Or – “Stand By For Matthew ‘Mark-Out’ Moment In Three… Two… One…”

usff11.jpgreviewbubble.jpgI realized something during this issue of USFF that I hadn’t realized before… The structure of this story is very much a classical “rags to riches” tale, with the characters starting at their lowest points (or in some cases, being INTRODUCED at an intentionally low point) and building towards heroism. The thing that masked it from me was, ironically, the one piece of the puzzle that stuck in my craw: Not all the old Fighters were dead. In fact, as I intimated last time, one of them was alive and still using the same name as one of the NEW guys. Usually, in comics, when a new guy gets your name, you’ll end up depowered, dead, or renamed to something stupid, and it galled me that a character with potential was being thrown aside for a new character who, frankly, had none. How could DC do this in good conscience?

usff1.jpgBefore I answer that rhetorical question, a little explanation… “Mark Out,” as used above, is a term popularized by the professional wrestling industry, from the old carnival reference to fans as “marks.” The marks are the guys who buy into the battle of good vs evil, who can’t tell the difference between spectacle and reality, who think that the characters (called “gimmicks”) are real, and that it is really what it seems to be, rather than a performance. When you “mark out,” you’re cheering for the hero or booing the villain with all your heart, and you’ve truly become the mark. That was me on page 8 of this issue. Wrestling also has a term for a story that doesn’t go where you expected it to go. It’s called “The Swerve,” and buckle up, fellers and gals, ’cause the wheel is about the yank itself to the left.

Several decades ago, President Kennedy made a famous public address, saying that he was tired of America coming in second to the Soviet Union in the space race. He went on to make a shocking prediction, for the time, saying that he believed the United States could put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s. Now, this is the DCU version of things, which means that the Justice Society had been to the moon (and all eight other planets) by the end of the second World War, but it also means that when Armstrong walked on the moon in ’69, things were… a little different.

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I wonder if this has any relationship to the reboot of the New Gods reputed to be coming next year? The gub’ment, being very resourceful when it comes to weaponry, finds a use for giant arms and armor, going so far as to grow some giant guys to wear it all. Unfortunately the use they found was to layeth the smacketh downeth on our friends, The Freedom Fighters. None of their powers seem to work, one of their own has shown his true colors, and even Uncle Sam seems to be losing his calm. But when the chips are down, a Freedom Fighter shows what he’s really made of, and that’s fissionable material. The Human Bomb (second in a series, collect ’em all!) steps forward, removing his helmet and showing himself to be a dead ringer for Jack Bauer. His friends tell him he can’t do it, that using his full power could kill him, but HB lets the waves of energy build, quietly reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

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The giant creatures, while certainly noticing the Bomb, aren’t by any means out… Miss America swoops in to grab Human Bomb’s unconscious form, and they both get knocked flat by giant eyebeams. Firebrand flips out, losing it in true Lieutenant Hudson style… “Aw, that’s just @#%ing great, man. He was our most powerful guy, and now’s it’s a bug hunt! It’s a BUG HUNT! Game over, man! Game over!” Uncle Sam disagrees, and says that all is not lost, but then the turncoat Ray swoops in to grab Doll Man’s girlfriend, with horrifying and hateful dialogue. “Not so fast, lovebirds. EVERYONE dies today…” I really hate him, with good reason. He’s a giant glow in the dark tool. Emma may not be a superhero, but she’s not going to fall apart…

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Alright, Emma! Of course, now you’re falling to your death, but savor the small victories, right? During the inital reading of this book, I looked at that last panel, and felt the goose-pimples rising on my arm. It was time for a great big ol’ “cavalry to the rescue” moment, but most of our Freedom Fighters couldn’t face down with a living laser… What will the Fighters do? How can they prevail?? How many questions in a row can I do??? Wanna find out???? Remember last issue? When Uncle Sam sent Phantom Lady and Black Condor to find “an old friend?” (Okay, I’m done…) I knew what was coming at that point, and it still had me on the edge of my seat. What’s coming, you ask? Nothing less than poetic justice, my friends… Poetic Justice with a side of Whupass.

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Awww, HELL, yeah! Ladies and gentlemen of the internet? Allow me to introduce Raymond Terrill, or as Phantom Lady so aptly puts it, “The REAL Ray.” The Real Ray with a sleek new costume revamp, to boot. Palmiotti and Gray totally swerved me here, setting up the new Ray with all the trappings of “the next big thing,” while laying the groundwork for us to hate him when he turned. Best of all, much like the wonderful Justice Society revival, they have respect for the classics. (By the way, Black Condor caught Emma before she splatted.) The Ray is the son of Happy Terrill, the original Quality Comics Ray from waaaay back in the day, and also one of the few ’90’s characters who both survived the decade and managed to suck less than 50% of the time. Stan Silver isn’t exactly a pushover, though, and he’s ready to fight for his name. Unfortunately, he has the bad form to do it while wearing a costume that looks like Ray’s dad…

