By Edmund Shern (writer), Chester Ocampo and Kai (art)

This isn’t a book I’d normally buy. Frankly, there was nothing in the promos that led me to believe this would appeal to my tastes. I’d gone through a manga phase years ago, and I could hardly see how something that’s “manga inspired” could be fun. I mean, if I want the real thing, I’ll go buy it, right? Then there’s the racing element. I can’t stand the Asian racing scene, Nascar, or crap like Initial D. It’s stupid and frankly, a waste of gas. Talk about polluting the atmosphere. Anyway, with all these negatives going against this title, I braced myself for the worst.

Radical now has a proven track record of quality titles. If you haven’t read Hercules or Caliber, you should. Freedom Formula, however, has the most potential to be the company’s break out title. The book has manga driven elements that’ll appeal to younger readers’ tastes, while keeping that post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk feel that had us Gen X’ers loving Akira back in the day.

This first issue does a lot of “rule setting”, laying down the ground work of what’s to come. It’s a bleak future, yet one of hope. Wars have ravaged the planet for years, but finally the world is at peace. The popular ruling sport consists of drivers racing around in modified military mechs. If there’s no more war, you might as well use them for something right? Zee, the protagonist, is what people call a Wastelander. He’s never been to the city, but on his father’s dying request he reluctantly makes his way toward Los Petropolis with a parcel in hand. Everything that happens next harkens back to the old adage of “being at the wrong place at the wrong time” (or right time), as Zee gets himself in a load of trouble.

What I enjoyed is how writer Edmund Shern takes his time with the story. Sure, it gets us from the Wastelands to bustling city of Los Petropolis very quickly, but we get a good glimpse of what’s gone on before and what the world is like now. The only thing that doesn’t work is the abrupt ending of the issue. If the creative team had given us one more page to wrap things up into a cliffhanger, it would have been fine.

Chester Ocampo and Kai do fantastic work. I have no idea what these two artists did before, but what they do here is quite impressive. And while I disagree with their panel choices and high use of negative space in the first five pages, the rest of the book does a great job of showcasing their storytelling and artistic skills. It’s definitely manga inspired, and old Zee could easily be mistaken for Kaneda (from Akira), but there’s also a Steve Epting like quality to their work that adds a strong sense of depth and drama. The double page splash of Los Petropolis’ skyline will floor you.

Don’t let the manga inspired look deter you. I know it’s easy to look at this book and think “style over substance”, but I digress. You can have both. This title along with Radical’s other offerings are evident of that.  (Grade: B)

– J. Montes