Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, August 10, 2008
      ( 8/10/2008 10:28:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"IT TAKES A SPECIAL PERSON TO BE AN ASSHOLE FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE." In the future of Radical Comics' newest five-issue mini-series, Freedom Formula, the world's war-mongering governments have been overthrown by the people in a "global civil movement," leaving a self-described capitalist utopia ("Free enterprise for a free world!" two revisionist talking heads tell us) where the big conflicts are purportedly resolved through a cross-country race entitled Formula Infinity. "The generous corporations have modified the vicious cycles not for war," we're told, "but for sport and the celebration of freedom." Doesn't take too many panels to see that this blather is b.s., of course (the phrase "generous corporations" is the first big clue), and that our free market future is just as filled with downtrodden have-nots as the bad old world.

Among these are the Eugenes, genetically modified workers with barcodes tattooed on the back of their necks that do the crap work in the city, and the ordinary folk who live in the desert wastelands outlying the city. Among this latter group is a sullen boy named Zee, who has been given the task of delivering a mysterious package to the city. We don’t know much about Zee in the first ish - except that he's pissed off at his dead daddy who he somehow blames for his mother's death. Ah, family issues.

Striking off across the wasteland in his dusthopper, our hero winds up riding into the middle of Formula Infinity - where robot-suited racers think nothing of decimating competitors' road crews to give themselves the advantage. Zee is himself nearly dusted when a racer rams into a crew's vehicle, sending an electrical tower onto his dusthopper. He hooks up with a girl mechanic named Myles to make his way into the city of Los Petropolis, but completing that delivery isn't as simple as Zee thinks. At the end of the first book, his delivery brings him face-to-face with a menacing half-cybernetic creature who may or may not be a rogue former racer named Prometheus.

Influenced by drive-in fare like Death Race 2000 and the movie version of Damnation Alley, writer Edmund Shern and artists Kai & Chester Ocampo may not be traveling any unfamiliar territory here, but they do so slickly. Shern's script may be a little too parsimonious with the background info, but since some of it's being given to us via corporate double-speak, we can assume that much of this stuff will be clarified as the series progresses. Kai and Ocampo's art is moody, but I particularly enjoyed the few action panels where the duo dropped all the painterly coloring in favor of stark black-and-white inked figures against a bright red background. In those brief moments, Freedom Formula has a manga-esque feel suited to the series' Big Machinery. Frankly, I'd have preferred it if more of the book had been done in this style - if only to bolster the impact of the action scenes - but since Radical has made the painted look a part of its house style, I'm probably being too much of a graphic storytelling traditionalist here.

Of the three mini-series currently pubbed by the fledgling comics line (Caliber and Hercules being the other two), I'm personally least interested in a dark and gritty dystopian tale of robot/cybernautic racer/warriors. But for those who still get a charge out of Robotech/Micronaut/Transformer-y styled comics, than this book probably has the winning formula.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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