It will be interesting to see how audiences react to Robert Venditti and Eddy Barrows's Freedom Fighters #1. Promised as a year-long maxi-series that will redefine the property and give DC a new starting point for a troubled group of characters, the obvious comparisons will be to the recent similar examples -- Mister Miracle and Martian Manhunter.
Freedom Fighters feels a bit different from those; while undoubtedly a big swing, Freedom Fighters feels more like a simple story, well-told, than the stylized and ambitious sci-fi epics of Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle.
The title returns DC readers to Earth-X, a world within DC's multiverse where the Nazis won World War II and remain in power today. It centers on a reinvented group of Freedom Fighters hoping to revive the spirit of Uncle Sam and inspire Americans to rise up against authoritarianism.
Given the rise of white nationalism and pervasive Nazi imagery in the American news, it would be easy for this book to be a polemic -- and while it might still go that way, the first issue is no more didactic about contemporary parallels to World War II than any previous iteration has been in recent memory.
If there is a weak spot to the issue, it is that the story of the Freedom Fighters starts with the team being butchered...again. If you have read Infinite Crisis or seen Freedom Fighters: The Ray, you have likely noticed that this is an odd trope DC seems to gravitate toward. While it works for the story in this case, the fact that it has happened yet again with the same group of heroes feels a bit...off.
That said, the first issue stomps on the gas and never lets up, doing a ton of world-building and exposition without ever feeling like things have slowed to a crawl so that characters can explain stuff at you.
Eddy Barrows's art is beautiful and clear, with inks by Eber Ferreira and colors by Adriano Lucas helping to sell the emotions of the work. There are shades of horror comics here, as one particular DC hero is reinvented as a tool of the Reich and their reveal is ghoulish. There are also shades of Capra-esque apple pie optimism, and it is all feels like the same story. The general vibe here is not too dissimilar to the classic Dennis O'Neill/Dick Giordano story "No Hope in Crime Alley."
Barrows also goes pretty photorealistic at times, lending his Uncle Sam in particular a lifelike feel that is evocative of the Steve Darnall/Alex Ross graphic novel or the original painting, without actually being painted.
Cool, creative page layouts also keep the story moving at a brisk pace, and Barrows rarely has a misstep -- although there are one or two panels in this issue that feel like they may have been cut off somewhat by the printer, but the more likely scenario is that it was an experiment in layout that did not 100% work the way he wanted.
In terms of writing, this first issue is a story about ideas more than characters -- thematically and narratively. By the time the audience meets the new Freedom Fighters, the issue is almost over and readers -- like the onlookers in the comic -- are left with more questions than answers. The good news is, those questions come with a sense of urgency and excitement because the pacing and themes of Freedom Fighters are so good that you can't wait to see what Venditti does when he brings some more developed characters into it.
Given that Earth-X is, by nature, alternate-history fiction, it is fun to see that Venditti also uses elements of American history and figures from the real world to tell his story and shape the Freedom Fighters narrative. So far it is just fun name-drops and cool coincidences, but it feels like by the time the story is done unfolding, there will be an enjoyable tapestry of ideas and history there.
Freedom Fighters #1 is a near-perfect first issue, featuring exciting visuals and some clever, thoughtful world-building that leaves you wanting more.