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‘Free Pass’ GN review

Written and illustrated by Julian Hanshaw
Published by Top Shelf Productions


Nothing says “Look at me, I’m trying to say something important” than when somebody quotes George Orwell at the beginning.

Julian Hanshaw does exactly that to set up Free Pass, his graphic novel involving a bunch of sex, politics, and technology.

As it begins to muddle all three of them together, it gets murky what Hanshaw is trying to say about this bubbling stew.

Maybe he’s not trying to say anything profound or make some big statement.

However, it’s hard not to think that when you consider the subject matter.

And then Hanshaw pulls an Orwell quote about how “you are not free to think for yourself,” followed by a quote from documentary The Social Dilemma and a Business Insider article regarding A.I.-powered sex robots.

Free Pass follows Huck and Nadia, a pair of twentysomething techies at a social media company whose adventurous sex life takes a turn when another techie drops off a sex robot capable of morphing into anyone with a photo on the internet. Sure makes those “free pass” conversations — which celebrity can you step out of your sexually exclusive relationship with guilt-free – have some extra pop, right?

Meanwhile, Huck appears to be falling into some kind of radicalization via internet – the videos and podcasts that cloak misogyny, right-wing politics and abuse under the ideas of “freethinking” and “free speech.” And this is happening in the backdrop of Huck’s job as a comments moderator on a YouTube-like social site, all while some office politics play out about the company seemingly enforcing a rigid viewpoint in its workers amid policing speech online, and with some kind of big election in the background.

It’s a lot of points, but what does it add up to? That’s where Hanshaw lost me as I kept reading.

Huck comes off as unsavory, antisocial and weird throughout the entire book. He’s obsessed with these baby birds in a nest and how most of them will die. He makes women uncomfortable with fanboy pedantry and derisive nicknames. And he’s a poor quality boyfriend who tries to hide anything he thinks from Nadia.

And who is Nadia as a character?

She’s sexually into Huck, then super horny for the sex robot, and then trying to jump ship to another tech firm, and then creeped out by Huck later after all their sex romping starts bleeding into their in-real-life interactions. They sort it out eventually and keep on going, so fine, but I really didn’t feel invested in their relationship or threats to it.

Wading through Free Pass felt like reading a collection of observational opinions that never went all that deep.

Does any of these pieces of plot cohere into a story? What does the bird thing mean? Or the election, which stays in such broad strokes of “society’s divided and the internet divides it further”?

Big statement there, pally. Never heard that one before.

Many people have big things to say about the confluence of sex, politics and technology in our day and age.

But for me, Free Pass ain’t it.

Grade: C-



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