A Freedom Fighting First
by David R. Black
Did you know that the Freedom Fighters are really a DC creation? It's true!
Published by Quality Comics in the 1940's, Uncle Sam, the Ray, Doll Man, Human Bomb, Black Condor, and Phantom Lady (and other characters) were purchased by DC after Quality went out of business. Unlike DC, however, Quality didn't have a team of heroes during the golden age of comics. A Quality equivalent of the Justice Society simply did not exist.
So why not create one? Nothing in Quality's publishing history would contradict the establishment of a team, and in fact, Quality characters did team up on a limited basis during the 1940's. For example, in Uncle Sam Quarterly #2 (published in 1941), the Ray, Quicksilver, the Red Bee, and a few other heroes made cameos in an Uncle Sam story.
Thus, in 1973 Len Wein decided to create a team out of the sextet of previously mentioned Quality characters. Dubbing them the Freedom Fighters, Wein introduced the group in one of the annual JSA/JLA team-ups. The resulting two part story appeared in Justice League of America # 107 and #108 (1st series), cover dated September/October 1973 and November/December 1973, respectively. (At that time, Justice League of America was published bi-monthly).
Scripted by Wein, penciled by Dick Dillin, inked by Dick Giordano, and edited by Julius Schwartz, the Freedom Fighters two-parter laid the groundwork for future team-ups of a similar nature, such as the JLA/JSA/Fawcett characters team-up in Justice League of America # 135-137 (1st series).
Nearly thirty years old, JLofA #107 and #108 are difficult to find, and even worse, are slightly expensive. The year 2000 Overstreet comic price guide lists the two issues as being worth 14 dollars each in near mint condition. I assume the suggested value has since increased in subsequent price guides.
While attending a recent convention, I was fortunate enough to find a dog-eared, well read copy of each issue for a fairly decent price. As a kind gesture to my fellow Freedom Fighter fans, the remainder of this article is a blow by blow summary of the two issues. (If you've always wanted to read JLofA #107 and #108 but could never find - or afford - a copy, then perhaps this is the next best thing.)
Before I begin, I want to briefly mention the letter columns of both issues. Each one contains a letter from a young resident of Akron, Ohio named Mike W. Barr, the same Mike W. Barr who would later create the Outsiders and write many a story for DC.
I should also note that the rest of this article contains spoilers. I'm not sure if spoiler warnings should be attached to 30 year old stories, but just in case we have a touchy reader out there, consider yourselves warned.
Justice League of America # 107, titled "Crisis on Earth-X," begins with a splash page proclaiming "the dynamic return of six of the Golden Age's most exciting heroes - Uncle Sam... The Ray...Doll Man... the Black Condor... the Human Bomb... and the Phantom Lady!" The story begins in the Earth-2 headquarters of the JSA. Dr. Fate and a quartet of other Justice Society members are putting the finishing touches on a new transmatter device.
"Until now," explains Jay Garrick, "We and the Justice Leaguers could only cross the dimensional barriers between our Earths at certain times of the year!"
"But if our transmatter devices prove true," says Dr. Fate, "Our other earthly counterparts and ourselves will be able to travel between dimensions at will - merely by attuning our atomic vibrations to match those of the other world!"
Meanwhile, the Justice League is readying an identical transmatter cube on Earth-1. As Green Arrow, Batman, and Elongated Man enter the cube, Green Lantern explains to a distraught Red Tornado that the android may not join his colleagues. The cube has been tested on inanimate objects, lab animals, and humans, but not androids, and thus, it's too dangerous for Red Tornado to risk returning to Earth-2.
Simultaneously on Earth-2, Dr. Fate, Sandman, and Superman (Kal-L) step into their transmatter cube. Both devices activate, and soon the three Earth-2 heroes will switch places with their Earth-1 colleagues.
Or will they?
The transmatter cubes backfire, and a stunned Barry Allen says, "Instead of sending our three members to Earth-2 and their three members to us, all six have been sent somewhere else altogether!"
Luckily, the six heroes find themselves together in "one of those multi-trillion elsewheres" and quickly decide to find out why the transmatter cubes malfunctioned. Surprised to see Red Tornado with them, the android quickly explains that "when you refused to take me, I stowed away in the transmatter cube by whirling at near invisible speeds, and my unseen presence upset the mechanism's delicate balance."
Tornado's explanation is cut short by the sounds of approaching Nazi war tanks. Thinking they've time traveled back to World War II, the seven heroes immediately attack the tanks. Realizing that they're in an American city, Elongated Man quips, "If I weren't so busy [fighting], my mystery loving nose would be twitching like crazy! Where did these dudes come from?"
