COMICS: John Reviews “Freshmen – Volumes 1 and 2” by Seth Green, Hugh Sterbakov, Leonard Kirk and Will Conrad

The Freshmen, Vol. 1

Freshmen, Vol. 1

Judging by his choices in projects alone, Seth Green must be a really cool guy.  He’s done everything from Austin Powers to The Italian Job, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Greg the Bunny, and created his own late-night cable TV phenomenon from scratch in Robot Chicken.  Even with all that under his belt, Seth was not completely satisfied with his place in the pantheon of geekery, so he and friend Hugh Sterbakov set out to dominate their next medium of choice: Comic books!

Enter Freshmen, a charming tale of fourteen first-year college students (and one pet beaver) who would have had enough trouble learning who they really are and adjusting to life on their own without suddenly gaining some very awkward super-powers! Like most college students, they struggle with grades, party till they puke, and discover new things about themselves and others.  Unlike most college students, they have to balance all of these things with saving the world!  It’s PCU (for once, a college story that doesn’t mirror Animal House!) meets Mystery Men, but with far more developed characters and darker dramatic moments.  It’s fun for the whole dormitory!

Synopsis time:  Freshmen follows the story of a group of first-year students who had the bad luck to be temporarily housed in the makeshift dorm of Freese university’s science wing.  When fringe scientist Dr. Tomlinson’s “ax-cell-erator” explodes, it causes everyone in the building to gain a superhuman ability related to whatever they were thinking about at that moment.  A psych student can get inside people’s heads (temporarily possessing them), a hopeless romantic can make anyone fall in love with her, a vegan can converse with plant life (leaving him nothing to eat!) a pet beaver gains genius-level intellect and the ability to speak, and an insecure young man finds one part of his anatomy to have grown enormously.  Life-long comic book geek Kenneth “Norrin” Weismeyer was out getting pizza during the explosion, and takes it upon himself to be the Batman to their Justice League.  It’s not as easy as the comics make it seem, however, as these young would-be heroes quickly find out…

Freshmen is an incredibly dense series, full of fantastic character development and hilarious comedy, as well as gripping drama and even a bit of action.  I would love to tell you everything that happens in it, but that would ruin the fun!  Suffice it to say that it has its feet equally placed in the slice-of-life drama and superhero genres, never sacrificing one to favor the other.  Budget notwithstanding, it would make a fantastic television series (which is none too surprising, given Mr. Green and Mr. Sterbakov’s backgrounds in the medium.)

Leonard Kirk’s artwork on volume 1 is impressive (though I would say his work on Captain Britain and MI-13 may still be my favorite) and his brand of visual storytelling brings even more ideas to the narrative than strict adherence to the script would have.  Like a truly great sequential artist, he understands that the best comic stories use the pictures as well as the words to advance and convey the story.  Though he was not the artist on volume 2 (Will Conrad picked up the reins at that point), Green and Sterbakov decided to make him an integral part of the book by naming one of its key characters after him.  I couldn’t help laughing when I opened Volume 2 and saw Norrin asking, “Who the [BLEEP] is Len Kirk?”  I don’t want to do a disservice to Mr. Conrad, though, as I actually found his style a bit more aesthetically appropriate.  He may not bring as much subtlety and nuance to the characters’ “performances”, but he still performs ably in Mr. Kirk’s absence.

There are references to all aspects of geek culture throughout Freshmen, not unlike a typical episode of Robot Chicken.  Thankfully, Green and Sterbakov are adept enough at placing them within the narrative to not have them take you completely out of the moment (ya hear that, Mark Millar?) About the only thing that felt out of place was Norrin’s love interest in volume 2.  While I won’t say that there are no classically beautiful female comic enthusiasts who are suckers for wannabe superheroes, it did seem a bit too good to be true. Still, it’s a minor complaint in the grander scheme of awesomeness that is Freshmen.

If you love Seth Green’s work, Freshmen is a slam dunk of success.  If you are (or were) a college student, the jokes will hit delightfully close to home.  If you like stories about superheroes with unconventional powers (Mystery Men, The Tick, Great Lakes Avengers, etc.) this book has them in abundance.  Finally, if you’re a “true believer” in the power of super hero stories as powerful metaphors for human experience, then Freshmen will make you stand up and shout, “Excelsior!”

‘Nuff said.

Freshmen II: Second Semester

Freshmen II: Fundamentals of Fear

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