Freelance Vol. 1: Angel of the Abyss
Andrew Wheeler & Jim Zub
Artists: Vaneda Vireak & Cindy Leong
Letterer: Andrew Thomas
Cover: Alex Perkins
Publisher: Chapterhouse Comics
A review by Nico Sprezzatura
Originally created by Ed Furness and Ted McCall in the 1940s, Lance Valiant —AKA Freelance— was a Doc Savage-esque pulp character who unfortunately fell into obscurity after superhero comics ceased being popular in North America. Freelance is an interesting product of his time and place; he was part of the Canadian “Golden Age” of comics that commenced once a WWII ban on non-essential imports (i.e. comic books) was lifted. American comics from that era have since become ubiquitous in modern-day pop culture, but the same can’t be said for their Canadian cousins.
Chapterhouse Comics is looking to change that. Launched in 2015 as the new publisher of fellow Canadian creation Captain Canuck, the so-called “Chapterverse” has steadily grown over the past few years, absorbing forgotten characters from Canadian comics past to join their shared continuity. Freelance, naturally, was one of them.
But this Freelance is quite different from his classic iteration. Reimagined by Andrew Wheeler (Another Castle) and Jim Zub (Wayward) as a gay, Bond-esque superhero, Chapterhouse’s Freelance offers something unique to an underserved demographic in comics — but that’s not to say the title won’t appeal to anybody outside the queer spectrum.
Freelance Vol. 1: Angel of the Abyss benefits from its shared pedigree of Wheeler and Zub. Wheeler, the former Editor-in-Chief of Comics Alliance, has been vocal about LGBTQ representation in comics for quite some time, Freelance very much feels like a mission statement on the subject — namely, that queer superheroes are just as interesting (and worthy) as straight ones. Themes of queerness previously showed up in his aforementioned Another Castle, but it’s definitely at the forefront here, and Freelance is all the better for it.
Zub, on the other hand, has quickly become one of Marvel’s most exciting new talents in recent years. Shortly after the debut of Freelance, he began a fantastic little run on Uncanny Avengers that parlayed into the main Avengers title, with him co-writing the current “No Surrender” storyline. (He’s also just been announced as the new writer of Champions, which I’m very excited for.) Zub’s clear knack for superhero fiction —especially the soapier, relationship-based elements that many writers shy away from— definitely bolsters Wheeler’s, and they’re a great match for one another here.
Without giving anything away, a key relationship from the original Freelance comics has been switched to reflect his updated sexuality, and when they get their big romantic moment, it’s exceedingly satisfying. Queer people are exposed to hetero romance and sexuality all the time in fiction, so it’s really, really refreshing to see a gay superhero like Freelance have a badass career and get the guy. Queer power fantasies!
Also, Wheeler and Zub’s script allows for plenty of beefcake and gratuitous levels of nudity, so… thanks for that, fellas.
Speaking of that visual component, Vaneda Vireak & Cindy Leong’s art is another asset to Freelance. A bit looser than the kind of superhero art you’d see at Marvel or DC, their shared aesthetic is a good reflection of the character; a swashbuckler with pulpy origins like Freelance benefits from kinetic art. Their art is also very colorful, and since we’re dealing with a gay superhero, it only makes sense to present his world in rainbow-tastic palette. There’s specifically lots of pink and purple throughout, and anybody who knows their queer history is well-aware how significant those hues are to the LGBTQ community.
And the beefcake I mentioned above? It’s good. Love me some beefcake on handsome men.
Buy it! The world definitely needs more queer superheroes —perhaps now more than ever— and Freelance Vol. 1 is a fine introduction to one of the North’s most promising newcomers.