Comic Book Confidential: The Freedom Fighters
In 1956, DC Comics acquired the rights to all of the characters published by their competitor Quality Comics which had recently folded. Some of their popular military characters like Blackhawk were immediately integrated into the DC book lines while others, like the stretchable superhero Plastic Man would have to wait until the 60’s to be revived. The majority of the Quality superhero characters, and this list was extensive, would have to wait for decades to see the light of anything more than a few scattered reprints. Following the events of Justice League of America #100-102 and the revival of DC’s obscure team of Golden Age heroes the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the publisher decided that a similar best seller needed to be created for the next year’s annual team between the League and their Earth-2 counterparts, the Justice Society of America.
In the fall of 1973, DC unearthed six of the Quality superheroes and posthumously placed them in a team they dubbed the Freedom Fighters. The initial group consisted of:
Uncle Sam – The undying spirit of America in humanoid form. The origins of Uncle Sam are unclear; some say he is the spirit of a patriotic American soldier who died in the Revolutionary War while others claim he is a being of magic who rises to defend the country in times of need. Sam has super strength and speed and has been shown to grow to gigantic proportions (calling on the legend of Paul Bunyan) and even open portals to other dimensions. While seemingly killed on several occasions, the patriotic powerhouse always returns when he is needed. Uncle Sam created the Freedom Fighters team and has served as the leader of its various incarnations as well as an inspiration to superheroes everywhere.
Black Condor – In a story that could only originate in comic books, young Richard Grey was raised by a flock of condors after his parents were killed by bandits in Mongolia and he was left for dead. Later a priest found the boy, who had learned the secret of flight from the condors, and taught him the ways of man. When the priest was murdered, Grey tracked the killers to civilization and found that they had also killed a Senator, Thomas Wright, who was his exact duplicate. Assuming Wright’s identity, he brought the villains to justice and continued to fight crime as the high flying Black Condor! The current disposition of the original Black Condor is unknown although he appears to still be alive in some sense and he has been succeeded by at least two new heroes.
The Ray – While conducting an investigation, reporter Lanford “Happy” Terrill was struck by a massive blast of lightening that, rather than frying him to a crisp, actually gave him the power to control light. As The Ray, he could fly, fire bolts of electricity, and give off intense blasts of heat or light that made him a formidable opponent for most villains. Following a period of self doubt, Terrill left the Freedom Fighters and tried to settle down. His son Ray inherited his powers and now carries on the mantle for his father. The original Ray came out of retirement to help Uncle Sam during the formation of the current version of the Freedom Fighters and was forced to add the mystical powers of Neon the Unknown to his own to save the team but returned to his retirement shortly thereafter.
Phantom Lady – Sandra Knight was the daughter of a U.S. Senator who donned a costume to thwart a plot to kidnap her father and decided that the life of a mystery woman suited her. Armed with a black light projector that allowed her to blind her enemies and appear invisible, not a bad talent considering how skimpy her costume was, Knight had an impressive solo career prior to joining the Freedom Fighters. After she retired from crime fighting, she accepted a position with the covert organization Argent where she used her skills to train field agents including young Dee Tyler who would succeed her as Phantom Lady.
Doll Man – Chemist Darrell Dane created a serum that allowed him shrink to a mere six inches in size while retaining his normal strength any time he willed it. The diminutive do-gooder adapted the moniker of Doll Man to fight crime at the lowest levels. Later his fiancé/wife Martha would also use the serum to become his partner Doll Girl although her stint as a superhero appears to have been short lived. After the original Freedom Fighters disbanded, Dane disappeared for many years until it was later discovered he had been working for the government in an experiment that created an entire cities’ worth of permanently shrunken doll people! Fortunately the modern Freedom Fighters, including a new Doll Man who had been given powers based on Dane’s research, were able to rescue him and return him to normal size.
Human Bomb – It seems like half of the superheroes of the Golden Age got their powers through freak accidents but at least Roy Lincoln was turned into a living detonator for a good reason. He was originally a scientist working with his father on a formula for a new type of explosive when Nazi spies broke into the lab to steal it. After they killed his father, Roy swallowed the only existing sample of the formula and thought he had sacrificed himself to keep it out of the wrong hands. Little did he realize that he would awaken later with the power to explode anything he touched with his bare hands. To prevent any embarrassing accidents, he created a dampening suite out of a material called fibro wax so as long as he did not remove the gloves he was safe. As the Human Bomb, Roy Lincoln was extremely helpful in a fight and he managed to remain active after many of his peers had turned in their capes. During the Infinite Crisis, he was murdered, along with the current Phantom Lady and Black Condor, in a senseless and slightly incongruent bit of comic book plotting that has never been adequately avenged.
