THE FREEDOM FIGHTERSMedium: Comic Books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1973
Creators: Len Wein (writer) and Dick Dillin (artist)
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For a quarter of a century, 1961-86, DC Comics used parallel worlds to keep its current batch of superheroes separate from those of the World War II era (many of whom had the same names), while still permitting crossovers between the two groups. During most of that time, there was an annual meeting between
The Justice League of America of Earth-One (where the new guys lived) and The Justice Society of America of Earth-Two (home of the old guys). These got to be routine after a decade or so, and were sometimes livened up by throwing more heroes into the mix. One way of coming up with more heroes was to postulate more Earths for other large character sets DC owned.
The largest such set was that of Quality Comics, which DC had acquired in 1956. In the 1973 JLA/JSA team-up, which ran in Justice League of America #s 107-08 (October and December, 1973), they traveled to what they designated Earth-X, and had an adventure with Quality's version of Uncle Sam (who had been the star of National Comics as well as heading up a title of his own), The Ray (who had shared Smash Comics with such luminaries as Midnight and Bozo the Robot), Doll Man (star of Feature Comics, who, like Sam, also had his own), The Black Condor (who briefly starred in Crack Comics but never had his own book), Phantom Lady (who had rather a complex history after starting out in the back pages of Quality's Police Comics) and The Human Bomb (whose super power was the ability to make things explode, and who also ran in the back pages of Police Comics). The story was written by Len Wein (Teen Titans, Brother Voodoo) and drawn by Dick Dillin (who pencilled more Justice League issues than any other artist).
Despite the characters' history (all debuted between December, 1939 and August, 1941), Wein and Dillin felt free to make any alterations they pleased in Earth-X. They chose to rewrite its history so the Nazis won World War II, and had ruled America ever since. The surviving superheroes (Plastic Man and The Blackhawks, the only Quality Comics characters DC had previously made extensive use of, were cited as having been killed in this world) had banded together as Freedom Fighters to throw off that hated yoke, and enlisted the aid of the two "Justice" groups to help them do so.
There is no indication anyone at DC intended to use Earth-X again — and indeed, between then and the mid-1980s series/event Crisis on Infinite Earths, when (to simplify the DC Universe back-story for new readers) they collapsed all these "Earths" into one, Earth-X wasn't seen. When DC made ongoing characters of The Freedom Fighters, the first issue opened with the heroes relocating to Earth-One — with the Nazis finally defeated, they'd lost focus, and decided to get a fresh start. Right off the bat, they ran into trouble with the law, whose minions didn't recognize even Sam as a good guy, and that set the tone for the series.
This happened in Freedom Fighters #1 (April, 1976), written by Gerry Conway (who, a few years earlier, had become notorious for killing off Spider-Man's girlfriend) and Marty Pasko (who was later to do a lengthy stint on E-Man), and drawn by Ric Estrada (who also worked on Wonder Woman and Sgt. Rock about then). Conway and Estrada also jazzed up Phantom Lady in that issue, giving her the super power of turning into a real phantom. (In later issues, other writers and artists — The Freedom Fighters had several over a short span of time — would jazz up Doll Man with telekinetic powers, and The Black Condor with telepathy.)
The Freedom Fighters eventually cleared themselves, but not before another superhero group, The Crusaders (no relation) (them neither), was formed to bring them in. This outfit, created by writer Bob Rozakis ('Mazing Man, Heroes Hotline) and artist Dick Ayers (Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex), consisted of caricatures of other contemporary comic book creators. The Crusaders appeared in Freedom Fighters #s 7, and after that storyline ran its course, were never seen again.
In the 11th issue, Firebrand, who had been the first cover-featured hero in Police Comics, emigrated from Earth-X, and subsequently became a member. That was the last notable thing to happen to the group before it became a victim of a real-world publishing event known as The DC Implosion, in which the whole line tightened its belt, and heroes such as Firestorm and Black Lightning lost their series. Freedom Fighters folded with its 15th issue (August, 1978). Unlike some Implosion victims, it was never revived.
Years later, the group underwent a post-series retcon. When The All-Star Squadron was launched in 1981, the idea was to include all of the World War II long underwear guys DC owned, regardless of where the character came from. To explain their presence on both "Earths", writer Roy Thomas (Invaders, Liberty Legion) decided these heroes had originated on Earth-Two, then moved to formerly-superheroless Earth-X, because its fight with the Nazis seemed more dire. (It's not hard to see why all this needed simplifying.)
In later years, a new Phantom Lady (without the new super power) had a series in Action Comics 1988-89. A new version of The Ray had a mini-series in 1992 and an ongoing series 1994-96. The Black Condor had a 12-issue series 1992-93 and a couple of 1994 issues of a latter-day incarnation of Showcase, DC's old try-out comic. A different take on Uncle Sam had a graphic novel in 1997. A new Firebrand, completely unrelated, appeared in 1996. No extensive use has been made of Doll Man and The Human Bomb. A new version of the group itself has become an auxiliary to the current version of the Justice Society.