"New Ways to Die" (part 5)
Inside one of Oscorp’s Manhattan facilities Norman Osborn stands beside the dissected and yet living body of Freak. He injects the essence of the Anti-Venom into the subject’s blood stream, and immediately Freak’s physiology produces a chemical combatant so deadly it could kill everyone in New York City. “Sir! As barbaric as this is,” protests an Oscorp technician, “I thought we were doing good here. Finding new hopes, new cures.” “Don’t be so naďve, Maleck,” Osborn sneers. “This is how the world works. For every life you save…there’s a million new ways to die.”
That line alone would have sold me this issue. Yet, Slott and Romita give the reader ample reward for following this far into “New Ways to Die.” Slott again plays with our expectations and answers relevant question about the sweatshop workers and the Anti-Venom. He also manages to incorporate “Brand New Day” characters Freak and Lily Hollister into the mix to successfully elicit both pity and love respectively.
Freak’s disappearance in issue #558 is explained when he appears being tested on by Oscorp. The former drug abuser’s body can miraculous produce a counter-measure to any foreign agent, be it drugs, cancer, or alien symbiote. Oscorp has been using Freak, as well as the sweatshop workers, in experiments on curing addiction to drugs and destroying cancerous cells. The bound, mutilated Freak begs to die but Osborn continues to torture him, especially when it comes to old habits. “Last we checked, it cured you of your addiction to drugs by removing the pleasure center of your brain,” Osborn coolly explains. “To put it simply… you can never get high again.” “Nooo!” screams Freak, whom at this point has nothing left of his old self to hang onto. His disastrous state is dismal and cruel, leaving the reader feeling sorry for this sordid lump of a man.
As for Lily Hollister, when Peter comes by the Coffee Bean to talk to Harry, she confides in her boyfriend’s best friend. With her father critically injured in the hospital, and possibly neglected by Harry, Lily feels helpless. “So what did you do, Peter?” she asks. “How do you get past it?” “Easy. I didn’t.” replies Parker. “I made a promise that I’d never let something like that happen again… to anyone I love.” Lily holds Peter’s hand to her cheek and moves into his arms. The embrace is immediately broken by Peter’s blaring spider-sense and Harry’s awareness of what’s going on.
The infatuation, which has been building for some issues now, is unreciprocated, as Peter has had eyes on Lily’s friend Carlie. Lily’s affection for him is a mixture of her helplessness and his strong though sensitive nature with the addition of the mysterious attraction of “what else is out there.” If you ever been in a situation where your friend’s significant other looks to you for all the emotional or sexual things s/he isn't getting, that’s this situation. The predicament opens itself to a whole conveyor belt of baggage that may lead, if pursued by Lily or Peter, into a falling out between them and Harry. The scene is a surprising addition to the issue, giving Peter’s own arc in the story more color and distinction. Will he fight for Lily’s affection? Will he avoid her? Does he even have time to think about any of this?
The most stunning element of this issue is Romita Jr’s art, in particular his depiction of Norman Osborn. Up until this point, Osborn has been a calculating tactician using every player in drama to his advantage. Romita Jr. has given him a sleek, chiseled face with strong angular cheekbones and undisturbed hair. His eyes are more often than not slightly cringed as if analyzing and computing every bit of his surroundings into his grand scheme to kill Spider-Man.
Suddenly, the man with all the plans and eventualities becomes the most volatile man in Manhattan. With a certain green and purple mask, Romita Jr. visually shows this change. The angular quality of his face is replaced with a rounded edge, making him almost jovial in appearance. His eyes are no longer calculating but wide and bright. The eccentricity that drips from his lips is mirrored in the surreal face of the Green Goblin.
It’s akin to a theater director stepping in for an actor, visibly separating himself from the control and management of the play, and donning a costume to enter that world of drama or comedy. Or tragedy. Osborn entrance into the footlights as the Green Goblin is the climax of the penultimate act, which positions our characters towards a resolution. And it isn’t going to pretty.
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