Or – “It’s Always Sad When You See People Make Mistakes You’ve Already Made…”

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Freshmen was one of those series that really captured my attention and fascination when it came out.  The story of a group of new college students given super-abilities based on what they were thinking about at the time, the first series had beautiful covers, compelling stories and dialogue, and a cast that I not only like, but recognized from my college days.  It’s sequel has had a lot of scheduling issues (4 issues have come out since last summer) and they’ve irritated me by having a continuing lenticular cover that is only available in a 1:25 variant when no one in Topeka (or, apparently, even Northeast KANSAS) orders enough issues to GET one…  But is it enough to offset my enjoyment?

I think the worst part about not being able to get the alternate cover without using an online auction site is the fact that the regular covers has been…  let’s say, less than attractive.  I usually wouldn’t be that harsh about it, but the art in question was just unpleasant.  And Will Conrad can draw so I don’t know what the problem was.  In any F21.jpgcase, this issues normal cover is gross, but attractive, and that’s good enough for me…  Previously on Freshmen II:  Issue #1 (somewhat awkwardly) set up our story, wherein a storybook man named Mr. Fiddlesticks seems to have come to life, working with the father of one of the Freshmen for some unknowable (but obviously sinister) goal.  The Drama Twins (Brady and Renee) had a huge falling out that led to him bonding with Annalee (Puppeteer) and the two of them starting an ill-advised relationship.  Green Thumb tried to kill himself, but after falling several stories to the concrete, got up, apparently unharmed.  The Scarlet Knight found a girlfriend who digs geeks and comics (which makes me think Mr. Fiddlesticks isn’t the ONLY imaginary character in sight) and Brady and Annalee fought a horde of cyborgs, leading to Annalee’s kidnapping.  Mysteries abound (like what happened to that OTHER kid who was at the dorm) and beers are consumed, and never the mane shall tweet.  The issue starts as Green Thumb, in the midst of cutting himself, gets the word passed along the denizens of the plant kingdom  to the Dorm of Solitude, reporting that Annalee has been taken.  Unbeknownst to him, her kidnapper is someone VERY familiar to Annalee…

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…her very own dear old dad.  As her friends mobilize to search the woods for clues (Green Thumb to a tree: “I don’t want to hear about the #*$*ing caterpillars eating your leaves!  Where is my FRIEND?”)  But instead of Annalee, they find a badly wounded Brady, lying in the woods.   I remember the times in college when various romances would sprout up like plants in the middle of OTHER romances, like the time when Erin fell for Jay while dating Snoop.  Oh, the drama!  I could tell more annoying stories, but Stephen, Bruce, and Karl have equal ammo against me, so I believe I shall postpone…   While Intoxicator looks desperately for a lake, the rest of the Freshmen are a little taken aback by Brady’s beating, and by the fact that the only word he can say is “Annalee.”  Rushing him to the hospital, the kids are surprised to find out later, about the involvement of Mr. Fiddlesticks…

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Norrin, apparently, is used to delusions and expects that no one will believe him when he has them…  Brady gets out of bed, and tough-guys, “Tell us on the way.”  All the Freshmen return to the dorm and suit up on their battle-gear (including the priceless scene of Intoxicator reloading his ‘Coat of a Thousand Highs’ and Long Dong deciding to chuck all this AND school to become a porn star.)  Beaver and The Scarlet Knight have to talk, as do Brady and Renee…

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Actually, for you, it’s probably more a “Futility Belt,” Norrin.  As they leave, (with, sadly, no Badass Powerwalk) Norrin’s new girlfriend Amy the R.A. is pulling up.  When she asks what’s going on, the ever-honest Quaker tells her.  “Annalee, who was on some sort of secret rendezvous with Brady, has bee captured by her father’s scary cyborgs.  And he’s in cahoots with a man named Mr. Fiddlesticks, who is a character from a series of children’s books…  Ooops, I should have called her Puppeteer!  Did I give it away?”  Heh.  Just as things get weird, the cyborgs burst out of the building (which they’ve apparently reached already, making Amy’s appearance even more sinister) and start firing at them.  Suddenly, the Flying Squirrel sees his moment for valor!

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They light on the rooftop, and the cyborgs are quickly incapacitated by…  Intoxicator getting violently ill from a great height.  Ewww…  They quickly break in, and as Scarlet Knight moves to tell everyone how not to step in a trap, he steps in a trap.  Smooth move, Skolnick.  Thankfully, the grappling hooks in his new futility belt save him (with a little prompting from Beav) and the team continues on, leaving Norrin in a hole.  They find a bank of elevators, and one dings that it’s arrived on the floor.  Everyone stands ready to fight…

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As all three doors open, Intoxicator belches an Olympic-class Booger strike, which unfortunately does have a… um… backblast that affects his teammates.  The cyborgs fall (AFTER one fires a missile) but so do the Freshmen, and the missile goes off in the hallway with them, knocking everyone for a loop.  Mr. Fiddlesticks, meanwhile, is busy terrorizing Annalee, but she’s not an easy woman to frighten…

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What a painful way to rhyme…  Jeez.  And Mr. Fiddlesticks just earned himself a beating from somebody, even if I have to write fanfic to do it.  As Scarlet Knight struggles to get out of the airshaft, Amy leans in to tell him, “I think your friend made me drunk with his fart…”  Eeeeyyyyewww.  He realizes that his tracker is working, and he knows where Annalee is, then pushes yet another random button…

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Fiddlesticks once again opens his coat to terrorize Annalee with whatever it is he has in there (I suspect nude photos of Ernest Borgnine) and she screams, but then the dapper little man is slammed across the room into the wall.  Brady rushes in, dropping Renee’s hand and everyone is stunned to see him kiss her.  The entire group is surrounded by cyborgs, as well as no less than six of Mr. Fiddlesticks, and there’s no escape…  Beaver urges Liam (The Quaker) to set aside his problems with violence and act.  Suddenly, his earthquake powers kick in, and… the floor collapses.  The Freshmen fall through to some sort of laboratory, landing amongst the prepared next generation of cyborgs.  They also find the thing that Annalee has been looking for, and she does something incredibly rash and stupid…

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Didn’t Leonard Kirk draw the first arc of this book?  Eeerie.  As Puppeteer collapses, more cyborgs rise up, and the team is (once again) hopelessly @#&$ed.  The cliffhanger promises us that next issue, we will see “The Face of Fear.”  I didn’t know that Barbara Walters worked for Image!  Cool…

Overall, this issue (and the series as a whole) is a mixed bag, running hot and cold.  A lot of the humor of the first series seems to have played itself out, replaced with Green Thumbs self-injury, and the vicious sight of a teenage girl kidnapped and beaten by her father’s associates.  The Intoxicator has a couple of neat moments this time ’round, as do Flying Squirrel and Scarlet Knight, giving us some heroic “Woohoo!” moments.  It’s above average to the comics I bought this week (though there are some real doozies in there to compete with, one of which will be savaged… err, recapped tomorrow), earning 3 out of 5 stars.  We’re 2/3 of the way through, but can they stretch the plot and tension much further?  Since there’s two issues left, we can certainly hope so.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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