My manager at the comic store has made much of the recent “revelation” that today’s comic buyers consist mostly of men in their thirties with excess disposable income. Tom points out that anyone who’s ever BEEN in a comic book store should recognize that comics are geared for, marketed to, and frankly, really only affordable by this target group. So, it should be no surprise that one of Top Cow’s recent hits hearkens us back to the glory days, the time when we believed we were cool, despite all the evidence to the contrary… college.
The initial “Freshman” miniseries certainly made me remember the days in the dormitories, staying up all hours, wandering over to Heather Hall and pretending to be clever, a time when my major purchases were cheap alcohol, Taco Shop nachos and three dollars worth of gas at a time. The brainchild of Robot Chicken’s Seth Green and someone-I’d-never-heard-of Hugh Sterbakov, the book threw everything it had at the wall. The premise (“strange experiment gives random group of people superpowers”) wasn’t unique, but at least they weren’t mutants. It was the character mix that made it interesting, and the story felt new and fresh. Freshmen II picks up after the semester break, and our heroes have reassembled for a VERY important mission…
…cheating on their exams. In their defense, Elwood Johns (code-named “The Intoxicator”) has to be hopelessly drunk/high/wasted to utilize his superhuman ability, and I’m certain that the never-ending battle for good has caused him to fail this test in the name of saving innocents. Sure, that’s the ticket! Also note the use of the term “scarlet profiles” in the above dialogue. Self-claimed team leader Norrin has redubbed himself “The Scarlet Knight” from his previous (and superior) nom de guerre “Wannabe,” and in true Bat-fashion uses his Scarlet PDA to make Scarlet Profiles on his Scarlet Rogues Gallery.
Sadly, even sober, Elwood doesn’t know the answers, and team member Puppeteer has to actually PHONE HER FATHER and have him look up the answers on the internet. This is the first problem I have with the story, actually. The father needed introducing (more on why later) and this plot twist apparently needed a hydraulic wrench. It rings false, and really shows the fingerprints of the writer. When the cheatin’s done (Isn’t that a George Strait song?), the team returns home to find that they’re all being assigned to the official Freshman dorm. This serves to shake things up and give us different perspectives on the MANY characters and their interactions. It also gives comic geek Norrin that moment that so many of us wished we had in college, as he apparently catches the eye of a very attractive (or at least as attractive as the artist can draw) girl.
The art is bothersome to me, feeling unfinished sometimes, and often unattractive. It’s not Liefeld-bad, but the characters are sometimes hard to tell apart, and worse, it’s sometimes hard to identify who is who based on what the previous series artist made a character look like. Case in point, team member Seductress, drawn last time around as an attractive girl with a few extra pounds on her. Now, she looks like the artist drew a regular supermodely-comic-book-female, and stretched her in Photoshop. I’m not thrilled with his facial proportions, either, as eyes seem tiny, while noses and foreheads expand to Brobdingnagian size. The story sidetracks for a page or two, and then suddenly we’re greeted with this…
This is interesting, as only a minute or two seems to pass between this scene and the last, and Norrin is able to refrain from blowing his lunch for NINE MILES? Maybe the temporary powers he received in the last issue weren’t as temporary as we thought? Of course, given that the man with the monocle is Mister Fiddlesticks, his favorite child’s storybook character, it could be that Norrin is just nuts. In either case, after the introduction of Norrin’s psychosis, we watch as the characters settle in a bit in their new digs, and another complaint sets in. If you haven’t read Freshman (or haven’t read it RECENTLY) there isn’t a whole lot to help you understand who or what we’re dealing with. The fact that the team has nearly a dozen members doesn’t help things. When Brady (whose powers are shared with his on again-off again girlfriend Renee) asks Norrin’s crush Annalee (the aforementioned Puppeteer) for dating advice, Norrin stops obsessing about his percieved craziness and starts obsessing about the girl he can’t have.
As if on cue, her father shows up, glad-handing and smarmy, and starts asking questions about the Axe-Cell-Erator, the device that empowered them all in the first place. Now, I’m not a lovelorn 19-year-old (well, not anymore), but the man is about a subtle as a brick in the face, and the coincidental appearance of Norrin’s hallucinogenic pal seems a little bit coincidental. Norrin thinks he’s losing his mind, and for the second time in the issue, flees the room. Suddenly, we’re treated to another not so revelatory revelation…
Dun dun DANNNH! Not really so much of a surprise, there. (Aren’t parents visits ALWAYS the herald of something bad in college?) Most of the issue shares this scene’s “been there, done that” overtones. I know it’s only the first issue, but I’m not left with the high expectations like I had with issues of the first series. Given my complaints about the psuedo-Mark Silvestri art, I was hoping that the story would grab me by the neck. It hasn’t, yet. Paradoxically, though there’s a lot going on here, it doesn’t feel like much of anything has happened in this issue. Norrin’s loss of confidence might come across better if he’d ever BEEN confident, and the cliche of “comic geek out of touch with reality” bugs me. By contrast, Hiro Nakamura from NBC’s “Heroes” makes his geekiness entertaining, and his enthusiasm about superheroing makes his character fun. Norrin just makes you sad, like the kid whose claims to actually BE a Vulcan/Highlander/Star Trek Captain make you wonder what he’s trying to escape from.
Another irritation comes from the marketing. Seth Green’s name is prominent on the cover, whereas he doesn’t seem to have had any input on the book, to judge from the credits. I’m as big a Seth fan as anybody else, but I don’t think that it’s entirely honest to pimp him on the cover when he didn’t actually WORK on the book. All in all, this reminds me of what Image books were like in the mid-90’s, scratchy art, stories full of questions without a solid basis, and huge swaths of characters fired into the breach in the hopes that one will stick to the wall. I will stick with this series for a while longer, but I’m hoping that they can get back to the (apparently not as effortless as it seemed) balance of starting a new life in college and superheroism. Sadly, I can only give this issue 1.5 stars, with the hopes that this was just a case of First Issue Exposition Syndrome.
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