Review: Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I never had much interest in Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and now I do. This is probably exactly what DC Comics was hoping for in their recent revitalization of any of a number of old DC properties; it helps to be coming in the ground floor with a vague idea of the Fighters and their powers but not much more, which leaves me open to learning about and accepting these new characters. In terms of story, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's work has often been hit or miss for me (see our review of the disjointed Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Bludhaven), and Uncle Sam is much the same; this story is at many times just as gratuitous and heavy-handed as it is interesting and relevant, with a good helping of Grant Morrison pseudo-science heaped in between.

The first Uncle Sam trade (as there's a sequel miniseries now and, we'll guess, a resulting second trade) acts much like a pilot episode for a new show, introducing and placing all the characters. Even as this mini-series clocks in at the unusually-long eight issues, supporting characters are continuing to be introduced right up to the end. The effect is that this never feels like more than an origin tale--a fact that would be more disappointing if we didn't know there was another series to follow.

The story itself isn't terribly complex, and mainly consists of the team attacking or being captured by the enemy, escaping or being rescued by new team members, regrouping and repeating the cycle. What makes me want to follow this series further are the cool powers and interesting personalities of the characters--Doll Man, the group leader burdened by unrequited love; the paranoia-inspiring Human Bomb; Phantom Lady, a Paris Hilton-esque socialite; and the coolest Black Condor since ... well, Ryan Kendall was pretty cool, too, but this Condor is awesome. And when the team comes together under the straight-talking Uncle Sam, it's a group that's a joy to read.

One of the tenets of this new Freedom Fighters series is its political relevance--so-called, perhaps. Indeed, the word "terrorist" is thrown around a lot, and there are themes of government corruption and Constitutional freedom, but there are hardly any real issues being debated within. The writers offer no pretension toward being fair and balanced in the story -- all the villains here are Republicans (literally) and all the heroes are Democrats; the one potentially real political debate in the story comes just before a hero betrays the team. Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters is amusingly political--political like a Jason Bourne movie more than a CNN debate.

Seven Soldiers fans should take note that, in addition to the SHADE organization that first appeared in Grant Morrison miniseries, there's also a cameo by another character (not a Solider themselves, alas) toward the end. Indeed, Morrison gets a credit at the beginning of this trade for his work plotting the book, and his influence is especially apparent in the end ("mathmagicians," indeed). That is to say, the end of Uncle Sam offers vague ties to Final Crisis, not unlike the vague ties found in Supergirl or Blue Beetle--essentially, claptrap about New Gods and Mother Boxes that probably won't line up one hundred percent with the upcoming crossover, but sounds good nonetheless.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, like Checkmate and Manhunter, is a series where the heroes kill their enemies. By the end, I think Uncle Sam has about nipped this in the bud, but killing remains present in the story. It's interesting, and not something I feel entirely comfortable with; I note that DC has on one hand let characters like the Human Bomb their enemies kill post-Infinite Crisis while at the same time retconning out things like Superman's execution of General Zod. Even as I cheer for the Freedom Fighters, I feel bad for my cheering; shouldn't our heroes be above this kind of thing--or should they? Certainly television's Heroes have no compunction against killing Sylar if they get the chance; why should the Human Bomb be different? I don't have a good answer, but it's something I keep thinking about.

[Contains full covers, Brave New World prelude story.]

On now to Gail Simone's second Atom trade; hope you'll stick around.
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

4 comments:

  1. This mini when originally published didn't have that "must buy" factor. After reading your review I think that I may read it?
    My only question is... was your summary enough, or is it worth the money?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Boog -- thanks for the question. Given the price of trade paperbacks these days, I might say the summary was enough -- certainly I don't expect this series to play a big role in the DCU, certainly not an integral one in Final Crisis -- but, if you could get a good deal on both trades, then I might say it's worth it. The first trade, as you read, is a lot of origin and not a lot of story, but both trades together might make a more satisfying (if not continuity-heavy) Saturday afternoon read.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's also just $14.99 for an eight-issue miniseries. That's a pretty damn good bargain.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I wasn't going to pick this up... until I learned that Ray Terrill (one of my favorite characters who deserves to have his entire series in trades) came back. He and Damage survived the massacre in IC and I was initially mad that Ray wasn't going to be showcased in the title he was born for. Thankfully that was corrected.

    My suggestion is that you read Battle for Bludhaven first, then Freedom Fighters. BfB is a great introduction of the characters and the slightly off-kilter DCU that Gray and Palmiotti are working in.

    ReplyDelete