BHOC: FREEDOM FIGHTERS #1

FREEDOM FIGHTERS #1 was another comic book that I got in trade with my childhood friend Donald Sims. Given that I was a big fan of comic book history, of the Justice Society and the Invaders, and that I liked weird, off-the-wall super heroes, FREEDOM FIGHTERS seems like it should have been a title that I was completely enamored with. But sadly, this wasn’t really the case. I wouldn’t wind up buying another issue during its original run (though I contemplated picking up the two issues with the faux INVADERS crossover on a couple of occasions) and still to this day haven’t read most of the run. And I can’t really put my finger on why this should have been–but it was.

FREEDOM FIGHTERS was the idea of editor Gerry Conway. Having been brought on staff as a DC editor, Conway proceeded to launch a handful of new titles, many of which were based on elements from DC’s past such as ALL-STAR COMICS, SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER VILLAINS and BLACKHAWK. The characters in the Freedom Fighters had originated in the 1940s at rival publisher Quality, who sold their line of titles and characters to DC when they got out of the business circa 1957. Since then, most of the characters remained untouched, until Len Wein brought them back in one of the annual JLA/JSA crossover stories. There it was established that on the parallel Earth they lived on, the Axis powers had worn World War II, and the Freedom Fighters were the only super heroes left, still battling the Nazis after thirty years. With the help of the Justice League and the Justice Society, they managed to free their world.

There was a lot of nostalgia in the 1970s, and this brought some fan interest back to the Quality heroes after years of being fallow. Quality’s output lived up to its name–they maintained a very high standard of quality in both story and art, so the line was well-remembered. So when Conway was looking for other titles he could launch, doing something with the Freedom Fighters seemed like a decent idea. They were good raw materials at any rate. Conway plotted this first story but couldn’t script it, so he handed over the dialogue to Marty Pasko. Ric Estrada did the page breakdowns, leaving it to inker/finisher Mike Royer, one of Jack Kirby’s best inkers, to handle the final artwork as well as the lettering.

For reasons that don’t make a whit of sense given the fact that their own world had been overrun by the Nazis for decades and there must have been an amazing amount of work to be done restoring democratic civilization, the issue opens with the Freedom Fighters having decided to relocate to Earth-1, DC’s prime Earth. This makes sense from a publishing standpoint, in that you’d want the characters to be able to easily interact with the other DC heroes as guest-stars, but from an in-story perspective, it’s nonsense and doesn’t make the Freedom Fighters look all that good. Fortunately for the need to establish who everybody is and what they do, no sooner have they arrived than there is a detonation at a nearby building, and the Freedom Fighters find themselves battling the villainous Silver Ghost and his minions.

In the course of the fight, all six Freedom Fighters–Uncle Sam, Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Doll Man, the Ray and the Black Condor get to show off what they can do–and Phantom Lady suddenly manifests the power to become unsolid, which we’ll eventually learn is somehow a byproduct of having traversed the dimensions. (Conway was looking to upgrade the powers of a few of the more ordinary Freedom Fighters with this approach–a couple of the other characters would manifest new powers further on in the run.) As was typical of the era, the Freedom Fighters are able to drive the Silver Ghost off but not capture him–and they find themselves brought before District Attorney David Pearson to explain themselves (and to give Conway/Pasko an opportunity to infodump a lot of the backstory I’ve already recapped.)

The DA helps to set the Freedom Fighters up with a new headquarters in the form of a stone building in the old armory–a pretty good set-up given that these people have no bona-fides on this Earth. From there, we see several members of the team begin to start setting up new lives for themselves, and again I’m led to wonder how they can possibly do so without birth certificates or social security numbers of any paperwork to establish their identities. This, though, is skirted past in an attempt to get everybody squared away and then start up some ongoing personal subplots. elsewhere, we check in on teh Silver Ghost, who we learn is the direct descendant of the family that originally owned Manhattan back when it was New Amsterdam, and who is intent on reclaiming his forefathers’ land. Along with his underling King Samson, the Silver Ghost makes another foray out into the city, with the goal of bringing down the phone company and cutting off service to the island. Yeah, that’ll definitely get everybody to give New York back over to him, sure.

Three Freedom Fighters are in the city at the time, and so we get a second fight scene, as they battle the two super-villains. But the Silver Ghost’s power is the ability to turn anybody he touches into a silver statue, and he eventually is able to use his ability on the Black Condor, Phantom Lady and Doll Man. Giving up his telecommunications plan, the Silver Ghost instead carts the three silver Freedom Fighters back to the team’s new HQ (how he knows where it is given that they only got it yesterday is another mystery for the ages–the comics of the 1970s weren’t always tightly plotted) and presents an ultimatum to the remainder of the team: if they ever want their fellow members restored, they need to do his bidding. And that’s where this issue is To Be Continued. It’s a perfectly fine comic book, but nothing special–and in fact, it feels a bit by-the-numbers in the same way that CHAMPIONS did over at Marvel, like Conway was assembling his new book by following an established blueprint for what made for a successful comic. As I mentioned at the top, though, it didn’t really do much for me–none of the Freedom Fighters had much to recommend them in terms of personality or distinctiveness.

3 thoughts on “BHOC: FREEDOM FIGHTERS #1

  1. What a mess of a plot & backstory. I’m sure these were products of the time. Conway was wasn’t reinventing the wheel, but maybe he was grinding it too flat, causing it to fkatten a bit. 😉

    Amazes me that Bronze Agers rarely thought to update any of the characters’ looks. Black Gondor’s “outfit” shouldn’t have made sense in the 40s, but definitely not in the 70s. I get honoring tradition. And when people are becoming “in solid”, or flying on their own ability, or imploding inside containment suits, who cares about form following function. But they look ridiculous.

    Gerry put out a legendary amount of comics. His achievements and contributions have echoed for decades. But much of it doesn’t age well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read every issue because I was voracious from when I started reading comics to about Y2K and you didn’t miss much. I think placing it on Earth 1 doomed it, TBH. They didn’t stand out, the villains weren’t memorable, and if I recall properly, the art was never quite up to snuff. Now if they had stayed on Earth X, it probably wouldn’t have lasted any longer but i would have a better hook for stories…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. At various times I have been tempted to seek out Freedom Fighters in the back issue bins because the amazing Ramona Fradon penciled several issues (although she admitted it was one of her least-favorite assignments) followed by Silver Age mainstay Dick Ayers on several more. Maybe if I ever find them for sale really inexpensive. If I ever spot them in the 50 cent or dollar bins at a comic con, I’d probably get them… that’s if we ever start having comic cons again.

    Liked by 1 person

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