And they find it in the shape of Population Control, a monstrous-looking bunch who’ve come from the future to kill enough people in the past so that their reality never comes to pass. Allegedly – given how quickly known genetic manipulators SHADE appear on the scene, Trumont has likely devised a scam to set Human Bomb up for a fall. Whatever the case, Population Control’s members – including the Euthanizer and Catastrophe – are gloriously over the top, spouting Dalek dialogue as they turn hundreds into zombies, but their rhetoric fits this series’ willingness to engage with controversial issues. Cue an enjoyable fracas that climaxes with one member’s outfit getting ripped. Guess …
It’s a time of change for DC’s most idealistic heroes. The Freedom Fighters have been told that the government can no longer afford them, so the members need to rethink their lives. Doll Man has gone back to the suburbs. Phantom Lady has her film career. The Ray is skilled enough to get a new team gig any time he wishes. Uncle Sam remains the Spirit of America. Miss America is a presidential liaison. The Black Condor is happy to be a local hero. Firebrand is – oops – dead.
But the Human Bomb …. what’s a guy who needs a daily jelly bath in order not to explode, to do? Despite his good nature, Andy Franklin scares other superheroes. And he scares Trumont, the leader of government black ops agency SHADE. He’d happily have Andy killed. That’s something the President of the USA won’t countenance unless Andy becomes an immediate threat to the public. Andy himself tries to take control of his public image here with a friendlier costume – he’s previously dressed like a depressed executioner, which is so not a good look when you’re rescuing kittens from trees. Wanting to road test the fresh image with one last hurrah, he persuades fellow Freedom Fighters Black Condor and Ray to go out looking for trouble.
And so it is that this series ends on a cliffhanger – what’s going to happen to the Human Bomb as SHADE takes him away?
You have to hand it to writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti – they certainly know how to leave us wanting more. In a scant 20 pages they give us characterisation, intrigue and action to spare. There’s humour too, after Black Condor takes down a meths lab on his family’s reservation and talk turns to his girlfriend, Phantom Lady (click to enlarge).
Look how well penciller Travis Moore translates Gray and Palmiotti’s script onto the page – dialogue/beat/dialogue, with plenty of variation between the first and third panels. Many an artist would simply reuse that first image, perhaps changing the lines around eyes or mouth, but not Moore. He never skimps, packing pages to the gills with interesting people and incident. (And I can’t remember an artist ever being faced with so many shots of men in their tighty-whities, but he rises to the challenge.) What’s more, he’s done this for nine months in a row, making him a workhorse by the standards of all those artists today who think a month contains six weeks. He also draws a mean cover – nicely inked by Walden Wong and gorgeously coloured by Allen Passalaqua. Find Moore a new regular assignment now, DC.
Backing up Moore, as he has most months, is inker Trevor Scott, whose clean lines are made for a book which doesn’t like grey areas. Since the title began, Palmiotti and Gray have woven a tapestry from the issues facing contemporary American society. At times, pages have been a little too packed with information and debate, but you can’t fault this series for its ambition; there really has been no other book like it, as the Freedom Fighters battled their enemies’ ideas as much as their abilities.
With the Human Bomb situation, and loose ends deliberately dangled last issue involving bad guy King Bullet and his villainous mob, I can’t believe Gray and Palmiotti aren’t pitching a new mini-series. And when it appears, I’ll be there, saluting America’s Freedom Fighters.