Elongated Man's question goes unanswered as the Nazi leader attacks with a "cerebro gun," a sonic siren which immobilizes the heroes. Arriving on the scene in the proverbial nick-of-time, the Freedom Fighters prevent the Nazi soldiers from executing the fallen heroes of Earth 1 and Earth 2. Quickly dispatching the tanks (Uncle Sam smashes two together, and the Human Bomb destroys another), the Freedom Fighters carry their comrades-to-be to their bunker headquarters.
After the JLAers and JSAers have recovered, Uncle Sam tells them the tale of this third Earth. The year is 1973 and America lost World War II.
"It's a sad tale," says Sam, "When our president had his fatal heart attack in 1944, the governmental balance of power went the wrong way! By the time the USA had developed the atom bomb, Germany had one, too. Since neither side was suicidal enough to use the blamed thing, the war just kept going on.
"A lot more men than had to died fighting for the cause of freedom," continues Sam, while the accompanying artwork depicts Plastic Man and the Blackhawks (implying their deaths). "Good men and true, they were. And some of them were friends.
"Then, about five years ago, it was over - simple as that. The Fuhrer's brain-boys came up with the ultimate weapon, a mind control ray that had the whole world eating out of their hands within weeks.
"All except us, of course! We've developed an immunity to the ray, and we've been fighting Adolf's order as an underground strike force ever since."
Sam then proceeds to briefly recap each of the individual Freedom Fighters' origins and powers. (The Quality sextet hadn't been seen since the 1940's, so a reintroduction was definitely needed!).
Green Arrow offers to help the Freedom Fighters destroy the mind controlling devices. A few of the Freedom Fighters, especially Black Condor, voice their objections to the offer, thinking that the JLA and JSA members "might be Nazi agents, sent to infiltrate and betray" them.
Uncle Sam believes the heroes' motives are sincere, and Dr. Fate further cements Sam's trust when he uses his magics to determine the locations of three mind controlling devices. Splitting into three teams of four (Red Tornado, the odd man out, remains behind to guard the headquarters), the heroes of three Earths begin their quest to wrest control of this Earth from the Nazis. Each group consists of two Freedom Fighters, one Justice Leaguer, and one JSAer.
Batman, Dr. Fate, the Ray, and the Human Bomb travel to Paris where a mind control device is located at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Hurtling himself onto a search light, the Ray quickly disarms the Nazi guards and disables the security system. Unfortunately for Ray, while his compatriots scale the tower, another platoon of Nazi soldiers attack. Overwhelmed by sheer numbers, Ray is knocked unconscious and would've been captured if not for the timely arrival of Batman.
Dispatching the Nazis, the quartet locates the mind controlling device, which is actually a sentient computer with an elaborate set of defense mechanisms. Creating four creatures from a substance called "adaptoplasm," the computer orders its creations to kill the heroes. Each creature is designed to counteract one of the heroes' powers (the Human Bomb's enemy, for example, is immune to explosions), but soon the heroes defeat the creatures by swapping partners (Batman's foe is no match for the Ray, etc. etc.).
The computer then attempts to use "encephalo waves" to immobilize the heroes, and although the waves slow the heroes' progress, it does not stop them. The slow moving quartet destroys the machine with one synchronous punch.
And thus ends issue #107. Interestingly, despite the issue's title being "Crisis on Earth X," the name Earth X is never used in the story. It's always referred to as "this Earth." A caption in issue #108, however, does name the Freedom Fighters' earth as Earth X.
Issue #108 begins with Superman, Doll Man, Green Arrow, and Phantom Lady atop Fujiyama, "Japan's most sacred mountain." Noting that the Japanese are under German watch (just like the rest of Earth X), Superman comments that "Things certainly are different on this Earth! On our worlds, Japan was the Nazis' allies during the war."
"And so it was here, young man," says an elderly Japanese man who overheard Superman's comment. "Until the war did end. No sooner did we lay down our arms in triumph than the Nazi serpent did turn upon us, forcing Japan to bend to the Third Reich's will."
Observing Nazi soldiers guarding the crater of Fujiyama, which is a semi-extinct volcano, Phantom Lady deduces that the second mind controlling computer is hidden within the crater. Quickly dispatching the soldiers, the quartet descends into the crater's mouth. The crater is empty, but Superman somehow realizes (don't ask me how) that the computer is within the volcano's walls. One super-punch later, and they find themselves in the computer's chamber.
