DC TV Crossover 2017: What is Crisis on Earth X?

Who are the Freedom Fighters and what is the significance of the Nazi fighting Crisis on Earth X? We dig into some DC history for you.

It’s time for another crossover! This year, Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow will face a “Crisis on Earth X,” a title that should have meaning to old time DC fans. Back in the day, DC would present annual meetings between the Justice League of America of Earth 1 and the Justice Society of America of Earth 2. Fans of CW’s Flash will be very familiar with the two Earth concepts and it’s just so cool to see the multiversal crossover tradition on the small screen. The comic book mashups between JLA and JSA would usually entail both teams journeying to a third (or sometimes many) Earths to avert a crisis alongside that Earth’s heroes. 

One of the most memorable comic book JLA and JSA crossovers was the original “Crisis on Earth X” that appeared in Justice League America #107-108 (1973-1974) by the recently passed and already missed Len Wein and the late great artist Dick Dillin. Before we get into why this storyline was so memorable, let us discuss Quality Comics.

Who are the Freedom Fighters?

Okay, get ready for a history lesson. Quality Comics was one of the very first comic book publishers. Like most comic companies, Quality began by packaging reprints but soon graduated into featuring all new material. Quality presented its first original material in 1939 and become a power player in the neophyte comic book industry. Quality was the home of comic book pioneer Will Eisner (of The Spirit fame) who created a number of new characters such as the ultra-popular aviator team known as the Blackhawks (and how on Earth X have the Blackhawks not appeared in Legends of Tomorrow?). Quality also achieved great success publishing Plastic Man along with somewhat lesser known heroes like Uncle Sam, Black Condor, the Ray, the Human Bomb, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, a Spirit derivative known as Midnight, Red Bee, Firebrand, and many more. Like most publishers, Quality fell on hard times in the early ’50s and eventually sold a good part of its library to DC Comics. Blackhawk and Plastic Man became DC staples in the 1960s, but fans would have to wait awhile for the rest of the Quality pantheon to make an impact on the DCU.

And that impact would be felt in the original “Crisis on Earth X” (see, I promised I’d come back around to our crossover event in question…so stop scrolling and pay attention!). In JLA #107-108, the Justice League team of Batman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Red Tornado travel with the JSA team of Doctor Fate, Jay Garrick Flash, Hourman, Sandman, Starman and Earth 2 Superman to a parallel Earth where (Holy Man in the High Castle, Batman) the Nazis have won World War II and rule the world. The only surviving heroes of this world are, you guessed, some of the old Quality Comics library of characters. Known as the Freedom Fighters, this Nazi fighting band consists of Black Condor, Doll Man, Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Ray, and Uncle Sam. Together, the JLA, JSA, and the newly reintroduced Quality Freedom Fighters discover that Earth X’s Hitler is actually an android controlled by a Nazi computer because comics are awesome. Red Tornado saves the day and frees Earth X and another Crisis is averted in the DCU.

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Yet, this Crisis had resonance. The Freedom Fighters proved popular enough to be given their own title. Freedom Fighters ran for 1976-1978 and in this feature, Uncle Sam and his crew crossed over to Earth 1 and became fugitives from the law. The storyline was never completed because of the book’s cancelation. It was supposed to be wrapped up in The Secret Society of Super Villains but that comic was also canceled because the 1970s were cruel. Anyway, the Quality Comics pantheon became part of the DC Universe proper with the original “Crisis on Earth X” and later, DC explored solo books for new versions Ray, Black Condor, and a number of the other Quality stalwarts.

There would be more Earth X goodness in the pages of DC Comics after the demise of the Freedom Fighters’ title. In All-Star Squadron #31-35 (1984), writer Roy Thomas returned readers to Earth X and revealed how the Quality characters arrived there in the first place. The story retconned the idea that the champions of Earth X were once Earth 2 heroes recruited by Uncle Sam to stop the Nazi menace of Earth X. Instead, there was an original team of Freedom Fighters made up of super obscure Quality characters that perished fighting the Axis rulers of Earth X (poor, poor Red Bee).

In recent years, in his Multiversity series, writer Grant Morrison created a modern Earth X. Morrison called this new Nazi world Earth Swastika. In this world, after Hitler dies, a Krytonian known as Kal-L the Overman takes over the Third Reich. Overman grieves for the lives lost during Hitler’s conquest but must still take on a very V for Vendetta team of Freedom Fighters made up of The Ray (who, like the version we’ll meet on TV, is homosexual), an African American Black Condor, a Romani Phantom Lady, and a Jehovah’s Witness Doll Man (in other words, representatives of groups the Nazis persecuted). There are echoes of Morrison’s use of a Nazi Kryptonian in the Earth X version of Supergirl, too.

So there you have it. Earth X has given comic readers the Freedom Fighters, a number of unforgettable tales of a world ruled by Nazis, and a loving tribute to the legacy of Quality Comics, a legacy which will now continue on the CW as DC TV continues to play the classics and get bigger and bigger.