Some of you may recall that I recommended this comic in my "Independent Scene" column a while back. Now that I've read the first issue, I am sad to say that Freelancers didn't measure up to my expectations at all.
The story has remained intact from the original solicitation by Boom! Studios, but now they've added Felipe Smith to the mix, a manga artist who recently spent a year in Japan working for Tokuma Shoten. If this was supposed to impress me, it didn't, because a year in Japan working for a major manga publisher didn't exactly help Felipe's writing skills.
Freelancers is so full of cliches from the neo-noir genre that I could barely swallow the story. You've got the hot blonde (Cassie) who can drive like nobody's business; you've got your crazy-ass Asian chick (Val) whose only use is to provide blatant fanservice and kung-fu fight scenes; and you have a colorful, pop-induced representation of Los Angeles, which fails on so many levels it's hard to keep count.
The plot (courtesy of Darkwing Duck writer Ian Brill) is paper-thin and seems more like an excuse to get Cassie and Val in as many kung-fu fights as possible. The art by Joshua Covey keeps shifting from good to bad to worse throughout the comic, with some panels appearing as though they were ripped straight from the 1960's Batman TV series. This gave me the impression that Freelancers was trying to imitate Blue Estate's art mash-up style, but while Blue Estate succeeded in that endeavor, Freelancers drops the ball like the kid who always gets picked last to be on the kickball team.
The cliffhanger of the issue is also a cliche warmed over again and again by TV crime shows: Cassie ventures inside an abandoned building, the guy she's searching for is strapped to a chair with a bomb attached to him, and the timer on the bomb hits zero. Outside, Val sees the building explode and cries Cassie's name. As if we didn't know this already, a "To Be Continued" is slapped in the bottom right-hand corner to remind us that this awful comic actually has a second issue coming out.
To make the issue a full thirty-two pages, Felipe Smith drew a back-up story involving Cassie and Val's days at a kung-fu orphanage. This is drawn in a manga style that is so horribly warped it made Cassie and Val look like they had cerebral palsy. Points off for not only using the manga style in an American comic book, but for not even doing it right.
The final insult of Freelancers is Val's dialogue. I have never seen a character so annoying in all of modern comic-dom. Her conversations with Cassie go in circles and mostly involve talk about paying the rent, beating people up, finding something to eat, and trying to land a boyfriend. Val is nothing but every anime girl cliche rolled into one, and reading her dialogue just made me cringe.
If you're looking for low-brow entertainment that insults the reader's intelligence and pretends that you haven't seen all of this before, then by all means, pick up Freelancers. But if you're looking for something truly entertaining that has an actual plot, likeable characters, and some eye-popping art, then you'd best look elsewhere.