell, but before the classic villains can truly make a return we need to cycle through each of the inaugural arcs from the four writers comprising the Spider Braintrust. In the past I’ve given favorable reviews to the storylines penned by Dan Slott and Marc Guggenheim. Unfortunately I can’t do the same for Bob Gale’s first foray into the world of Brand New Day.

Three months have now passed since Mary Jane, Mephisto and Joey Q collectively altered Spider-Man, seemingly forever. And now, looking back objectively, it’s clear that although most of what the Spider Braintrust is attempting to accomplish is overwhelmingly successful, there are still a few kinks to be worked out. I’m talking about Dexter Bennett. His one defining character trait is that he can’t keep people’s names straight. That’s it. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was a monthly book and Bennett only popped up every couple of issues, but unfortunately he makes an appearance practically every week, and guess what: he still doesn’t know Peter’s name! Hilarity ensues! This is easily the worst of Amazing’s subplots and DB definitely nabs my vote for worst new character of 2008.

Another problem, shockingly, is the webshooters. I was against the changes brought about by The Other more than anyone and rabidly looked forward to whatever retcon would be necessary to remove that black mark on the webslinger’s history. But in Brand New Day it seems as though Peter’s shooters jam just about every issue. We get it. The Other doesn’t count anymore. Please stop relying on this gimmick to artificially generate tension.

But the biggest misstep since the start of Brand New Day is easily the handling of the new villains. Mr. Negative fared the best but none of the three introduced so far have been given enough time to develop as characters. We still have no idea what Negative’s motivation is but at least he’s not a completely shallow Goblin clone like Menace. Sadly, Bob Gale’s addition, the appropriately named Freak, is the worst of the lot. After his aforementioned origin, Freak spends three issues hunting Spider-Man and crystal meth. Yes, here’s the scene we’ve all been waiting for since Mephisto uttered, "No More Marriage," a horrible monster smoking up with a pipe in a burning building. Ugh. And his super-power is equally as lame. Every time Freak is killed, a chrysalis forms around his body and he emerges stronger and invulnerable to whatever took him out the previous time. I think Spidercide was more original than this. In fact, during the scenes that occurred in the Bar With No Name, I found myself wistfully staring at villain Shriek in the background. You know your current arc’s villain is pathetic when you’re longing for the return of a D-list Maximum Carnage baddie.

Unfortunately, even if Gale was working with a villain of higher quality than a meth addict with scales and whiskers, I don’t think the end result would be much better. His sense of dialogue is so antiquated that it’d feel right in line with the campy Spider-Man tales of the 70s. Slott and Guggenheim were able to pull this off by employing a heavy dose of sarcasm and irony. Gale plays his characters straight and Spider-Man actually utters such ridiculous lines as "A-ha! I just got a bit of this thicker webbing stuck in the firing chamber" or "Whoa! The whole floor’s collaping! All three bodies will be buried!" And yes, it read "collaping." There’s really not many ways to defend a book that uses nonexistent words.

I do have to admit that I’m really excited for Zeb Wells’ upcoming run on the book due to the fact that it’s supposed to clear up some loose ends involving Peter’s involvement with the New Avengers and that it will feature a classic Spider-Man/Wolverine team up. However, I’m not at all pleased about the quality of Amazing Spider-Man this past month and seeing as how the overall soap opera narrative didn’t progress that much, I am considering skipping Gale’s arcs on the book in the future.

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