Seeing Nazis get defeated never gets old and wondering what the world would be like if the Nazis won World War II isn’t necessarily a new concept even though it may feel like that’s the case with TV shows like Man in the High Castle. But DC Comics has looked at this for a few decades now in an alternate Earth in their Multiverse, called Earth X.
It is a world where Germany won World War II. Out of this parallel world came a superhero team called the Freedom Fighters and its founding members were Uncle Sam, Black Condor, the Ray, Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Doll Man and later Firebrand.
DC Comics is rebooting the series with a contemporary spin in a 12-issue maxi-series written by Robert Venditti (Hawkman, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps) and art by Eddy Barrows (Earth 2: World’s End, Nightwing). It reads fantastic, painting a vividly harsh realm that’s in need of some extraordinary heroes to bring back Uncle Sam who has gone missing since the fall of America.
We spoke to Venditti about the new take on the Freedom Fighters and here is what he had to say.
Monsters & Critics: The last time we saw the Freedom Fighters, it was during the New 52 era of DC Comics. How is this new series positioned in the post-Rebirth era?
Robert Venditti: It is set on Earth X, which is an alternate version of Earth where Nazis won World War II and I think we saw that location in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, the Rise of the Mastermen issue, which is what we’re poking fun at, as well as giving nods to the long history of these characters in the opening issue. It’s all part of a larger tapestry of the DCU and its Multiverse.
One of the things that I loved working on a title like Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps or Hawkman, which I’m doing right now, is to not necessarily be Earthbound, which is a funny way of looking at it (I’m talking about the main Earth where the rest of the heroes of the DCU are gathered together).
So it’s an opportunity to build out that mythology, a view of what that wider Multiversity looks like and create a new environment, a new mythology at this alternate Earth location, where you can explore story and character in ways you might not necessarily do if you were on the same Earth that features the heroes on the rest of the books.
M&C: Freedom Fighters can appeal to a lot of non-comics readers in the way that Man in the High Castle brings people from science fiction, World War II buffs and historians together. How did you view Freedom Fighters in making it contemporary to a modern audience?
Venditti: For me, I came from a different angle. I was very deeply involved working on another project called Six Days, which is a non-fiction graphic novel about my uncle’s involvement of World War II, which will be published by Vertigo in May, timed with the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
My family never knew what happened to my uncle, as he was part of the D-Day invasion in France. We never knew the circumstances or where in particular in France. I found a letter from one of my uncle’s friends that was in my grandmother’s things. I started researching it and I started thinking about the sacrifices of that generation, the people who served and what that meant for the war at that time.
So it was while I was writing that, that DC approached me about Freedom Fighters and it was like a completely different way to look at that ear of time. What if it had gone a different way? What would the world be like?
It can be very dark and gritty. You have to spend a lot of time in the headspace [long pause] I don’t know. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this. You have to spend a long time in the headspace of this time and it can be very emotional and draining to envision the cruelty and darkness that would permeate a world like we have in Earth X.
For me, the series is about no matter how dark those times are, no matter how bleak, there can always be heroes that present themselves, to get back to our better selves and better nature. To show us what’s possible and what the world can be.
Freedom Fighters will read very bleak in some ways but I’m actually a very hopeful person and I see the goodness in the world. Those are the things I like to focus on that goodness, you have to deal with a certain level of darkness.
M&C: You can’t pull punches, really. So in terms of creating the new Freedom Fighters, putting it into a modern context. You have Uncle Sam and some other characters that are in a time vacuum, how did you decide to modernize it?
Venditti: We deal with two sets of Freedom Fighters in the first issue. The 1970’s version of the team and their effort to save the America that lost the War.
The Freedom Fighters have been gone for 50 years and Uncle Sam goes missing, now there’s a new group who takes up that mantle. We saw them visually in action briefly in the Multiversity issue I spoke of earlier, but it’s a new group of Freedom Fighters that take up that mantle, that team name to remind people what America is meant to be as a nation, who we are and re-stoke that spirit.
