...WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY
UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS DC COMICS 2006
"How do they keep finding new people to wear that hideous Lady Liberty costume?" - Stormy
"I always hated you, Stormy!" - Lady Liberty
(Page 5, issue 5 from DC Comics Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.)
If you don't much like superhero comics, then a "superteam" comic is torture times ten. Superteams capture the primal pulp power of the hero comic in a unique way and amplify it, right along with the absurdity of it all, and that's either a magnet or a repellent for readers.
Superteam books are often the most commercially successful publishing ventures, and the concepts of a "DC universe" or a "Marvel universe" is just the superteam concept blown up to infinity, which is either really cool and fascinating, or suffocating, depending upon your point of view. They attract many of the most imaginative of the superhero writers, though, and certainly it is the place where superhero artists get some of the best paying gigs.
Superteams are not new. Since Gideon and his group of selected warriors (Hebrew bible book of Judges), and King Arthur and the round table Knights, there's been "supergroups." I guess the first historical superteam as a comic book venture is the Justice Society of America (Wikipedia article here.) Logically, if superhumans organize a little and fight together, won't they be more effective? And logically, if high-selling superheroes are combined together, won't they sell even more? And if certain superhero properties cannot carry their own book, won't putting a squad of them together help their chances?
And now comes DC Comics' "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters."
I am still reading this series (as of now there are five issues out for the eight issue mini-series) and the storyline involves the (rather familiar) general theme of a nefarious sub-group within the United States government conspiring to control "meta-humans" (i.e., superheroes) in an overall quest to seize control of America, and I suppose, the world in toto.
"I seriously doubt you'd be able to follow any explanation I give you."
(Thus says Stormy, page 9, issue 4 from DC Comics Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.)
Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are having fun with the book, as far as the fighting and character motivations go, despite the willy nilly avalanche of characters that are rolling through the story (I cannot keep them all straight - - but I usually have to read most superhero comics twice to sort out what's going on). There are puns and one-liners a-plenty, and angst and frustration. Daniel Acuna's artwork is computer-painted, and there are a lot of fascinating lighting and color effects. He also keeps the character faces and body types separated and unique to each person - - which is a nice feat. He gives attention to the deep furrows that mark Uncle Sam's face, and it's an interesting comparison when we see Sam as a younger fellow and can see the marked change between the age lines.
There are a few rambling politico-talkfests permeating these pages, though, which seem to exist to underline the conflict in the story between real patriotism (which in this story seems to be three-parts sheer survival) and faux patriotism (which is where a villain- - or supervillains - wraps themselves in the flag whilst working a dark plot). The political jargon is a flurry of phrases that seem to be drawn from a mishmash of campaign TV commercials and maybe talk radio, with a helping of the kind of stuff you might hear at a Presidential press conference. I haven't been able to sort out what stripe the sloganeering is from - - right, left or the ephemeral "middle" of American politics, but whatever it is, it's that the bad people are bad because they're secretive and they kill people who get in the way, a kind of cranky, efficiency-obsessed elitism. Uncle Sam (the mystical physical manifestation of the American consciousness, or something) is a populist in a minor way, a protector in a bigger way, and ultimately an optimist of gargantuan proportions. Beyond that is Uncle Sam's cast-in-iron determination and mono-vision of what's right and wrong about the paranoid situation he has found himself in and it is actually kind of touching.
There are three more issues to go with this series. Of course the heroes will prevail and the villains will be punched out or exploded or simply chained up in some climatic way. But I am wondering how this politicalization of the concept of superhumans and America will be resolved, though. It's all too easy to create villains who are basically crooks attempting to take control (in this story line it is Father Time and his superhuman followers) - - that seems to be a story concept that been around in American pop culture since the convulsions of the Depression and the 1930s in general (for example, see Frank Capra's 1941 movie Meet John Doe).
What I am wishing is that this plot was a little closer to the tension of reality, in which bad rulers offer things people legitimately want, i.e., law and order, the trains running on time, cheap oil and so forth, but in exchange for their allegiance they often get personality cults - - for example, think of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. Certainly (nearly) everyone agrees those three stooges of tyranny are evil indeed, but the tension is that in their time they garnered a great deal of popular support. Many people loved them and (millions) willingly died on the behalf of furthering their reigns. All three built hospitals and schools and spent money on enriching their society, so to speak, for a time. Easy to dismiss now as manipulation, it is worth noting that these actions were really an expression of the egomania that pervaded these guys who saw themselves as protectors and benefactors of inferior peoples. Father Time says:
"You think freedom and safety are inalienable rights, but they come at a cost. Isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements. People need to be led. Those who are fit to rule know there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."
(Page 18, issue 1 from DC Comics Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.)
I cannot see this guy winning any popularity contests. There's no charisma to an amoral apologist for power. Hitler and those two other guys all had a cracked moral basis for the mad things they did; murdering Jews, or gypsy's, or starving Ukrainians in the name of the brilliant Bolshevik 5-year plan of farm collectivism. What I am hoping for in Uncle Sam's miasma of political rhetoric is a full portrait of "will to power" and so far, Father Time seems a bit too much like a regular criminal who is taking control of turf, versus a genius madman leading a loony fascist crusade to a better, safer world. If anything, Father Time is coming off as a left-wing or libertarian nightmare, apparently working for corporate backers who have unstated goals. I can't tell what Father Time's goals exactly are, other than creating an apparatus of power by manipulating superhumans to work for him or eliminating the ones that won't.
Uncle Sam, Freedom Fighters, Phantom Lady
Original Page September 2008