Writer: Jim Zub & Andrew Wheeler
Artist: Vaneda Vireak
Letterer: Andrew Thomas
Publisher: Chapterhouse Comics
A review by Billy Seguire
Lance Valiant works for a better world. A pure hearted optimist with a determined will, he’s the classic comic book hero in every sense of the term. Teamed up with John Cabot and Tasha Kolchak, Freelance features a dynamic team that works to show the Chapterverse in a different light. Unburdened by any organization or agency, the Freelance team are independant and focussed on fighting against the forces of evil in all its forms. With gorgeous, kinetic art that emphasises the mystical aspects of the paranormal, Freelance #1 is the sort of book I will never stop recommending.
First and foremost, the amount of beefcake you get in Freelance #1 is honestly pretty delightfully. It’s a fantastic subversion of established comic book sexualization and I’m honestly in love with how well Vaneda Vireak draws the male form and contextualises these moments in the narrative. Lance standing naked on a rain-soaked rooftop in an obvious homage to Blade Runner was something that won me over from concept alone, but in-context with the story it played to a much more important moment of vulnerability and regret. To get these boys to take their shirts off is one thing, but to make it meaningful and important to the story elevates Freelance #1 to a whole new level.
Even looking beyond the shirtless hunks, Freelance #1 is a book defined by its ambition. Opening mid-fight at the climax of an action-packed set piece, there’s a message delivered right from the start that this is a book that isn’t afraid to put all its best ideas to work. When Lance meets Nekros, a capitalist sociopath who wants to ‘purify’ the slums of Rio De Janeiro with nanotechnology insects known as the Red Swarm, I expected it to be a setup for a major ongoing storyline. I would have gladly seen Nekros take charge as the antagonist of this book, and yet he’s killed off in the opening pages. To so fully develop and realise a villain only to kill him off shows a confidence in the ability of this book to create. Where other comics have reused the same villain over and over again, Freelance wants you to know from the start that it’s going to defy your expectations.
Getting into the actual story, I am absolutely in love with Apollyon, the apparent villain of Freelance and new discovery of apocalyptic cult Aurora Dawn. Her confidence and power put her at the top tier of villains in this universe and like the book itself, she isn’t holding anything back. The title of “The Angel of the Pit” seems absolutely intimidating and I adore the idea that she’s actually come from beyond the scar.
While John’s callous violence has the potential to put him in conflict with Lance’s goals, the way the creators go about defusing this is great. Zub and Wheeler subvert the conflict by making John incredibly charming and fun. When he burst through the rooftop door shouting “Go Team Elevator!” it turns him from potential sociopath into puckish rogue. Meanwhile, the ongoing story of Freelance starts up when Tasha receives a call from an arctic tribe who’s encountered one of the scars in space. While this would ordinarily be a job for PACT, these are a people who solve their own problems. Tasha not only brings intelligence and focus to Freelance, but her past connection to these arctic people makes Freelance the only team capable of closing getting this job done.
In terms of art, Freelance has a fresh look that’s bright and smooth. Characters have an angular style, imbued with energy and motion that just radiates its way into the layout of the book to make it feel action-packed. In the first scene alone, I was struck by light streaming in through windows and that cracked mirror effect as John is pinned against a reflective wall. It makes characters stand out from the background like Freelance is an animated series at times, with some manga-inspired exaggeration of body language and creative panel layout that brings action into the form of the comic itself.
And even disregarding everything I’ve just said, Vireak’s colouring alone makes this issue look phenomenal. The ambient purple hue of the scar perfectly visualises the unknowable potential that lies beyond its borders. It’s the counterpoint to what I said was lacking in Agents of P.A.C.T. and makes me eager for Freelance to explore the more mystical aspects of this universe.
Buy It! Vaneda Vireak’s art and colouring are literal magic. Freelance #1 captures the surreal terror of the supernatural forces in this book better than any mainstream superhero book I’ve read lately and I yearn for Apollyon. If the main conflicts of the Chapterverse going forward are going to concern what comes through these scars, Freelance looks to tackle the most interesting concepts from the sidelines. This isn’t winking Canadiana or grandstanding. It’s a badass action comic that doesn’t shy away from supernatural horror and gives us the most important element of any book: shirtless dudes.