ďFreak Force, Together Again for the First TimeĒ
ďPrisoners of WarĒ
Writer/Artist/Co-Plotter: Erik Larsen
Artist: Mark Englert
Co-Plotter: Gary Carlson
Four stories. The first finds Dragon and Jennifer desperate to rescue her daughter Angel, so desperate they enlist the mysterious Mr. Glum. The second chronicles a very ill-conceived notion to reunite the always under-performing Freak Force. The third is the continuing soap opera of the Mighty Man gift being wielded by the wrong hands, ie not the easily intimidated Nurse Ann. The fourth is a comedy short.
Why am I still reading this? Whatís the attraction, after all these years, from someone who knows all of Larsenís tricks? Shock value has been the norm for this book, which plays by its own rules even as it homages the more enduring creations of the Big Two. Larsenís own playground is his blessing and curse. Since heís been the prime originator, the solo master of this domain for so many years, he got to build his universe from the ground up.
And since heís been doing it for so long (a remarkable achievement on any title), heís generated his own very complex and convoluted continuity. In some ways, this gets in the way of reading, mostly because of the sheer number of characters that populate his world, most of whom are walk-ons and redshirts unless you know who they are already. In others, it doesnít, because Larsenís big themes are always the same, and very accessible ones they are: explosions, big boobs, and bone-crushing mayhem.
One smart thing he did was giving Dragon an invulnerable wife, and a very unflappable child. Angelís pet/doll Mr. Glum is actually a world-conquering alien from another dimension come to prove his might by killing Dragon, but to her heís just her extra-grumpy little friend. She doesnít mind his frequent, futile attempts to destroy her stepdad, because sheís never warmed to him that much herself. Very funny comedy always follows when we catch up with the frustrated little pint-sized dude in red.
Now one might think, after my distaste for the recent fate of Sue Dibny, that Iíd be horrified by the portrayal of Sharona/Rapture in the Freak Force story. Bodies pile up due to the team ineptitude (and Mighty Manís crazed current controller), and Sharona is literally a used-up crack whore with nothing on her mind but sex and oblivion. Hardly a flattering portrait of a once-promising young woman, and I only hope those folds and wrinkles evident in her much too frequent ass-shots are cellulite.
There are several reasons Iím not outraged, though. One, Sharona has a history of criminal behavior. In fact, in this universe (Dragonís second; he sorta got re-booted by swapping dimensions a while back), this Sharona murdered her pimp, a significant act that set her life on a
much more horrid path than version one (who was killed in heroic battle). Sheís become scum.
No, itís not pretty, or even tasteful, but it works for this character, and it works within Larsenís brash, playful, satirical and admittedly long-tasteless, ultra-violent take on superheroes and their problems. When this aged and out-of-shape team springs back into battle, you can see for yourself what a bad idea it is, and Larsen plays it for laughs, some lighthearted, most tinged with bitterness and a logic that fits in with Dragonís dangerous world.
The first story is the usual all-out battle, with a giant death and maiming toll (happens about every 20 or so issues). The third one is actually the most interesting, as we see that Ann, always a nice gal, is slowly wising up. Now bereft of the Mighty Man powers she accidentally inherited (in the very best case ever of a surprise secret identity; this Captain Marvel analog is secretly Ö a girl!), now sees that maybe she was the best person for that job after all. This is a plot thatís really been going on since the earliest days of this title, and itís nice to see it unfold in what amounts to an old-style romance comic serial, bit by bit.
The final story is told from the acerbic Mr. Glumís perspective, and itís a hoot to see a world-conqueror whoís finally met his match in a young girl.
Yep, itís 100 pages of pulse-pounding action and melodramatic soap, possessing not an ounce of subtlety, and while it hasnít hit greatness for awhile, itís still the same fun old ride, only more of it!
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