Or – “Further Adventures In Consciousness-Expanding…”


There are a lot thought processes on how to save the comic industry from obscurity, ranging from celebrity involvement to the magic of slabbing to putting your content on the intarwebs.  Radical Comics seems to be engaging in one of the more workable methods, giving us new genres and content designed to pull in readers who aren’t in the Marvel/DC/Image rondelay.  Radical’s publishing catalog so far has been pretty interesting, with the title “Caliber” proving to be really impressive to me.  I missed the first issue of Freedom Formula, but part of this week’s experiment has been to jump into things I haven’t been reading with both feet, and see what happens…

FF1.jpgPreviously, on Freedom Formula:  In a dark, corporate owned future, the world has turned (as many things seem to do) into the last days of the Holy Roman Empire.  The main form of entertainment are the Vicious Cycles, essentially robot racing machines, piloted by a genetically engineered group of disposable humans.  These people are held captive and forced to race again and again, in a form of Bread and Circuses called Formula Infinity.  One of the drivers, the man called Jugger Faizer, escaped from the cycle, even fathering a child whom he named Zee.  Jugger intended for his son to act as the key to freeing his fellow captive racers, but his death sent Zee back into the city, seemingly to become a part of the very cycle he was born to break.  In the first issue, Zee managed to get into the middle of one of the races, losing his motorcycle and wrecking one of the suits in the race.  Luckily, he’s taken by that driver and her crew back to their money-man, who isn’t thrilled about some punk kid costing him an expensive suit of armor…

“Let’s just cap him and get over with it” are the first words of the issue.  We see a really inventive painted/computerized image of Los Petropolis, the city of the future, before cutting to the inevitable dark underbelly of the city.  Zee is being held at gunpoint, while the pilot tries to explain that the crash wasn’t Zee’s faulth.  They’re worried that he is somehow a mole, sent to infiltrate their rebel band, but Zee explains who his father is.  “Hang on,” sneers Myles, the leader of the band, “Faizer as in wastespeak for “Fire?”  Ouch.  Awkward dialogue…  A mysterious old man, his body withered and largely replaced with cyborg parts steps into view and tells them to let Zee go.  “He’s no mole.”  The old man offers Zee a place to stay, and the young man beds down with the people who, moments ago, were trying to kill him.  He is awakened in the morning by Codgerborg, who tells him it’s time to earn his room and board…

Elsewhere in the city, two men in business suits (and,thus, inherently evil) discuss the hiring of someone called Daedalus to finally put down the rebel alliance street racers.  The man himself arrives, a mysterious armored figure, and is briefed on the specifics of an annual illegal street race called the “Freedom Formula,” explaining both the book’s title and what’s going on here.  They offer him “Five Million Credits” but he angrily exclaims that he knows “whats being developed in the complex,” and he won’t be living to retire on those credits.  He takes the gig anyway (Huh?) and the suits exclaim that it’s a good thing that the racers don’t show their faces, or else someone would recognize him.  (EVERYBODY GOT THAT PLOT POINT???)  Zee and the old man (who is, apparently, named ‘Rev’) head out, and Rev sends him on a smuggling milkrun.  Naturally, it all goes pear-shapped, and Zee leaps into action, saving them from guard drones.  I think…  “Where in crud’s sake did you learn how to do that?” asks one of his pals, and Zee ominously murmurs “I don’t know.”

We cut immediately to the two suits again, having a discussion, and it takes a moment for me to understand what’s going on.  Obviously, some time has passed, and Daedalus has killed someone, who is handing in the background.  The scene (actually the whole issue) is very dark, and they lament sending someone like Daedalus into action.  “We knew what we were unleashing…  Just make sure the media monkeys know this story is off-limits.”  Upon his return to the compound with the other rebels, Zee is shown a gift from Rev, his own exo-suit.   Rev explains that the suit is named Firefly.  “Zee’s father’s name was Faizer…  Meaning fire.”  The second time they’ve explained it this issue, and the second bone-jarringly obvious hunk of dialogue.  Zee sets about learning how to pilot his suit.  We cut to two shadowy men in a shadowy place doing shadowy things, as one complains that the agreement has been modified.  “I’m changing my end of the agreement.  Be grateful I am not changing yours.”  And there it is.  The underlying Star Wars vibe I’ve been getting is made explicit with a paraphrase of Darth Vader.  Zee takes his new mech out for an improptu race, and finds out about the Freedom Formula, and it is made clear that it’s his only ticket out of the city.  He wins the race with a trick that nobody has seen before (including me, the art is so dark that I can’t really tell) just as Daedalus arrives.  “Too bad your VX isn’t up to racing again,” he says, removing his mask, “I’d like to see you try that again.”  Zee goggles and whispers, “DAD?”

Well, let’s start with the good.  The cover is exquisitely rendered and painted.  The interior ar is expressive, it’s imaginative, and there are some killer computer lighting effects.  Zee is a mostly likeable protagonist, and I was at least a little bit interested in the overall plot.  My problems came from three elements.  First, and foremost, the coloring is incredibly dark, using a murky blue-green palette that is obviously designed to emulate Tony Scott-style high contrast film making, but unfortunately serves to muddy up the story-telling badloy.  I actually had to go back and clarify from panel detail whether or not it was actually Daedalus on the final page.  Issue #2 with issue #2 comes with the dialogue, featuring moments like “I know what you do with your hookers,” “Zee, they are almost here, take control now, you crudsucker,” and “What the crud are you doing?”  The use of “Crud” for any and all cursewords, regardless of whether it makes sense, is distracting, and there’s a general sense of awkwardness and expositionality to it all.  The third element, and the one that distracted me the most is the familiarity of this story.  A young man from the sticks, with a great destiny, fighting against the evil empire, mentored by an old man who knew his father, finding himself to have powers and abilities he didn’t know about and doesn’t understand, who is suddenly pole-axed by the return of his seemingly-dead father as an armored force in the employ of said evil empire…  Any of this ringing a bell?  The old Hollywood pitchman cliche of “It’s Star Wars meets Shogun Warriors meets Dragonball Z!” echoes in my head after my second reading.  The good news is, the book merited a second reading, and didn’t leave me angry afterwards.  Freedom Formula #2 is a flawed issue with some interesting elements to it, and I’ll be interested to see where it all ends up going…  This one only ranks 1.5 out of 5 stars, but there is potential here that could easily be tapped to make this a must-read.



About Author

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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