How 'Freedom Fighters' Takes War Between U.S. and Nazis to the Present Day

Writer Robert Venditti explains the origins of his new DC Entertainment comic book series.
Eddy Barrows/DC Entertainment

The threat of the Third Reich isn’t just alive and well in DC Entertainment’s new Freedom Fighters comic book series: It’s omnipresent, with the 12-issue run launching today set on Earth-X, the parallel universe world where Nazis won World War II and occupied the United States.

Written by Hawkman and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ Robert Venditti with art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas, Freedom Fighters revives a concept that debuted in 1973’s Justice League of America No. 107: A group of American superheroes working as a resistance cell to free their country from Nazi occupation. (If this sounds familiar to some readers, Earth-X and some of the Freedom Fighters showed up in last year's Arrow/Flash/Supergirl/Legends of Tomorrow crossover on the CW.)

Beyond the reintroduction of characters like the Human Bomb, Black Condor and Phantom Lady, the new series examines what the concept of long-term Nazi occupation might mean for America, and also what it means for a group of resistance fighters to try and rescue their country from decades of authoritarian rule. The Hollywood Reporter talked with Venditti about where the series came from, and what it means to him.

The first issue of Freedom Fighters is a bold start to the series.

Thank you. Eddy’s doing a great job, and it’s not often that you get to do the kind of world-building that we’re doing — literally fleshing out an entire planet. Creatively, it’s been very challenging and very welcome to be able to do that.

Earth-X has been a thing in DC mythology for almost half a century, but what you’re doing in this book is transforming it from an abstract concept to an actual place. In the first issue alone, you’re building out an entire history that is, at points, recognizable, at others, entirely different. Where did you even start with that? How did you make the decision to use, for example, Jesse Owens?

Like you said, we’ve known about Earth-X but we’ve never spent a lot of time there. Most recently, we saw them in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, with the Mastermen issue, but we’ve never really spent a real span of time there, as such. For me, it’s been about finding that entry point: I wanted to do a couple of things with the first issue: I wanted to establish who the Freedom Fighters were, before we met this new team who take up their mantle in the modern day. I wanted to introduce who the classic version was, back in the ‘60s and the ‘70s.

I also wanted to establish this world as easily as I could, for the readers; to let them understand, ‘OK, the Nazis have taken over; they’ve won World War II, and this is what that world is.’ For me, Jesse Owens was that entry point. His performance in the Olympics in Berlin, that appearance on the world stage. It seemed to me that, if Hitler was to win World War II and conquer America, the very first thing on his to-do list would be have been to go find Jesse Owens and punish him for what he’d done to embarrass the Nazi regime. So we made Jesse Owens the leader of the resistance movement — the leader of the Freedom Fighters— a genuine American hero in the literal sense. That’s where we open up and how we introduce the reader to what this world is.

And that introduction comes at a date and location that’s fascinating. It’s an alternate world, but apparently certain things remain important no matter where and when. It’s fun to see what you’re doing here, to see what changes and what remains the same. November 1963 remains important to the United States no matter what. In both worlds, it’s the end of the American Dream, to an extent.

Yeah, the idea is that places and moments of time have power in some way — the intangible properties that a time and place can have, and what they can symbolize when manifesting in a different way. The Texas Schoolbook Depository is a place of tragedy in our story, but also the spark of the new revolution as well. Trying to use familiar location, places and dates, but spinning them in a new way, to really drive home the idea that this is an alternate version of Earth. To make that something that’s very easily grasped by the reader, so that they’re caught up in the adventure of it, the intrigue of it, the characters themselves, and not worried about where they are, you know?

One of the things that Grant did in Multiversity, and something you’re really doing in Freedom Fighters, is present the world where the Nazis won WWII as something other than a cartoonish dystopia. There’s some form of order that has asserted itself. A society exists. The Freedom Fighters, then, are a resistance cell. It reframes their existence, and the book, as well — they could be seen as terrorists, for want of a better way to put it. Is this something you’ve been thinking about, as you approach the series?

Yes. You referred to [the classic Earth-X] as a cartoonish dystopia, and in some ways — not just some ways — this is more terrifying because it’s not that cartoonish dystopia. There’s nothing cartoonish about Nazis. They’re a real thing. The Nazis in World War II with Hitler, that happened.

