DC may have resolved to keep its prices down line-wide in 2011, but "Freedom Fighters" was at the price from go. Still, with the expectation that new readers might be lured in by DC's January cover designs, Palmiotti and Gray drop in a handy "Previously in 'Freedom Fighters'" caption box that serves the purpose of bringing new readers up to speed.
The first page declares that this is "Part Five!" This isn't "Part 5 of X installments," however; this is a new issue in the ongoing adventures of the "Freedom Fighters." Gray and Palmiotti don't dredge up the powers, skillset, secret identities, and origins of every character in every issue, but they certainly provide enough relevant information to the story to keep it moving forward while being approachable. Readers bouncing in here aren't going to feel like they've stumbled upon a secret club and missed the handshake, but they will get an issue full of story.
The opening page beckons to the comics of yesteryear that would open with a splash page that essentially served as a second cover in case the outside cover ever became detached. The Freedom Fighters are trying to combat a riot at Enclave A, a top-secret metahuman prison. That set up brings some obscure DC villains like Sea Wolf and Pharyngula back to the printed page while allowing Gray and Palmiotti to give some more panel time to Black Python, Funerella, and King Bullet, who flashes a gold-plated grin that upon further investigation reveals his grill is bullets. This collection of characters, along with the Fighters (who are comprised of Miss America, Phantom Lady, Ray, Human Bomb, Firebrand, and Black Condor) fill this book to bursting with the obscure, overlooked, under-used, but cool and jam-packed with potential. As a fan of "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Agents of Atlas," and "Doom Patrol," this book delivers a similar vibe for me. At first blush it seems like a reserve dedicated to discards, but the story propels the characters above and beyond any pre-suppositions. It's a testament to Gray and Palmiotti as writers, and one that needs to be looked at more closely by comic fans.
I've mentioned the pre-suppositions some of these characters get hit with. Black Condor, the character in most incarnations and effects, to me, has always seemed like a lame rip-off of Hawkman. In these pages, though, Condor continues to earn my respect. I'm a big-time Hawkman fan, and in Condor I see the Native American-framed, post-"Zero Hour" Hawkman concept working successfully. Condor is a warrior and, in the course of three pages, manages to show that in Uncle Sam's absence he is the heart of this team. Those three pages really let Moore and Scott turn loose, filling the page with Condor in action against shadowy threats that maintain a significant mysterious edge due to the shadows on the page. There are other spots in the book where the line work feels thin, but in the inky depths of the pit the Freedom Fighters are hurled into, Moore is able to focus on the characters and here those characters pop to life, never more so than on the creepy final page.
This series fills a fun niche in the DC Universe, playing up the government-sanctioned hero team aspect and then turning it loose on the underbelly of the DCU. There are mysteries afoot here that stretch beyond the members of this team and even past the boundaries of the DC Universe. I've compared this book to "National Treasure" once or twice, but with this issue it presses beyond that without truly letting go of that sense of adventure.