Freshmen: Fundamentals of Fear
by Hugh Sterbakov, Will Conrad (Top Cow/Image, 2007)

I have a hard time getting past the Amish boy.

Freshmen, a comic series co-created by actor Seth Green and writer Hugh Sterbakov, is bursting with potential. Set on a college campus, it revolves around a group of students who were exposed to a malfunctioning science experiment that granted each of them powers based on their thoughts at the time of the accident. Some got lucky -- one can enter and control the thoughts of others, while another can seduce anyone she chooses -- while others fell victim to bad timing -- such as the boy who turns into a squirrel, another who can project intoxication onto others and a third hapless fellow who grew an astonishingly large and powerful, um, unit.

But Liam Adams purports to be an Amish boy from Lancaster, Pa., but the creative team managed to avoid doing any actual research into the Amish culture. Perhaps because I live close to the fabled (and tourist-laden) Amish Country, I'm particularly sensitive, but I'm a little tired of the Plain society being played for laughs; for instance, Liam's power is the ability to cause earthquakes by "shuffling his belly," and he chooses the hero name Quaker even though the Amish and Quakers have no connection. The misconceptions and errors here could have been avoided easily with two minutes of research, but apparently the creative team didn't have the time, so Liam grows a beard even though he's unmarried and the Amish elder who appears as his conscience has a forbidden mustache; he looks more like a rabbi, frankly.


Otherwise, Fundamentals of Fear is a vast improvement over the previous book. The team, led by powerless Norrin, who calls himself the Scarlet Knight but is called Wannabe by everyone else, develops mightily in this storyline, and there are some real consequences for their actions. Faced with a relentless foe who wants their secrets, the team tackles issues of power, responsibility, romance, heartbreak, suicide and -- most touchingly -- the death of an innocent bystander.

This series is running in a good direction, and I can see it only getting better as it goes. Just do me a favor, guys: either lose Liam or pick up a book on Amish culture before you embarrass yourselves even more with your cultural ignorance.

review by
Tom Knapp

20 October 2007

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