It’s 1963 and the United States is under the boot of the Third Reich. Germany won the Second World War and a group of resistance fighters squirrelled away in the Texas Book Depository find a spark of hope in new visitors.
It’s a light that is soon extinguished. The Spirit of America feels despair, but fights on.
After this incident, though, Uncle Sam vanishes and in 2018 North America is still ruled by Nazis. Can a new group of Freedom Fighters liberate the nation? After generations of rule by the Third Reich, do the people even remember what freedom is?
Intriguing questions in the first of a 12-issue mini-series by writer Robert Venditti, penciller Eddy Barrows, inker Eber Ferreira and friends. Originally Quality Comics characters, Uncle Sam, Doll Man, Phantom Lady and co joined the DC Universe in the early Seventies, transplants from Earth X, the ‘X’ being a stylised swastika. With the aid of Earth One’s Justice League of America, they freed the people, but on this alternate Earth the Freedom Fighters are alone, and underpowered, with the original members all dead by the time the book catches up with today.
Death in comics is such a common, almost irrelevant, event, that it’s rare for a killing to have impact, but here the murders of three characters are truly shocking, with the art by Barrows, Ferreira and colourist Adriano Lucas unstinting in its depiction of pain. It goes a little too far, with one hero decapitated, but the book’s energy and confidence carried me along. There’s a terrific reveal of some Nazi super-enforcers that’s preceded by a subtle moment of dread, the inclusion of a real-life character as a symbol of resistance is effective and so far as stakes go, they don’t come much bigger – the Freedom Fighters are out to win back the soul of the United States.
We don’t see much of the second generation Freedom Fighters who debut towards issue’s end, but they have my attention. The only real off-notes are the cartoon German dialogue, which wouldn’t shame a 1941 Wonder Woman strip, and Uncle Sam’s line as he fights back… ‘You want one last piece of apple pie?’ It’s not exactly awe-inspiring as battle cries go. Mind, that may be the point, given Uncle Sam’s power levels have traditionally been linked to the people’s morale – after 18 years of Nazi rule, everyday Americans have lost their fighting spirit. Or perhaps it’s a catchphrase from the Golden Age of Comics.
Whatever the case, this 12-issue mini-series has my attention – I’m a sucker for alternate world stories, and was instantly grabbed by tragedy occurring on the same date, in the same place, as events on our own world. Venditti’s story is nicely paced, packed with dramatic incident, and all of it beautifully illustrated. Veteran Barrows’ in-panel compositions work, it’s always clear what’s going on, and the arrangement of frames is especially effective for the initial attack on the resistance fighters. Barrows and Ferreira bring a real creepiness to the scene, Lucas nails the mood with his tones, and letterer Deron Bennett gives a fading Uncle Sam the perfect font. Little details such as a reflection on the original Human Bomb’s visor – and I love the 1963 version of the costume – add extra value.
The ‘hero moment’ as the new Freedom Fighters step forward is nicely worked, with a logo that’s actually better than the cover masthead.
Speaking of which, I like that the cover image by the interior art team is also the first panel of the story… and yet it isn’t. The Uncle Sam variant by Ben Oliver is rather powerful, even unnerving.
As a big fan of the most recent versions of the Freedom Fighters, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, I was dubious about another relaunch – we also had a version in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity – but this first issue is a great-looking, compelling read. Liberate it from a comic shop near you.