REVIEW: Silver Age Superfreaks

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Apr 7 08:21:12 PDT 2007

Tom Russell reviews
Silver Age Superfreaks # 1-4, by Martin Phipps

My relationship with Martin Phipps's Superfreaks
universe has been largely an ambivalent one: sometimes
I love it and sometimes I don't.  And the same things
I love with one breath I don't in the next.  It's part
and parcel of what makes Superfreaks, Superfreaks.

For the uninitiated, Superfreaks is centered on
conventional law enforcement in a world of
superheroes.  Oftentimes, the crimes being
investigated by the detectives, forensics specialists,
and district attorneys involve these superheroes-- or
other genre elements-- directly.

The series is very idea driven: what would be the
consequences of sex with Superman?, would
commercially-created clones be considered human
beings?, is the teen sidekick really a case of child

The biggest idea of them all is the central and
somewhat obvious conflict between conventional law
enforcement and the superheroes themselves.

Though the series has had some decent
characterization, particularly with some of the
detectives, it's really the ideas that take
precedence.  So much so that Martin never tries to
disguise the archetypes he's playing off of, going
with generic or punny names for "his" versions.  For
example, The Joker becomes The Kidder; Wonder Woman
becomes Amazing Woman; Green Arrow becomes The Archer,
et cetera.

This is something that always irked me, and probably
always will.  Sometimes, the ideas are so good and
entertaining that I can set this reservation aside. 
Martin himself has said more than once that the series
is really a parody, though I find it to be strangely
absent of jokes.

So, like I said, I'm ambivalent.  I think the best
stories in the series have been those that make the
most of its premise: clever real-world extrapolations
of crazy genre ideas, with a focus on law enforcement.
 Those stories in which the extrapolations are less
clever are kind of mediocre; the stories that shift
the focus from detectives to superheroes don't seem to
have the same sparkle.

And I think that comes down to the fact that it is
much easier to write about superheroes than to write
about "real" people.  The genre is so immense and
pregnant with possibilities that even a bad superhero
story isn't all that bad.  But when you're working
exclusively with "normal" people, even in the genre,
it requires more of a writer to keep it interesting.

I think the stories that stay true to Martin's premise
are, therefore, inherently more interesting than those
that don't.  

Silver Age Superfreaks does not stay true to this
premise.  The focus is split pretty evenly between the
heroes and the detectives.  There's not really much by
way of interesting twists on genre elements.

Granted, that's not the point of this story.  This
story is a prequel to the series proper, and so it
serves as a sort of Phantom Menace story.  That is, it
shows how the various elements of the fictional
universe came to be, how these characters got where
they were, et cetera.

I'm not a huge fan of this kind of story, if only
because it's dependent on the unanswered questions of
rabid fanboys.  The fact is, the Superfreaks series
doesn't have that many unanswered questions.  There's
no real curiosity, at least on my part, as to how Alan
Russell got promoted to his current position or how
the Extreme Force was formed.

Now, there is another approach to this story-- another
reason to tell it-- and that's to set up elements for
as-yet-untold stories.  To not only explain things for
the series it is serving as prequel to, but to set up
events that will come to fruition in the stories

And, perhaps, Silver Age Superfreaks sets up some
material that will be explored in Martin's new series,
Superfreaks Season 2.  But I can't see any loose
threads in this miniseries; everything seems to tie in
pretty nicely with Superfreaks proper.

I was not only disappointed to see that the promise of
the premise was not delivered on, but that the promise
of the title was squandered as well: there wasn't
really much that was Silver Agey about Silver Age

Still, it has its moments.  I did enjoy the formation
of the Extreme Force Six, even if I wasn't
particularly interested in how it was formed in the
first place.  I thought it was funny how Extreme,
Martin's Superman analogue, kept saying the very idea
of him serving on such a team was ridiculous.

I wish there had been more extrapolation like that,
and I wish it had been centered on the police.  Ah

The story moves quickly enough, as Martin's often do,
and people who are more enamored with the universe
than I am will probably find it to be a bit of
fan-service, so to speak.  Kind of like those episodes
of Transformers where we got flashbacks to life on

I was going to say something about Martin's overuse of
colons and semicolons, especially in the first couple
of issues, but I am fully aware that I have no room to
talk. :- )


Tom Russell


"Personality is everything that's false
in a human being."-- Sam Shepherd

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