Having been alerted to its brethren's destruction in Paris, this computer tries a different tactic. "Attention humanoids," says the mechanical monstrosity, "Any attempt to destroy this mechanism will result in the immediate obliteration of the island Japan. Caution...this is no idle threat."
Thinking the machine is bluffing, Superman attacks, but to his horror, the computer initiates an earthquake. (How it was able to do this isn't explained.)
"It's going to destroy Japan!" shouts Phantom Lady, "By sinking the island into the sea!"
While Superman flies off to prevent further fissures of the underlying tectonic plates, Green Arrow attacks the computer with a barrage of arrows. Riding the shaft of one of the arrows, Doll Man slips into the computer and deactivates it from the inside. The computer's deactivation also stops the earthquake, and Japan is safe.
Two mind controlling computers down, one to go!
The third, located at Mount Rushmore, soon finds itself under attack by Elongated Man, Sandman, Black Condor, and Uncle Sam. Trying to defend itself by creating a ring of fire and an electrified perimeter defense, the sentient computer is beset by the heroes. Sandman's gas gun extinguishes the fires, and the heroes simply fly (or leap) over the electrified perimeter.
Pummeling the computer with their combined might, the heroes are confounded when their efforts yield no result. Elongated Man deduces that they've been fighting a hologram, and based on the positioning of the holographic imaging device, the stretchy sleuth concludes that the real computer is located behind the giant, sculptured face of Hitler. (Earth X's Mount Rushmore is obviously different than ours.)
"Then what in blazes are we waitin' fer?" asks Uncle Sam. "Bustin' that little paper hanger in the snoot is somethin' I've been achin' to do fer a long time!"
With one powerful patriotic punch, Uncle Sam puts an end to the third computer.
Regrouping at the Freedom Fighters' headquarters, the three groups of heroes compare notes. With all three mind controlling computers destroyed, why do the Nazis sill have control over Earth X's populace?
"Who else stands to gain from control of such monumental power?" asks Batman, pointing an accusing finger at the Freedom Fighters. "With your own super abilities and the mind control energy, you six planned to gain planetary domination!"
"Uncle Sam," says Superman angrily, "We accuse you and your companions of betraying America....And the world!"
"For Pete's sake!" exclaims an astonished Ray. "They've gone out of their minds!"
While the dozen heroes battle (watching Doll Man battle Elongated Man by pulling poor Ralph's nose to Pinocchio-like proportions is hilarious), the Red Tornado realizes that the mind control ray is still in operation.
"The Earth-X heroes are immune to it, as am I because of my android construction," says Red Tornado, inadvertently becoming the first character to use the term Earth-X. "But my Justice League and Society colleagues have fallen victim."
Using his android "brain" to hone in on the transmissions of the mind control ray, Red Tornado follows them to their source - a huge Nazi satellite orbiting Earth. Gaining entry to the last of the mind controlling stations, Tornado soon comes face to face with Adolf Hitler, self professed "Fuhrer of the world."
Hitler offers Tornado a chance to join him, and Tornado refuses, unleashing a devastating left hook to Hitler's face. The force of the blow knocks "Hitler's" head off, revealing him as an android.
Revealing its presence to Red Tornado, another sentient computer explains that "The Nazi party no longer controls the planet. Control is under the jurisdiction of this mechanism only. Mind control mechanisms were created with superior intelligence, better able to rule the Earth. Several years ago, this mechanism and the others took control from the Third Reich, replacing their leaders with android replicas to insure the governmental shift would go unnoticed."
Red Tornado, tired of listening to the stilted explanation, attacks the computer and its robotic guardians. The battle is at a stalemate when suddenly, the satellite pitches from its orbit. Why? Unbeknownst to him, Red Tornado's whirling motions had "upset the satellite's delicate gyroscopic balance."
Escaping the plunging satellite, Red Tornado watches as the last mind controlling computer burns up in re-entry to Earth X's atmosphere.
Earth X is free at last.
"Thunderation, man! I can't believe it!" says a jubilant Uncle Sam upon Red Tornado's return to the Freedom Fighters' headquarters. "After all these years, our ordeal is over."
Gratitude and thanks flow freely as the Earth 1 and Earth 2 heroes prepare to leave.
"Farewell friends!" calls Dr. Fate as they leave Earth X. "Perhaps we shall meet again someday!"
"Yeah, Doc. Maybe we will!" says Uncle Sam.
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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This piece is © 2002 by David R. Black
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