Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters v.2 #1
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Renato Arlem
Colors: Rob Schwager
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Dave Johnson
Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
This new ongoing title flows from the previous eight-part limited series of the same name from late 2006/early 2007, and I’m pleased to find it maintains some of the same themes and strong characterization that made the first series so entertaining and interesting. Among those credited with the creation of the first limited series was writer Grant Morrison, and though his name’s been dropped from the credits here, his surreal and challenging influence is still being felt. The biggest shift in this new title comes with the artwork. Daniel Acuna’s bright, energetic artwork is replaced with a darker approach, but it reinforces the more mature side of this socio-political study, dressed up as a super-hero adventure.
Whereas once they fought against a corrupt U.S. government, Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters are now working for the new administration. Having expelled corruption before by fighting from without, they now watch the country’s new leaders by working from within. They are dedicated to serving their country, so they willingly brave certain death off-planet, facing off against an invading alien race. Upon their return home, though, they find Washington, D.C., devastated by the Amazonian attack. That attack has changed priorities within the government, leading to a new mission for the Freedom Fighters, but not all of them agree that it’s the right course of action.
Renato Arlem’s name may be new to some readers, but he’s been working in the industry for at least five years now, and that’s just what I know of at this point. I recall his work from an Action Comics fill-in a few years ago and more recently from Annihilation: Silver Surfer. His work on those projects was a bit rough, if memory serves, but it’s clear from his efforts on Uncle Sam that he’s developed significantly as an artist. His art here is confident and well defined while boasting a dark and mature tone. His hyper-detailed linework in this comic book actually puts me in mind of Jose (Elephantmen) Ladronn’s art from a little earlier in his career. Arlem’s additions to the Red Bee design aren’t overdone. Despite the harsher tone of the visuals, he still manages to portray her in an attractive light without gratuitously sexualizing her. Rob Schwager employs a muted color palette that nicely reinforces the dire and tense tone of the story and art.
Arlem’s dense and meticulous artwork makes it hard to miss Daniel Acuna’s work from the previous series, and the same goes for Dave Johnson’s striking cover art. The poster design really grabs the eye. I particularly loved the juxtaposition of a symbol of patriotism with the huge “VIVA!” emblazoned beneath, serving as a call to revolution. The image gets to the heart of the central theme of the series: idealism versus security.
The writers take the time to incorporate this story into current DC continuity, referencing the events of Amazons Attack, for example. But they also manage to separate these characters from the rest of the action unfolding in this shared continuity, allowing them to tell stories somewhat unencumbered by those common links. In other words, Palmiotti and Gray achieve a nice balance between the two. Part of the appeal of the Freedom Fighters stems from the history and tradition the team and its members represent. They can’t ignore continuity altogether, nor should they, but they’re fortunately not held back by it either.
The new Red Bee serves as the narrator for this introductory issue. It’s a smart move. She’s the newest character in the bunch, and it allows new readers and longtime DC fans to get to know the character a little better. Of course, the Red Bee also undergoes a radical change early on in this story. It’s an all-too convenient transformation for an insect-themed heroine, but it’s charmingly reminiscent of the campy super-hero origin plotting of the Silver Age. The Bee’s enthusiasm for her work and her role in the Freedom Fighters establishes a positive, upbeat tone that makes for an interesting contrast with the more sullen elements in the story. Furthermore, the ending — in which the Red Bee doesn’t seem to fare so well — makes for a jarring and effective shift in the character’s perspective that really draws one into the drama.
By the end of the issue, the title characters face the core dilemma that was explored in the first series and is clearly still at the forefront of this revived property. The heroes face a choice: to act as the government’s means to control illegal superhuman activity or to respect the rights of individuals. The analogy is clear here. The Amazon attack is used to justify a new super-powered police force the way the 9-11 terrorist attacks were used to justify the Patriot Act and other measures that emphasized the security of a nation over the rights of the individual. What’s interesting about the writers approach to the issue and to the analogy here is that they don’t take one side over the other. The protagonists are divided over the conflict, just as Americans have been divided in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. 8/10