After two issues of rollicking good times, the stakes are raised as the super-powered Freshman endeavor to fight crime. Of course, even with the introduction of true danger, the book retains its love of humor. Opening with a cartoonish robbery (the burglars carry sacks with dollars exploding out the top), the team dispatches the masked bad guys with flair. The Beaver Signal is a wonderful sight gag, and little details like a bristled alley cat make this sequence a contender for best fight scene of the year.
Last issue featured the revelation that the heroes’ powers are based on their own perceived flaws, as experienced at the moment a science professor’s invention called the Ax-cell-erator exploded. This issue, narrated by The Quaker, takes a step back to establish the characters and their powers. This is valuable because not all of the heroes had clearly identifiable abilities in the first two issues. Some are obvious, like Ray’s obscenely elongated appendage and Charles’s communion with plantlife, but others are harder to pin down. Jacques, the ladies’ man, is apparently turning in to a squirrel. Also, witnessing the events of this issue through the eyes of the Amish student, the readers begins to see him less as a caricature. It remains in doubt how faithful Liam’s depiction is to true Amish (as he himself points out in issue #2, “Quaker” is a misnomer), but the internal dialogue makes him much more sympathetic.
Leonard Kirk’s art is wonderfully expressive, and he has a great feel for each character’s physicality–the way they move, or stand, or smile, is dead on. Norrin’s smirk and thumbs-up as he tries to spirit away on a grappling hook is particularly inspired.
In addition to penning a terribly amusing story, Hugh Sterbakov also knows his characters inside-out. The dialogue is some of the most realistic in comics (Liam’s possibly excepted), with the eighteen-year old heroes stringing together a litany of obscenities that don’t quite fit together, or else timidly breaking in with common sense to interrupt the party.
By the end of this issue, things have taken a turn for the serious, as the team’s first true adversaries emerge: older students immune to Freshmen powers and inclinations running counter to the younger heroes’ idealism. The brutality is shocking considering the amassed stock of levity, and the final page is a breathtaking cliffhanger.
Freshmen captures the fun, adventure, and rich characterization of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while offering a unique take on the superhero genre. If you’ve never read a comic with a talking beaver, an overweight seductress, an earthquake-inducing man of God, and a hero who can cause intoxication with his breath, you really ought to be reading Freshmen.