Mediocre comics of my youth: The Freedom Fighters (#SFWApro)

freedomfighters1In reviewing recent comic books, I’ve mentioned more than once that even when they’re not to my taste, that doesn’t mean they’re any worse than stuff I bought as a teen. There have always been mediocre books out there, and the original Freedom Fighters series is a case in point (cover by Ernie Chan, all rights remain with current holder).

When the Golden Age publisher Quality Comics went belly-up, DC bought up its characters. The Blackhawks would stay in print through the end of the Silver Age, Plastic Man got an unsuccessful 1960s revival, but the rest of the roster stayed inactive until 1973. In Justice League of America 107, Len Wein introduced us to Earth-X, the world the Quality characters inhabited. Except most of them were dead, WW II having dragged on for years, followed by a Nazi victory via mind-control technology. The Freedom Fighters were the last heroes (on the cover l-r it’s Phantom Lady, Uncle Sam, Human Bomb and the Ray with Doll Man in front and Black Condor overhead), but when a handful of JLA and Justice Society members accidentally arrived on Earth-X, they were able to smash the Nazi mind-control system. Earth was free!

And according to Freedom Fighters #1 (by Gerry Conway and Martin Pasko) that was pretty boring after thirty years of warfare. The FF packed up and made the jump to Earth-One where they hoped things were less peaceful. No sooner did they arrive than they ran into the Silver Ghost, a criminal out to take over Manhattan (he claimed his family were the ones who bought it from the Dutch) with strategic genius and a Midas touch (but to silver, not gold). After three of the team were silverized, the others had to serve the Ghost; he lost in the end, but not before the Freedom Fighters were labeled as super-villains —Hunted by the Law! Hated by the Underworld in the words of later covers.

The text page explained the team were a golden opportunity to introduce a fresh team and escape the long history most DC heroes had by this time. And certainly for DC having a super-hero hunted by the cops was unusual (common at Marvel, of course). Unfortunately, that was about it. The writers could have tackled the stress of years at war, their attitude toward the law after years as a resistance group (or free speech—would they support Nazis marching?), how Earth 1 and Earth X were different, the team’s self-acknowledged need for more action, but they didn’t. We got stock character set-ups instead: half the team’s in love with Phantom Lady, everyone argues a lot (not terribly novel by 1973) and Doll Man meets his wife’s exact double.

The plots were adequate to keep me reading as a teen, but even then I wouldn’t put them up against the original Swamp Thing or Steve Englehart’s Avengers run. And sometimes they were a mess. #11 has a trio of Native Americans suddenly get super-powers and go on a rampage; it turns out it’s the work of one of the team’s running adversaries, but it still feels very forced (and the villains are the Native American equivalent of the shiftless black bucks who sit around waiting for their welfare checks). #3 is even worse (cover by Dick Giordano, all rights to current holder)

freedomfighters3The story (Pasko again) relies way too much coincidence (though I’ve seen worse). An unstable businessman suddenly snaps and kills his wife (whom Pasko implies always wanted him to do this), then walks into the middle of a Freedom Fighters/bank robbers fight. Then watching Qwaardians (evil beings from another universe) try to help the villains by giving them a weapon, which turns the businessman into Skragg, a ray-blasting killer who exists only to ray-blast things and kill, and kill, and kill again! Even by the low standards of my teenage years, this fell short.

But I’m not getting rid of my issues. They’re part of an era when comics meant so much to me, so even a mediocre one gets a certain amount of affection — way more than something current that was this forgettable.

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One response to “Mediocre comics of my youth: The Freedom Fighters (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: RIP Len Wein (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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