Freelancers is a comic about Los Angeles orphans Cassandra and Valerie, whose jobs entails keeping up with writing and editing deadlines for five different comic or magazine publications…no wait, wrong freelancers. Cassandra (Cassie) and Valerie (Val) are freelancers in the hired mercenaries and odd job sense of the title, after spending their youth being trained at a kung-fu orphanage called the House of Little Fortunes (wait, is that a reference to Jackie Chan’s real life Chinese opera troupe?). The best way to describe Cassie and Val is simply tying their appearance and personality to fantasy job classes. Cassie is the blonde down-to-earth type that would be the default warrior with a routine broad sword, where Val would be a black haired rough-and-tumble Fighter or Monk. Both ladies work for Patrick Sunnyside, former Blaxploitation actor turned freelancer manager, who provides the girls with bounties to hunt.
I have started to dislike the multiple writer thing with comics like this, as it doesn’t seem like it makes anything better. In fact, it reminds me of how the live action Transformers movies have multiple writers, but the story just ends up an incomprehensible mess. Someone please explain to my how Eric Esquivel is listed as the writer, but then that is somehow different from Ian Brill, who is credited for the plot of Freelancers’ first two issues. Needless to say, Freelancers plays out like a quickly canceled NBC primetime action show, where the tired tropes of chapter ending back stabbings and street justice are worn like badges of honor. It becomes even goofier when you piece together the villain’s master plan, consisting of training kung-fu using a delinquent army reminiscent of Shredder’s master plan in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
Cassie’s and Val’s upbringing is presented in such a genuine fashion, that it almost appears that they thought that being a kung-fu orphan could make up for the fact that neither girl is that interesting without the other. The two girls have some workable chemistry when they are together, but any buddy cop (or buddy mercenary) team needs to be able to stand strong separate from each other, not just together. No joke, I’ve struggled multiple times during this review to keep their names straight, as I always seem to mix the two up. While their chemistry works, often in the form of snappy witticism and cracks at each other, it does come off as distracting when other characters try and do the same thing. Cassie and Val are basically two kung-fu sisters against the world who run around all day kicking people in the face, so they can quip back and forth and it seems normal. They even make jokes that they know for a fact they are only funny to each other. Problem is that almost everyone in Freelancers talks that same way. Regardless if they are the comic’s shadowy villain or the girls’ mercenary rival Katherine Rushmore, they are all forced to make one liners.
Artist Joshua Covey’s work isn’t inherently bad, but jars with Freelancers’ supposed street-smart characters. All the ladies look weird because they are this distorted mix of artist team Guru Hiro’s pseudo-Disney style of huge eyes and large faces, but it is also where everyone has the thick lips and bombshell bodies of the woman found in Adam Warren’s Empowered. The constantly non-existent backgrounds, especially with the action sections, are distracting and off-putting. They remind me of an old Family Circus parody comic goofing on the fact that the kids seemed to be discussing a sign floating in a white empty void. (Editors note: this review was written a few years ago, so the Family Circus comic in question has since disappeared off the internet) Replace white with a purple or orange bloom and you have a good idea where my problem stems. Awesome dude Felipe Smith, who does the cover has short flash back story placed in the back, exhibits the usual artistic flairs of expressive faces and some rough-as-hell hobos.
Pros: Cassandra and Valerie have some level of chemistry between them, so it’s nice to see that they weren’t meant to be an odd couple who had to overcome their differences. Patrick’s 70’s Blaxploitation background is a nice touch as it’s handled like a respectful homage instead of his entire character. Felipe Smith’s extra story is cute, but also slightly heartwarming.
Cons: Story feels like someone watched a bunch of 70’s era Charlie’s Angels, stole elements and tropes (like frequent backstabbing) whole hog, and then presented them like they were the freshest ideas in the history of human kind. The snarky dialog is at least understandable for Cassandra and Valerie’s dynamic, but when other people do it, it’s pretty damn annoying and often feels inappropriate with some of the more refined characters. Art has this uncanny “pin-up models for 15 year old boys” look to it and the unattractive explosion of a single color instead of a background doesn’t flatter it.
While the underlying message of people can come from the poor parts of L.A. and still become successful is appreciated, it doesn’t make up for Freelancers’ only decent execution or the fact that its story has been done to death. Freelancers is not inherently bad, but because it’s so middling and played-out, I can’t recommend it to anyone. Even people like me who can be suckered in with a Felipe Smith cover should stay away. You want a comic about girl’s who catch bounties and kick ass? Go read Kenichi Sunoda’s Gunsmith Cats instead.