Quality Time: The Return of Neon the Unknown

The solicitation for DC Comics' "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" #4 - on sale this week - boasts "the return of Neon the Unknown!"


Fellow Quality Comics alumni Human Bomb and Phantom Lady are hardly household names, but Neon the Unknown hasn't been featured in a Freedom Fighter adventure since 1984's "All-Star Squadron" # 31. That single-issue appearance, his first since a brief cameo in "Uncle Sam Comics" #2 more than 40 years earlier in 1941, featured not only Neon's retconned status as a founding member of Uncle Sam's Freedom Fighters, but also his apparent death while protecting Pearl Harbor from Japanese attack.

CBR News asked "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" co-writer Justin Gray ("Jonah Hex," "Countdown to Final Crisis") why the time was right for Neon the Unknown to "return" and light up DCU like only he can.

"Aside from the fact that he's a Freedom Fighter and the fact that I promised fans he'd return, I genuinely like the silly idea behind Neon," laughed Gray. "He's an obscure and unused character from the Quality Comics days. Another great aspect is that he's been out of the scene for so many years with very little back-story."

Neon the Unknown's origin was told in "Hit Comics" #1 in 1940. A French Legionnaire named Tom Corbet discovered a pool of neon water in a desert oasis. While the rest of his unit had already died of dehydration, Corbet drank the glowing water and became Neon the Unknown, complete with the ability to fly and shoot bursts of energy from his hands.

While Gray said his and co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti's take on Neon is not a complete re-imagination, the character's light history allows for some liberties. "This is a little of both original version and re-imagination. For fans of the book this is going to be yet another unexpected twist in the development of the characters that Jimmy and I love," said Gray.

Neon the Unknown was featured in "Hit Comics" #1-17. He became DC property in 1956, when the publisher acquired Quality Comics and its characters, and has been virtually unused except for the two aforementioned cameos.

"Uncle Sam knows where he is," teased Gray, who confirmed that Uncle Sam has known all along how to find Neon the Unknown.

Gray loves to write Quality Comics' characters like Neon the Unknown and the Red Bee because of their rich, albeit undervalued, history. "There's a combination of untapped potential, the fact that no one expects much from the characters, and the freedom they give us creatively," said Gray. "I love the patriotic themes but also the off-beat nature of the team, which truly is completely different from any other team in the DC Universe. For fans of the series we are able to give them surprise after surprise rather than the same outcome and familiar sequence of hero X fights villain Y."

Unlike the Gray and Palmiotti'ss previous takes on the team in "Crisis Aftermath: Battle for Bludhaven" and the 2006 "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" miniseries, this time around, action takes center stage away from political thought. "Jimmy and I have moved away from the political themes presented in the first mini and this time we're going for the old school superhero flavor you found with early [Chris] Claremont 'X-Men' and Bill Mantlo's grossly underrated works," Gray explained. "Quirky characters, epic adventure and the emotional character interaction that makes you care about each of the players."

Gray, who penned the first three episodes of Nickelodeon's highly anticipated "Speed Racer" 2008 re-launch, said he and his writing partner have a very busy new year ahead of them. "Aside from 'Jonah Hex,' I'm collaborating with Jimmy on a number of film and video game projects that should be out in 2008," said Gray. "It's very fun work that has me excited to take my sensibilities to different media.

"Hopefully the 'Speed Racer' pilot will air soon so can see how that turned out. Other than that I'm pushing for new work at DC, some great projects with Amanda Connor, Phil Noto and some very talented artists you may not have heard of yet but you will soon."

While an ongoing title for Uncle Sam and company is unlikely, Gray is just happy he had a chance to write the Freedom Fighters and give readers an alternative to the everyday team books. "To be honest I doubt an ongoing is coming, but regardless of the outcome I couldn't be happier to have this opportunity to write a team book that looks and feels different from what other people are doing at DC," Gray said. "I'd love an ongoing, but Jimmy and I are having so much fun at the moment and putting everything we can into the book that we want to throw everything on the table for the readers that are enjoying the book right now."


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