Earth X is back! After Grant Morrison and Jim Lee’s impeccable The Multiversity: Mastermen one-shot, this is its big proper return in comics. And while it is decidedly not Mastermen, with no Overman to be seen or heard from, it is a really interesting look at that world with a clever new spin and a great approach to mythology and history.
Titled “Death of a Nation,” Freedom Fighters is a kick off with a great promise. The story starts in Dallas, on November 22nd of 1963. It’s an important and ominous date, especially in the context of this dark, dystopic and horrifying reality. It’s the day of the JFK assassination and it is no accident that the story begins there. Despite worlds being different, dates still hold some level of importance.
The first image we is of Uncle Sam’s poster being torn down and ripped apart in pure rage, to unveil Hitler’s face. It’s a horrifying moment and it sets the tone for the story, while summing up the terrible nature of the reality we’re exploring. America’s spirit has very much been torn down, ripped apart and replaced by this insidious and awful ideology that should have lost for good. This being the opening on a very important date is a key moment that conveys a lot.
From there we move onto a secret meeting of the rebellion, with the arrival of the original Freedom Fighters of the ’60s. Doll-Man, The Human Bomb and Black Condor all emerge from the shadows, led by Jesse Owens. Owens is a fascinating figure of real history and the decision to place him here, as the number one most wanted man of his age for how he humiliated Hitler, is inspired. Owens then quotes Patrick Henry’s speech and says the words “Give me liberty, or give me death,” setting a somber mood and laying out the core will and drive at the heart of the rebellion and the entire story itself. This is America’s last spark in the face of the awful reality that is Earth X.
The heroes then greet all the assembled members of the rebellion and we find out the original Phantom Lady and The Ray fell. Though members fall, the remaining embers of rebellion still burn and thus utter the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. Then, not soon after, as they begin to make their plans to strike back once more, the American flag itself morphs into a PlaSSticmen agent, a terrifying perversion of the beloved stretching hero. The SS are the absolutely most covert branch of the current government, they are a glimpse into the nightmarish potential of Plastic Man’s powers. The flag itself turning into this monstrous slave of the Nazis is, again, no accident as Venditti and Barrows purposefully emphasize the heart of the story. The Freedom Fighters are then taken and brutally massacred for all the people of the world to watch, as Owens suffers in a prison for good.
The book then moves to Uncle Sam, who watches the events on a television with heartbreaking dread and sorrow. The last remains of the spirit are shattering. The PlaSSticmen then surround Sam and attempt to take him, but he merely fades away into nothingness, leaving behind his iconic garb.
We then cut to 55 years into the future, to current day, as kids playing baseball in the park are set for punishment, for baseball was an American pastime. We’re told of disturbing culture police and other operations as the lead Nazi operative, the last executioner from the 1963 Freedom Fighters massacre gloats about the past and their success, leading to their current future. Not soon after, the entire building blows, with The Human Bomb walking out, cursing the Nazis, having taken out the last executioner and gotten back at them at last. The new Freedom Fighters then emerge in front of the kids and all who stand in the park watch. Speaking of the grand return and their great mission to revive the spirit of America, to claim back what once was and to fight back. Then they’re met with the arrival of a titantic metal robot, one the new Bozos, who prepares to strike them, which is where the issue leaves off, promising to dive into The Iron Police in the next.
Freedom Fighters is a really intriguing start for the story Venditti, Barrows, Bennett and Lucas are telling. Barrows’ work is remarkably fitting for the title as his horror sensibilities are excellent, displayed evidently in other past series such as Martian Manhunter. The book also blends real history with comics mythology impressively well while also taking almost an All-Star Superman approach to the mythology of Earth X, grabbing from everything that’s ever been, whether it’s the Silver Age or the more modern Mastermen. In a lot of ways it feels like the start of a definitive and contemporary Freedom Fighters tale and it is a story that is sorely needed. This is one to watch.