Monday, October 24, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (1955)

That's right: the baseball team.  From Mars.  Fair or not, it's impossible not to see that title and think, Walter, you have officially run out of ideas.  I want to first draw your attention to that cover, which I do like: see Freddy, there, in glasses and a false beard?  That's him in disguise—a disguise that flawlessly fools everyone throughout the novel.  I've noted on more than one occasion that one trope of Disney comics is the terrible disguise that nonetheless works perfectly.  Whatever Brooks may think of comics, he's getting in on a little of that action!

Well...yeah.  So the Martians are still there, and Freddy and Mr. Boomschmidt come up with the idea of them forming a baseball team, supplemented with various circus animals, and Freddy, disguised as a Mr. Arquebus, is the coach.  Of course.  The conflict involves the return of Mr. Anderson, the crooked real-estate-agent villain from Freddy Goes Camping, who captures one of the Martians, Squeak Squeak, to make the others help him do robberies with their flying saucer.  And also to force them to throw The Big Game!  Can Freddy & Co free their compatriot in time?!?

Well, unfortunately, I do have to concede that, whether or not it has anything to do with the novelty, this is pretty clearly the nadir of the series to date.  The stuff with rescuing Squeak Squeak is okay, but all the baseball stuff is a big ol' zero.  There are several lengthy play-by-play descriptions of games, and they are very boring—I don't know if Brooks actually thought this was compelling stuff or if he was just filling time, but either way...also, if you wonder how they're gonna win, well, they have a gimmick as simple as it is dumb and cheesy, which is that the Martians are small and therefore have a tiny strike zone, so they're just gonna walk all the time.  I mean, a sports story where the heroes win by using a cheap exploit is less than edifying.

And then at the end Brooks appears to just completely lose interest in the narrative, as the animals go off on an aimless riff about how animals are better than people in so many ways, and I found myself feeling weirdly defensive and wondering, HEY!  Is this...racist against humans?  It's a strange feeling to have.  We're told that they published a book of poetry on this theme which then Freddy himself reviewed in the Bean Home News.  Damn, man!  Zero concern for journalistic ethics around the Bean residence!

There's one thing that comes up a few times that Brooks really doesn't do anything with but that if he had could have been a lot of fun, with the animals playing an oulipo-style game:

The discussion that followed was somewhat hampered by the fact that Mrs. Wiggins could not use the letter s, Leo, the letter r, and Mr. Pomeroy, who had also got interested in the game, the letter g.  They had all really become quite expert at it, but since they were thinking less about what they were saying than about how they were going to say it without using their letter, they didn't always make sense.

I mean, I'm down with this idea.  Bring it back.  Ooh!  Also!  I was right about Uncle Ben: he doesn't appear in this book, but he IS described as “Mr. Bean's Uncle Ben,” meaning he CANNOT be in his forties.  If I recall correctly, I pegged the Beans as being in their fifties because of a comment Mr. Bean made at some point that he'd been farming for forty years (I think?  Something like that).  It's true that technically it's possible to have a younger uncle, but that's unusual enough that if it happened it would be noted.  There's no avoiding it!  Brooks screwed up in Freddy and the Space Ship when he said Ben was forty-seven!  J'accuse!  Who could possibly care about this?!?  Argh!

Also, there's a part where a spider gets stuck on an ice cube in a glass: “Well, there she was, standing on an ice cube—like Eliza crossing the ice in Uncle Tom's Cabin—and she couldn't possibly reach to the rim of the glass.”  It really is quite interesting how enduring that image of Eliza on the ice is.  I wonder when it stopped being something you could just allude to and have everyone know exactly what you meant.

It DOES have an interesting latter-day cover:

Damn!  That Yearling font, layout art style, everything—takes me RIGHT the heck back.  It's weird, though: if other Freddy books were published in this format, I can't find evidence of it, and this seems like the exact wrong one to choose.  I guess the publishers just thought “sports? Aliens?  These are things that The Kidz like!  Let 'er rip!”  I actually sorta-kinda half-want to own a copy of this edition.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Awww... I was hoping it will be like Space Jam, where Freddy is challange to a game to play for the fate of the entire planet

12:20 PM  

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