Freedom Fighters and the Challenge of Fighting World War II in the Present Day

Robert Venditti tells us about the challenges of telling the story of a World War II that never ended in Freedom Fighters.

Freedom Fighters #4 Cover

What a time to be working in Nazis.

Not just because, you know, they’re back and everything. We’re also rapidly approaching the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the day when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and began to tighten the vise on Hitler’s armies in Europe. Convenient, then, that Robert Venditti and Eddy Barrows got to bring back the Freedom Fighters just in time.

Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Doll Woman, Human Bomb, Black Condor and the rest of the team from Earth-X (the Earth in the multiverse where the Nazis won World War 2) haven’t been seen in DC books since Multiversity. And even though the book takes place 75 years after the Nazis won the war (actually if we’re going by Multiversity time, the war didn’t wrap up until the ’60s so it’s closer to 50 but whatever, let me have this inelegant parallel), the story is very much informed by what we know of wartime life, Venditti told us when we got the chance to chat with him. “…Without the sacrifices of soldiers and civilians both in World War II, our world today would be a very different place,” he says. “Freedom Fighters was an opportunity to look at that material from a different angle, and you know, what if those sacrifices hadn’t been enough?”

This is an angle he’s working for another project: Six Days, an original graphic novel coming in June from Vertigo with art by Andrea Mutti that looks at something pretty personal to Venditti: his great-uncle was killed just after D-Day in Graignes. He was part of the 82nd Airborne, and his plane missed its drop by a lot. So what of his regiment was there gathered up their supplies and held Graignes as the Nazis tried to pass through it to counterattack Carentan. They were overrun after 2 days, and the Nazis killed the prisoners and burned the town to the ground.

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(all images in this article come from Freedom Fighters #4, on sale this Wednesday)

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“In Six Days I have to fictionalize events, and imagine things that had happened up to and around the death of my own relative knowing how that affected my family going forward,” Venditti says. “He was my grandmother’s brother, a very well-loved member of the family, and it took a very big toll on my grandmother and on my uncle Billy, her younger brother. It was just tough, and so that’s difficult to work with in its own right, and then something like Freedom Fighters, you have to get yourself in the head space where you have to imagine what America would be like if it had been under Nazi rule for 55 years. It’s very dark, a very difficult thing to write about. But it’s in those moments, in that darkness, I think that the heroes shine the brightest. And ultimately, that’s what Freedom Fighters is about.”

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A story centered on the Nazis winning the war runs the risk of being relentlessly depressing. Other media about similar conceits tends to wallow in the despair of the situation and linger on, almost fetishize the imagery. Not so for Freedom Fighters.

“I think [that hopefulness] is a part of the DC universe that’s intrinsic to the story and … the whole idea of the Freedom Fighters in general,” Venditti tells us. It’s also central to the concept of the story’s second biggest macguffin.

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The overture of this 12-issue Freedom Fighters series has been about the team trying to kindle the American Spirit to resurrect Uncle Sam. Their methods are all pretty straightforward: taking down an Iron Giant-esque Nazi enforcer in full view of a bunch of TV cameras; bombing Nazi Mount Rushmore as a new class of SS cadets are graduating at its base; leafleting. The execution of the book is quintessentially Comics. It’s a book where you can feel every era of comics in it, from the Golden and Silver Age core concept through the Bronze Age character interactions (seriously, the way this team talks to each other and works together feels like John Byrne or Roy Thomas West Coast Avengers) and the intensely widescreen art of the early aughts (with the polish and technologically superior coloring of modern comics, of course).

This is apparently a happy accident. Venditti didn’t start reading comics until his 20s, and isn’t steeped in bygone eras of comics the way someone who started reading them when they were 13 and grew into a bored, unpopular teenager with a 56k modem is. “I think it’s baked into the characters in some way that you can’t remove the Golden Age from a concept like the Freedom Fighters, you know? It just brings a smile to your face: the idea of Uncle Sam being a superhero, and a character called Human Bomb, you know what I mean? It’s just so fun.”

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Also fun: Barrows’ art, which is equal parts stunning and bonkers. “Just wait till you see some of the stuff we got coming. We’ve got War Wheel coming, we’ve got Overman coming, we got all kinds of things. It’s amazing to see the things that Eddy puts on the page,” he says. This is a tough assignment for an artist. It’s a team book with plenty of characters; it’s also an alternate present book, where artists have to remix existing architecture to fit the alternate reality; and it’s a huge, iconic, HEROIC POSE of a concept. Barrows has to be on top of his game to hit these marks, and he is nailing them every issue.

Freedom Fighters has Nazis in its core concept, but at its heart this is a book about what it means to be an American. It’s about, as Venditti puts it, “…the things that America can be, the best of the American spirit, the American ideal. The execution hasn’t always been there. But … we try to be better, and to do better as we go along.” That’s a pretty good distillation of who we are, and it’s a solid foundation for this comic.

Freedom Fighters#4 is on shelves Wednesday, 3/27/2019. For more on Nazis, GTFO. For more on this book, stick with Den of Geek!