With the announcement of the new Ray CW cartoon, an opportunity presents itself for me to dust off another one of my B-List Defender reviews, this time about Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.
This series, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Daniel Acuna from 2006, isn't the greatest of comic series. It's still fun though, and it's interesting to talk about, especially in the context of comic trends from the early-to-mid-2000's.
If you don't know who Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters are, they are a super team that originally existed on a separate Earth from the regular DC Comics Universe called Earth X. They were acquired and retconned into this position from a failed comic company called Quality Comics. The team was a weird little band. They were led by Uncle Sam. The Uncle Sam, not some guy who just dressed up for the part. He was the actual physical embodiment of the spirit of America. The rest of the team were the Human Bomb (an actual walking bomb), Doll Man and Doll Lady (think of Ant-Man and the Wasp), Phantom Lady (intangible and opens portal), Black Condor (think the Falcon), the Ray (living light being), Miss America (star-spangled Supergirl), Red Bee (kind of like Iron Man), and Firebrand (Human Torch with a bow staff).
They were a fairly patriotic group, but they never got a proper audience. They were often pushed at random points only to be quickly canned shortly after. The series we are discussing is another one of those random instances. This kind of group is very attractive to me. They were weird, obscure, and fun.
This comic was trying to be the Freedom Fighters for the 21st Century. They were fighting the impending tyranny of a despotic government regime and preserving American freedom.
However, the comic starts with the Freedom Fighters working for said tyrannical regime. This follows the Infinite Crisis story and its aftermath, The Battle for Bludhaven. The Freedom Fighters just went toe-to-toe with a number of super heroes at Bludhaven. The team consists of Doll Man, Phantom Lady, the Ray, and the Human Bomb. They are working for a vicious politician by the name of Father Time whom is pushing a severe anti-vigilante agenda.
Elsewhere, a metahuman named Andre is being called out to Mississippi by a voice in his head. This leads him to the river where he found Uncle Sam himself calling him to a mission. Uncle Sam gives him the identity, Firebrand, and sends him to challenge the Freedom Fighters.
After a conflict between Sam and these Freedom Fighters, Sam manages to recruit them. They begin a crusade against Father Time, his own metahuman soldiers, and a robot named (no joke) Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard, the last of which manages to replace the president. During this, the Freedom Fighters are joined by Red Bee, Miss America, Black Condor, and an earlier incarnation of the Ray.
The adventure takes significant twists and turns, and their trail is very much coated in blood. This story is a mixture of pitch-black themes, anti-government sentiment, and completely bonkers plot points. The tone is all over the place, and it was a joy to read.
One thing that really carried the book for me was Uncle Sam himself. He has an altruism that rivals the likes of classic Kal-El and Steve Rogers. He believes that people are genuinely good at their core, but he doesn't idealize America, its government, or its history. He only believes in the power of the people. The story doesn't fall into the trap of whitewashing an imagined point of history to make it a representative of American purity.
Black Condor, Doll Man, and the Human Bomb were really compelling characters as well. Condor is the consummate badass, Doll Man is the grizzled army vet, and the Human Bomb is the sensitive man who is self-conscious of how frightening his powers are.
That being said, the comic is flawed. The wacky tone does leave some scenes feeling awkward, and some emotional moments fall flat consequently. Uncle Sam is against killing the enemy, but he's very forgiving of the numerous moments where a Freedom Fighter does take a life. Phantom Lady and the Ray that is in the majority of the book are very unlikable characters, and a good portion of Phantom Lady's given personality is a thin excuse for the skimpy costume. There's also a last act plot twist where Father Time was, on some level, working with Uncle Sam. However, Father Time committed some horrific acts that would anger Uncle Sam, not the least of which was killing Phantom Lady's father.
Acuna's artwork has never worked particularly well for me. He loves giving scenes a lot of bloom, and often times character outlines seem to get lost in the color. Scenes don't often look too detailed due to the oil-painting style color art. It could be worse, but it could also look a lot better. His art isn't necessarily a turn-off for me, but I don't prefer it.
Those negatives having been mentioned, this comic did really work for me, and I highly recommend it. The wacky and changing tone kind of works for Uncle Sam's golden hearted altruism clashing against the darkness of the world he inhabits. It also works for the comic's message of fighting corrupt powers with idealism and the sacredness of equality. It, like good Captain America stories, never falls into the trap of jingoism or idealizing any point in American history. Also, it implies some crazy Lovecraftian stuff with Gonzo's origins that are really cool.
The comic is weird, the characters are obscure, and you should read it. You'll not likely ever read anything else like it, and you'll have a lot of fun with it.
Also, try to explain to me what Uncle Sam's powers are exactly, because I never found it out myself.