by Hugh Sterbakov,
Leonard Kirk
(Top Cow/Image, 2006)

Freshmen takes the superhero team concept in a new direction. In this volume, the heroes are just students who, because of a shortage of dormitory rooms, are temporarily housed in the college science hall. That puts them at ground zero when an experimental medical machine, the Ax-Cell-Erator, blows up, and they are all granted strange new powers based on whatever they were thinking at the time.

Pity for Norrin, the only comic-book geek among them, because he went out for pizza and is the only one who got no powers.

Otherwise, you have a psych student who gains the ability to crawl into people's heads, read their minds and control their actions; a vegetarian who develops an awareness of plant-speak; an overweight and homely girl who can seduce anyone she chooses; a math whiz and genius student who, because of his first college drinking binge, can belch intoxication onto his foes; and a love-hate couple who, when they're touching, can push or pull objects at will.

Some of the powers have limited applications in a superheroic sense. The French guy, for instance, was startled by a squirrel when the incident occurred, and so far his power seems only to cause him to horde nuts. Another guy, miserable because of a recent humiliation regarding his inadequate "stature," suddenly grows 15 feet of indestructible schlong.

Let's just try to ignore the talking beaver, OK?

Created by Seth Green, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers fame, and writer Hugh Sterbakov, the storyline has potential -- although it is largely wasted in this book, given that most of the book is devoted to getting to know the crew. However much latent potential it has, though, this book left a sour taste in my mouth because of an unexpected dose of religious mockery.

Liam Adams is an overweight Amish lad from Lancaster, Pa., which just happens to be my hometown. (No, I'm not Amish; despite popular belief, Lancaster's Amish population is a minority, for all that it's the basis of the region's thriving tourist trade.) In Liam's case, the creative team's research seems to have extended no further than Weird Al Yankovic's "Amish Paradise" video, and the Amish faith is used primarily for laughs. Much of it, sadly, is based on misconceptions: Amish men don't grow beards until they're married. The Amish don't have electricity in their homes, but they do know what it is and would not be endlessly fascinated by something so simple as a light switch. The Amish have no real similarity to the Quakers, so choosing Quaker as a superhero name makes no sense. Amish boys rarely finish high school, much less attend college. The Amish tenet of nonviolence is not so easily shaken. And so on.

If any other religious stereotypes were used for humor in a comic book, there'd be hell to pay. But the Amish, who rarely seem to even know they're being mocked and rarely do anything about it when they do, are apparently a fair target for Green and Sterbakov. And that's just sad.

It might be worth overlooking if the book went somewhere interesting, but since volume one of Freshmen mostly just sits around inspecting its navel, I can't see any reason to recommend it. At least the art by Leonard Kirk is good.

by Tom Knapp
13 January 2007

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