Firebrand – If you can imagine Batman without the driving psychological need to battle crime to avenge the deaths of his parents (and without the cool gadgets) you would probably end up with a character similar to Firebrand. Rod Reilly was a bored playboy who decided to become a superhero largely for kicks. Fortunately he knew a skilled boxer who not only trained him but also became his sidekick. Firebrand wasn’t an original member of the Freedom Fighter but joined when they discovered him on Earth-1 hunting his nemesis the Silver Ghost. The conclusion of this story line was to have Reilly sacrificing himself to stop the Ghost when both of them are turned to silver but the book was canceled before it was printed and both Firebrand and the Silver Ghost popped up a few years later during the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event.
To work the characters into current comic book continuity, DC went back their extremely useful multiple Earths concept and created Earth-X (originally Earth-“swastika symbol” until the idea was summarily vetoed by editor Julius Swartz!) which was said to be the home of all of Quality’s characters. On this alternate Earth, the German’s had won World War II and ruled the entire planet in the present day. Their only opposition is a superhuman resistant group calling themselves the Freedom Fighters. With the added help of the JLA and the JSA, the Freedom Fighter are able to turn the tides and by the conclusion of the tale told in JLA #107-108, are well on their way to correcting the history of Earth-X when the heroes of Earth-1 and Earth-2 depart.
A few years later, DC Comics went through an “explosion” period where they began to publish more books than ever before. In their search for product, they revived the Freedom Fighters and gave them their own title starting in 1976. According to the storyline, the heroes had completely cleaned up Earth-X and decided to migrate to Earth-1 to find a new sense of purpose. The resulting trip between dimensions augmented some of their powers and now, for example, the Human Bomb’s entire body was explosive and Phantom Lady could actually become invisible. The team were now small fish in a very big pond and had a less than illustrious career on the new Earth. After being framed as terrorists by an old enemy, the Silver Ghost, almost as soon as they arrive they have several run ins with resident heroes and law enforcement.
The Silver Ghost, an ex-Nazi leader who gained the power to turn anything he touches to silver metal, had traveled to Earth-1 earlier in pursuit of another Earth-X hero, Firebrand. Believing the Freedom Fighters to be in league with his nemesis, the Ghost torments them in the hopes of bringing him out of hiding. After Firebrand finally joins the team, the Silver Ghost is continually bested but he does manage to frame Doll Man for a murder that almost gets him executed.
As the series continued, the Freedom Fighters attempted to adapt to Earth-1 but with only limited success. The book ends on a cliffhanger as the Silver Ghost returns and hires a specially picked team from the Secret Society of Super-Villains to finish Firebrand and his friends off once and for all. After a set up for a major super battle, both the Freedom Fighters and the Secret Society of Super-Villains books were canceled and the story was never officially published. According to the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, an in-house book put together by DC to copyright the work already created when a large number of their books “imploded” and ceased production, the Freedom Fighters would have defeated the villains with Firebrand being changed into metal when he turned the Silver Ghosts own powers against him. This would have been pretty dramatic story telling for the 70’s and it’s a shame it has never been properly published.
Following the cancellation of their series and the presumed defeat of the Silver Ghost, the Freedom Fighters returned to Earth-X and relative obscurity. Years later they would be revived again by Roy Thomas in the pages of his popular All-Star Squadron book and their origin was completely revised. The Freedom Fighter were now said to originally be heroes from Earth-2 who served along side the Justice Society during World War II and then migrated to Earth-X. After Uncle Sam received a psychic call from this alternate world where the allies were losing the war, he created an initial team of heroes that included Hourman, Miss America, Magno, Neon the Unknown, the Red Torpedo, and the Invisible Hood to aid them. When that team met with disaster during a combined Japanese / German attack on that Earth’s Pearl Harbor, Uncle Sam recruited the more familiar version of the team and relocated permanently. This would be short lived though because the Crisis of Infinite Earths was not far off when all of DC’s alternate worlds were merged into a single universe and the Freedom Fighters were lumped back in with all the other World War II heroes.
In more recent times, the Freedom Fighters continued to operate as a reserve group of the Justice Society, assembling whenever a threat was great enough to require their assistance. The majority of the original team retired but were replaced with legacy versions of their character who shared similar powers. At the beginning of DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis in 2005, which was intended to book end the earlier Crisis and recreate the multiverse, the current incarnation of the team was senselessly slaughtered by a new version of the Secret Society of Super-Villains in a bid to boost book sales and make DC’s newest mega-event seem dramatic. A new group of largely namesake heroes was created in the aftermath and tied to the government agency S.H.A.D.E. This group has starred in two miniseries and an ongoing title, at least keeping the name of the Freedom Fighters and the legacies of some of its characters alive for today’s comic book readers.