Freaks is a fascinating yet ultimately touching work that emphasizes the humanity of the "freaks" over their oddities--at least, when the stories warrant it. Some of the individuals were treated very badly by their exhibitors (e.g., Julia Pastrana, the "ugliest woman in the world," and her equally hideous baby were mummified and displayed after they died); however, many took advantage of their condition to become international stars and make a lot of money (e.g., Zip the "What-Is-It"). In general, the message of this book is that it's possible to overcome considerable odds to have a happy life. On the other hand, the stories about carny cons are both amusing and instructive. The most grotesque of the stories (e.g., real geeks, how the Chinese and the Europeans created dwarfs, beggars' techniques to make themselves even more pathetic) reveal how ultimately the most horrible freaks are born of the soul, not the body.
Though the writing is generally better than that in the other "Big Books"--Wilson truly knows how to write for the comics format, for one thing--the thing that really sets this book apart from the others is the art. Perhaps it was the nature of the subject, but the artists in this book were considerably more creative and individual in feel than in the other books. (Among the 46 artists included are Ivan Brunetti, Dan Burr, D'Israeli D'emon Draughtsman, Hunt Emerson, Rick Geary, Shawn McManus, Joe Rubinstein, Eric Shanower, Bryan Talbot, Mary Wilshire, and, of course, Gahan Wilson.)