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The team rallies strong as Terrill turns the tide, with Black Condor putting a huge hole in one of the monster’s heads (“You seem to have the powers of a god. That pleases me… as I am the GOD KILLER!” Nice…) and Phantom Lady uses her teleportation to rip another apart. Having finally accepted her lot in life, and embracing the fact that she’s more than just a party chick: She’s part of something larger than herself, and completes her character arc with style…

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The extremely Celestial-reminiscent aliens are dealt with, leaving only the faux Ray. Mr Terrill has had more than enough of his supposed replacement, and has a few words of wisdom for him. “I was IN the Freedom Fighters, they were real heroes, and my friends, not self-important pices of garbage! Lights OUT, jackass!” With that, he slams Silver to the ground with the kind of authority you usually only see in end-zone touchdown celebrations. Satisfying, indeed.

As much as the character moments are working for me, the parallels to the current White House aren’t quite so seamless. Case in point? Father Time is out of his hibernation, only to find that Gonzo has tossed him aside as unnecessary. The crazy in the oval office tells him that he’s planning to install chips to control everyone in the United States, starting with all the government’s superhumans. Father Time had intended to keep the populace under control, but Gonzo wants them chaos, and intends to have everyone in the country fighting some nebulous and meaningless war. The subtle hits you like a hammer, there. Fortunately, not EVERY super on the government payroll is under control…

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The brain in the tank is Replikant, a horrible name for a superhero, but he’s at least useful. Father Time HAS in fact changed his tune, but the song remains the same. Father Time realizes that Gonzo and Uncle Sam taking one another out leaves him in the catbird seat, and so sends Replikant out to find the Freedom Fighters (or at least Firebrand, Phantom Lady, & Black Condor, hanging out in a bar in Gotham City) and lets them know of the plan. Come next morning, the press has gathered to hear about the new wonderful devices that will save us all from every single ill in the world, even uncurve your spine. But when President Knight starts speaking, another voice drowns him out… The voice of America!

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Sam’s ability to grow to giant size actually dates back to the Golden Age, when powers tended to be a little more nebulous, and the heroes did whatever the writers’ booze-addled imaginations came up with. Sam shows everyone footage of Gonzo killing the real Senator Knight, and the mechanical bastard pulls the trigger on his army of super-powered shmucks. It’s both sad and funny to see perennial also-ran yutz Major Force in the foreground, and I dearly hope that somebody finally puts him out of my misery. Can you teleport HIM into the black hole, too, Stormy? The stage is set for the giant denoument, the pied-a-terre, the Chevrolet Corvair, the whatever-French phrase I’m actually looking for and can’t recall.

This issue worked for me on a couple levels, as the Ray reveal was incredibly satisfying, and I enjoy finally seeing all the players established. I really wouldn’t mind seeing more adventures of the assembled Freedom Fighters, especially if it means more of Acuna’s incredibly gorgeous art. While reminiscent of Phil Noto’s work, it’s less stylized. There’s a very photographic quality to it, but it’s not so photo-realistic as to be annoying, like Deodato on Thunderbolts. The failings in this issue come from the story itself, trying to fit far too much into eight installments. The fight with the giant cosmic cannon fodder went too quickly, and the whole implants-to-control-the-world feels a bit cliche. Most of all, there’s a little too much “nudge nudge wink wink” towards the Bush administration for my tastes, pulling me out of the story once too often. But there’s still enough good going on here (gorgeous art, too) to bag 3 stars. I predict that next issue may have a fight scene in it… Just going out on a limb, there.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. Peter Black
    February 20, 2007 at 8:59 am — Reply

    There have been recent comments that lead me to believe that Freedom Fighters is taking place on a different earth in the Multiverse.

  2. February 20, 2007 at 9:43 am — Reply

    Ah, but what Earth? Certainly not Earth-X because in this series it is obvious World War II is over.

  3. Matthew Peterson
    February 20, 2007 at 10:57 am — Reply

    Y’know, now that you mention it, Firebrand does make a brief mention of an alternate earth in this issue… Perhaps they’re setting us up for something.

    What comments have led to this thought process, by the way?

  4. Peter Black
    February 20, 2007 at 3:51 pm — Reply

    Something someone said at that recent con. It was an entry in Newsarama where the writer said that it would be explained how there were multiple presidents running around. I think the big reveal is that a bunch of stories we’ve been reading since Infinite Crisis will turn out to be taking place on different earths (hence the return of the multiverse, etc.).

  5. Matthew Peterson
    February 20, 2007 at 7:47 pm — Reply

    Interesting… I’d actually enjoy that, especially if it means that the Justice Society is taking place on Earth-Two. :) I miss Earth Two, a world where superheroics actually DID start in June 1938, the way things should be.

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