I was in the neighborhood of my local game store yesterday, and spent some time I really shouldn't have looking over the Freedom City setting book for Mutants & Masterminds.
In Astro City, Kurt Busiek keeps coming up with characters who are obvious homages to classic, archetypal characters, but still seem fresh and inspired. Alan Moore has pulled off the same thing in both Tom Strong and the classic 1963 books.
Steve Kenson... hasn't.
kolchis, if you thought Lady Starbright in Silver Age Sentinels was a blatant Green Lantern rip-off, wait until you see Centurion. And Quirk. And The Green Man. I can't even let these guys weasel out as "homages" -- he just took origins and backgrounds verbatim and changed a few details here and there. His organizations are even more blatant. ASTRO Labs? A.E.G.I.S.?
At least one super-team feels like second-hand Astro City, as if he were trying to do the same kind of reinvention that Busiak does so well with one of Busiak's own reinventions. He does come up with a FEW interesting character concepts here and there, but on the whole, it just feels flat.
From a rules standpoint, the characters just don't seem very challenging. M&M's system allows for some truly creative, off-beat abilities -- but most of the characters in Freedom City have fairly conventional power-sets.
Paradoxically, M&M's power system makes a lot of NPC write-ups simply redundant. In Champions, the classic Team Of Elemental Villains takes some effort to assemble (as does just about anything in the Hero System), and odds are that the characters will have some interesting, unexpected abilities to catch the PCs off-guard. The Elemental Team in Freedom City have Alternate Form: Water, Alternate Form: Gas, and so on. No real surprises there.
You don't have to build an Elemental character that colorlessly. In fact, I think that out of the small stable of M&M characters I've half-finished, my Alternate Form: Water-based character is the one who packs the MOST surprises.
(Considering he's based in part on Zan of the Wonder Twins, that's a surprise in itself....)
The setting itself is no better, the usual super-rpg litany of alien this and interdimensional that and ancient whatever -- in short, everything that normanrafferty hates about the super-hero genre. Of course, all this is combined with the more recent conceit that different historical periods reflected the feel of the comics being published at the time (the over-the-topitude of the Silver Age, the grit of the late '80s/early '90s). Again -- Moore and Busiak and even John Byrne can make that work. Kenson is no Busiak.
Personally, I could ad-lib a better comic setting for any given era, and probably will. That's how the original "universes" came about, after all -- making it up as you go along.
On the other claw -- not everyone who wants to play M&M is an old-school geek like me. Would I recommend this book to other M&M players?
Probably not. If you want to play in an existing setting, you can find all sorts of resources for the extant comic-verses out there on the Web, including some very good M&M write-ups of Classic Comic Characters. Given the robust simplicity of the M&M rules, picking up "Enemy Books" for other super-hero games and adapting the characters to M&M wouldn't take much time or effort at all.
Me, I've got a garage full of old Champions and V&V stuff waiting for me to get some time....