You’re familiar with Six Days, the book I worked on for Vertigo that’s being released in 2019, about my uncle’s involvement in the D-Day invasion, and the battle in which he was killed — that’s the headspace I was in, the book I was researching, when the opportunity to write Freedom Fighters came along. This is the same kind of material, just from a different perspective. I live in the world where the Nazis lost World War II, and that’s something I was thinking about while writing that book; now I’m thinking about a world where the Nazis won World War II. They were real. They had a plan.

They were very bureaucratic about many things, about the way they did a lot of things — very cool about it. That’s more terrifying than any kind of cartoonish dystopia, and that’s what we’re trying to bring across in the story. This is an America very removed, 50 years removed, from falling under Nazi control. The America we know is gone, and nobody even notices that. Worse, it never actually existed. Society just settled into this mode. It’s a very dark, very bleak [idea]. It’s an upsetting headspace to occupy, to write that.

But in those darkest moments, I believe there’s always going to be heroes who present themselves, and who swing the pendulum back the other way. That’s who our Freedom Fighters are, and that’s what they represent. They have a plan as well. We’re going to have the Freedom Fighters, this small band of revolutionaries trying to stoke the American Dream again, and they’re going up against the entirety of the Nazi regime, and the great war machine, and their societal dominance. That’s where the conflict of the series resides.

I’m glad you mentioned Six Days, because in many ways that’s a parallel story. It’s not only the same threat that’s being fought against, but you get to modernize and illustrate a conflict that’s ongoing today, still. I feel like you’re addressing the same idea from two different directions.

The headspace I was in because of what I was looking at because of Six Days — it’s a tragic story. The true story of what happened at Graignes is a tragic story. Soldiers were executed by the Nazis, civilians were executed by the Nazis, a town was burned to the ground. Tragic, heartbreaking stuff. But we prevailed, you know? We won that war. We defeated the Nazis.

It’s difficult subject matter to discuss. I’d always heard about World War II from my grandfathers. They fought in the Pacific theater, and obviously they came back alive. It wasn’t until I started looking into the story of Six Days, started writing my uncle’s character, who was someone lost to even my family history — no one is left who really knew what he was like, or could even tell me anything other than the most basic stories about him to flesh out his character, because he’s gone. He died over there. It sounds so ignorant to say, and I’m horrified to admit it, but it was the first time I thought about World War II from the point of view of those who didn’t survive. You know what I’m trying to say? I’d always heard the stories told to me by people who’d survived it.

So, when the opportunity to write Freedom Fighters came along, I felt like I needed to spend more time exploring it. I didn’t feel like I was done with it, even though I was pretty much done with Six Days by the time I started writing Freedom Fighters. I didn’t feel done with it. Maybe I’ll never be done with it, but it felt like a place I needed to exist a little bit longer as a writer. That’s what really drew me to the project.

I think what you’re describing, of seeing World War II as a story told by the people who came back, is common. And the reality is something other than that heroic narrative. One of the things I was thinking about while reading the first issue was, when Earth-X was created in the 1960s, it was almost apolitical to say something as simple as “Nazis are bad.” But Freedom Fighters is coming out at a time where that feels different. There’s something very cathartic for me in reading a book where the villains are Nazis, thinking about where America is politically now.

You started out by saying that, once upon a time, saying Nazis were evil is apolitical. Yeah, I still think that’s apolitical. [Laughs]

I agree, but look at the news. Some people might argue with you now.

I hope not. Here’s the overarching theme to the series — it’s really a story about heroism. No matter how dark times are, no matter how bleak things may be, there will always be good people. Humanity always has capacity to be good, to be heroes and to keep us on the right path. I believe that. Maybe that makes me a silly optimist or something, but I have to believe at our core, that we’re good. Freedom Fighters shows us the world we could have had, if not for the tremendous sacrifice of others, and I’m not just saying that in terms of soldiers like my uncle; I’m talking about the global population: Soldiers, villagers, everybody. If not for those sacrifices, Freedom Fighters is the world we could have had.

We could have that world anytime, if we give up on our better natures, and give up on our heroism. That’s what the story is about: You can’t fall asleep at the switch. If we stay true to ourselves, then those worlds will never come to pass.

Freedom Fighters No. 1 is available in comic book stores and digitally now.