Freedom Fighters #1
“Chapter One: Death of a Nation”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Eber Ferreira
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Letters: Deron Bennett
Cover artists: Barrows (regular)/Ben Oliver (variant)
Editor: Paul Kaminski
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I’ve been obsessed with DC’s Golden Age characters, as well as others from the era it acquired from other, now-defunct publishers over the years, such as the Quality characters, such as Uncle Sam, the Human Bomb and the rest of the lineup that DC rebranded as the Freedom Fighters in the 1970s. When DC reintroduced the characters in one of its annual JLA/JSA crossovers of the time, they were on Earth-X, fighting against the Nazis, who’d won the Second World War. After DC did away with its multiverse with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, the Freedom Fighters just became another group of WWII-eras, taking away that unique mission. With a one-shot during the Multiversity not long ago and now with this new limited series, DC has clearly seen that the characters work better in that alternate-universe setting. Despite my interest in Golden Age super-heroes, what drew me to this comic was news that it featured another hero, a different kind a hero: a real-life one whom writer Robert Venditti had incorporated into a tale of resistance and horror that made a lot of sense. Though I’m a little late to the game, I’m realizing that Venditti is a skilled and powerful creative force in DC’s stable, and I’m definitely going to be paying closer attention for his name on future projects as well.
On Earth-X, history unfolded in a radically different direction, with the Nazis conquering America in 1960. That gave rise to a resistance movement, led by the inspiration of once-fabled athlete Jesse Owens and made possible through the superhuman powers of the heroes known as the Freedom Fighters. But the Nazis had superhuman agents of their own, that proved to be more ruthless. Skip ahead to the present, where the Nazis continue to rule over America with an iron fist, but a new batch of heroes arises to carry on the legacies over those who came before.
Eddy Barrows struck me as an unexpected choice to illustrate this story, given its darker leanings, historic relevance and macabre elements, but he surprised me and impressed. His depiction of the pivotal scene in the opening, as the fluid, monstrous agents of the Third Reich reveal themselves, reminded me a great deal of the style of Tom (The Spectre) Mandrake. His depiction of a desperate but defiant Uncle Sam was striking as well, as he conveys his spirit while instilling a sickly look to the legendary figure to convey the devastating blow that’s been dealt with the Spirit of America. My only qualm with the art is the failure to update the Nazi uniforms for the present-day scenes. After 55 years, it seems implausible they’d stay the same.
Easily the most compelling storytelling element in this issue is the writer’s decision to introduce a new member to the ranks of the classic Freedom Fighters roster: Jesse Owens, the real-life athletic phenomenon that disproved Hitler’s “Master Race” philosophy on his home turf during the 1936 Olympics. Incorporating such a historical figure into this piece of alt-history fiction was a bold move, but it really resonated and set the story apart from past Freedom Fighters stories. My hope is that future issues will explore not only more of this divergent Owens figure, but other real people in this unreal drama.
I noted with interest that the cover bills this as the first of a 12-issue limited series. This appears to be par for the course for DC when it comes to the Freedom Fighters. The publisher sees potential in the property — or at least in various creators’ takes on the characters — but not to commit to ongoing titles on a regular basis. It’s a shame, but like I said, I have a fondness for Golden Age characters and their legacies. Maybe these short bursts are best for the property, though, but if the rest of the series is as novel and intense as this first issue, I hope we get more of Venditti’s interpretations of these characters and his exploration of political resistance through the super-hero genre. 8/10