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

Thursday, March 05, 2009

There's something weirdly irreverent about Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters: Brave New World. It's on one hand a traditional superhero book, with great attention spent to rejuvenating a number of old Quality Comics characters related to the Freedom Fighters. On the other hand, it's an odd story about the complete implosion of a super-team, a group of people who's lives get wrecked -- rather swiftly -- by being heroes. The book doesn't seem to deconstruct superheroics like Identity Crisis or Watchmen, but instead simply shows the heroes falling apart; not an origin story, but rather a finale.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters wears it's ending right from the beginning, when the group splits between those willing to enter the public spotlight on behalf of the US government and those who won't. They further fractures over Phantom Lady's addiction-fueled murder of a super-villain and attempted suicide, and Red Bee's metamorphosis into an alien-insect hybrid. By the end, the team has disbanded, but the volume hints strongly at a greater role for the team in Final Crisis just as the first volume did.

What's strange is how secondary the actual storyline of Brave New World is in favor of the breakdown of the team itself. Sure, the heroes fight bad guys, but the threats seem almost an afterthought; there's a government conspiracy that too closely mimics the plot of the first book, which gives way to an alien invasion story which itself is awkwardly epilogued by an incident involving a miniature city. There's some vague discussion in the end amongst the characters as to how the stories might tie together (the aliens influencing Phantom Lady's decline, for instance), but such ties seem secondary to the overall story the writers are trying to tell.

I liked the first volume of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters for much the same reason I like Legion of Super-Heroes -- it was a collection of heroes, each with different, interesting super-powers and many with recognizable names; that's about what I need from a super-team book. Brave New World, in contrast, focuses more explicitly on the people behind the costumes. There's nothing wrong with that, but whereas a book like Outsiders at times showed you the person behind the costume as a perspective on the person's later actions within their costume, Brave New World shows the person behind the costume -- and then retires the costume completely.

With the initial Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (with Grant Morrison) did more than just resurrect old superhero handles; they brought the Freedom Fighters, with their modern personalities (Phantom Lady, the war-weary Doll Man) firmly into the twenty-first century. It's as if, with Brave New World, the writers created such a volatile collection of characters that the group can't help but disband; the center of the group, as it were, couldn't hold. If this turns out to be just the second of many Freedom Fighter collections, perhaps we'll see the team triumph over their personal adversities and come together again. If not, what the writers offer here is a bittersweet ending to this latest era of Freedom Fighters, who could've stayed together if their lives hadn't gotten in the way, a somewhat queasy finale to sit beside a library of other books of heroes looking toward their next adventure.

[Contains full covers, short biographies.]

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2 comments:

  1. I liked the first book, but not enough to automatically pick up this sequel. Does Arlem's art hold up to David Acuña's?

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  2. Arlem's art is much different from Acuna's, not as stylized. Arlem's art is rough and sketchy, in a way, kind of like Howard Chaykin; I wouldn't say it's as radical or eyepopping as Acuna's. There's times toward the end, especially with the ridiculous mini-men monster, that the whole thing gets a bit too crowded. But I'd be willing to see him again on another title.

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