In my never-ending quest to read non-superhero comics, I seem to have found a bastion in Boom Studios. Set in the fantastical world of action-movie-type-happenings, current Boom Studios comics are at least based more solidly around the world of the “real”; i.e. No superpowers, protagonists’ abilities to avoid death by bullets and explosions aside.
Freelancers #1 continues the studio’s recent tradition of action based comics with the story of Val and Cassie, two bad-ass-kung-fu-bounty-hunting ladies, also known as “freelancers.” Through Val and Cassie, we are introduced to freelance bounty hunting and the competition for jobs between the various agents of the Los Angeles area.
We are introduced to Cassie and Val is a fairly simple on a fairly simple case. However, as one would expect, the case quickly becomes more complicated and the two must return to their agent’s office for another bounty. At the office, a rivalry is established between our protagonists and one Katherine Rushmore–a top-notch bounty hunter who, we are told, is one of the best in the business. She takes over where Cassie and Val failed, tossing in some casual but practiced insults, and it’s on till the break o’ dawn- the girls have got to one up her.
Interestingly enough, while created by Matt Gagnon and Felipe Smith, the first issue of this comic was handed to Ian Brill and Joshua Covey to complete; the issue written by Brill with artwork by Covey. I am not the first to mention the oddness surrounding this handoff as you can imagine, and you yourself may muse over the strangeness of the creative team offering their comic over to another duo.
Covey’s artwork for the comic is striking. Character design is very solid and the color palette displays the bright and warm colors most comics and movies have come to associate with the southern California coast. Backgrounds seem to be lacking, however, with much of the comic being backed by a simple color gradient or plain sets. Action flows unnaturally at times, characters motions not transitioning well from one frame to another and some actions being left out entirely. In one fight sequence set in a gym (assuming it’s a gym as there were no backgrounds, only some punching bags), a character is hit and it is only in the next frame when we see Val with a chair that we can put together that she… gave the guy the chair.
While well written and well illustrated, there is a strange disconnect between the two. This story with strong female protagonists seems to up-sell sex in the visuals, yet reference female looks in a different way. Characters are not visually over-sexualized to the extent of other comics, but something is definitely off when in one scene Val speaks poorly of their rival Katherine, mentioning specifically her excessive cup size, while speaking to Cassie who probably has the largest breasts in the comic. This is by no means a deal breaker for the comic, only confusing to a discerning reader. Two strong and sexy women who also dress the part (stereotypically perhaps) bemoan the appearance of their rival? If this is an attempt to address the tendency for women to compare their appearances to their contemporaries (something one can blame on societal pressures, but that’s a discussion for another time), it is a superficial one at best. I would however really find interest in this series should future issues expand upon this topic in developing characters and back story.
Besides the creation of Freelancers #1, the creators Gagnon and Smith are not completely out of the picture. The two make an appearance in the six page short Tiny Fighters, a prologue/back story to the Freelancers comic detailing the upbringing of Cassie and Val in a martial arts orphanage. We see how our heroes come to learn the skills they use for bounty hunting, and we get a glance of how they grow and evolve (or don’t) to become the women we see in the comic proper.
The art in Tiny Fighters by Felipe Smith is delightful and funny if a tad bizarre. In Smith’s manga-inspired style, characters embody a forceful and dynamic nature while still able to convey the comical personality of the comic’s writing. When I say bizarre, I’m specifically referring to his illustrations of a pimp character that accosts our young heroines. It’s not that the visual design is bad or anything. It was just a little jarring for me. In all honesty, the whole scene was done really well and the character is hilarious.
Freelancers #1 definitely has some interesting points to hit, has a lot of potential, and I’m always up for seeing more comics with female main characters. I only hope in each case that it’s handled with a sense of tact so often forgotten or abandoned in favor of selling sex. This comic definitely handles things well, and seems to focus more on action and character drama, the visuals adding to the flavor of the comic, rather than driving it or tainting it. While I would more likely continue reading the comic were it a continuation of Tiny Fighters, the meat of Freelancers #1 has my attention and I plan to continue reading if only to sate my curiosity for the evolution of the series.