In doing so, we bring back Uncle Sam and have him empowered and lead the charge to take the country back from the Nazi regime that’s been in control since the 1960s. So we were sitting down and looking who that team could be.
As we go through the series, we learn about their background and their origins of where they come from. We are picking up with the cast that was created in the Multiversity issue, but it’s a much more diverse cast of race and gender. That’s very reflective of where we are now as a nation and that was something that was important for us to lean into.
What would the Freedom Fighters look like today as opposed to another generation’s version of the Freedom Fighters would look like? Where would those heroes come from? Who would be the downtrodden that would rise up against the tyrannical regime? At the same time that you’re building out those heroes, you also have to build out the adversaries and what those villains would look like in that future as well.
In some ways, it’s challenging but creatively it’s very interesting to be able to take the DC mythology that we’re all familiar with having been readers of the DC Universe, characters that are part of our public consciousness like Superman or Plastic Man and repurpose them and find new roles and put them on a world that can see what those characters would be like, how they might function, or have that deconstructive rebuild under the boot of a Nazi regime.
So we spent an equal amount of time building up villains and adversaries as we did building up the heroes as well.
M&C: You’ve come up with some very clever uses of Plastic Man and others in this first issue. Were you looking at just the core members of the Justice League as adversaries or could they potentially be the Freedom Fighters themselves?
Venditti: A little bit of both. We’re still building it up. It’s a 12-issue miniseries, and we have a very detailed plan of where we’re going to be by the end of this.
I’m already six scripts in, so we’re very deep into it before the first issue comes out and Eddy Barrows is doing an absolutely fantastic job. It’s a very complicated book.
It’s must be very hard for an artist to draw a book where nothing looks like what’s outside your front door, as it does in the real world. We’re creating new societies, new characters, new heroes, new villains and he’s handling it all, amazingly. He’s very deep in the story in terms of art as well.
So you are going to see our takes on other characters, both heroes and villains as we progress through the series. Like we’ve done with the Plastic Man mythology, where Plastic Man existed on Earth 10, but was captured by the Nazis and reverse-engineered his powers so they could give it others and create the ultimate SS infiltrator, these shape-shifting Plastic Men Nazi police.
They could be your neighbor, the bartender, your boss, anyone. Sometimes it won’t be the character themselves, but the elements of that character that we take and repurpose.
They’re all elements from what we know from the wider DC Universe that we’re using in a variety of ways to build out this world and make it something we can recognize as readers of the DCU but also be surprised and have things unexpected because you’ve never seen these mythologies played quite like this before.
M&C: You’ve written a lot of superhero work and creator-owned work, but as a writer is there a more diabolical villain than the Nazis? You think about what they’ve actually done, compared to the evil you can conjure up in your mind, how have you wrestled working with the Nazis as adversaries in this series?
Venditti: It is difficult, to call them diabolical, that word almost makes them seem cartoonish. Lex Luthor is diabolical. Nazis are a whole other level of real-world non-fictitious cruelty and ugh, just the worst that humanity can offer.
So to get into that mind space and think about what the Hitler regime would’ve been like if it was allowed to thrive and flourish and exist in the modern day unchecked, can be pretty terrifying and heartbreaking to write about.
The opening pages of the first issue we try to tap into those things by bringing in real world people like Jesse Owens as leader of the resistance, who is guiding the Freedom Fighters and using certain dates that are important in our history that we’re repurposing.
Taking those dates and locations and using them in a different way, it is difficult to dwell on that much but that’s the story and you definitely don’t want them to come off as cartoonish or fictitious or absurd in any way. That would shy away from what something like this would really be. So you just have to face it head on and go to those dark places.
What I always use as my anchor is the heroes, what they represent and what they’re battling towards. How they’re rising above and that’s where I try to focus and keep me tipping over into the bleakness. As a writer, that’s the balance you have to maintain.
Check out Monsters and Critics’ exclusive 7-page preview + the first five lettered pages of Freedom Fighters #1 and look for the entire first issue at your local comic book shop on Wednesday, December 19 in print and digital.