By: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Travis Moore (artist), Trevor Scott (inker), Rob Schwager (colorist)

The Story: While the Freedom Fighters minus Uncle Sam home in on the second artifact, they’re drawn into a prison break in a secret facility full of twisted experiments, which may be sanctioned by the government the Fighters work for.  Meanwhile, the history behind the mysterious Arcadians becomes clearer as a connection to the original Freedom Fighters is revealed.  Regurgitated human arms, babies that strangle you, and crime-fighting jesters—this issue has it all!

The Review: Never let it be said that Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti don’t deliver enough story for your buck.  Their previous work on Freedom Fighters and Power Girl demonstrated their knack for energetic writing.  Every page packs loads of action and dialogue; banter and exposition mix freely.  It’s got all the makings of a summer action blockbuster—the issue literally ends on an explosion.  But stepping back from the excitement, it just seems the two-man writing team is flinging all their ideas at the reader, hoping at least one will stick.  Regretfully, the pace of the series is causing some of those ideas to be sloppily thrown.

Gray and Palmiotti have smartly gone the strategy of spicing up the lead plotline (the Freedom Fighters’ quest for artifacts demanded by the hostage-taking secret society, the Arcadians) by allowing the team to run into a variety of opponents they can brawl with on their way to the final confrontation.  This is great; it’s exactly the course that successful sci-fi/fantasy shows have followed for years.  Think Buffy facing off baddies-of-the-week for the whole first season before her showdown with the Master.

Baddies-of-the-week are fine when they’ve got about an hour to demonstrate their dastardly deeds and build up a rep with the audience.  Temp baddies seem a lot less credible when they’re defeated in two issues, a problem with the Four Corners, the Fighters’ first major opponents.  Their reputation as elemental spirits requiring thousands of ancient Native American shamans to defeat is rendered moot when all they have time to do is bust up a small desert town before Phantom Lady single-handedly shreds them apart.  In comparison to the Four Corners’ lofty origins, this issue’s Jailbreakers, a group of human experiments gone wrong, seem like they’ll take even less time for the Fighters (or Phantom Lady by herself) to clean up.

Gray and Palmiotti also attempted to shore up the lead antagonists’ story a bit by offering some personal back-story to the individuals doing the dirty work, but in the process made their motivations seem nonsensical.  Perhaps this issue will clear up later, but for now the whole kidnapping and ransoming of government officials gambit seems weirdly unconnected to anything the antagonists want.  It feels like a contrived way to get the government-operated Freedom Fighters involved.

Besides the corniness and melodrama that frequently hamper Gray-Palmiotti dialogue, unnecessary chunks of exposition are also thrown in.  Take for example, “Neural scramble guns!  Perfect.  I detest bullets.  They’re too messy.  These things are nasty; they cause irreparable brain damage and disrupt neural networks in the entire body.  Make sure you pay attention to where you’re shooting them.”  And the worst part is, never in the entire issue is there a panel of anyone firing one of these things.  A crying shame, I say.  Shortcomings in logistics also loom.  On one page, Miss America and Firebrand are zapped hardcore (possibly by neural scramble guns); two pages later, they’re back at work, looking just as fresh as before.

Travis Moore’s art contributes to these occasional logistical snafus.  On the whole, the art team does great work, giving splashy and detailed treatment to a packed story.  But there are moments when it’s clear they didn’t put quite enough thought into the visuals.  During a major battle in the issue’s second half, not once did Miss America display any of her molecular transmutation powers, which are only her original and primary abilities.  At one point, Black Condor is gripped by a massive foe, but in the very next panel, he is free and already at a distance from his captor.  These little things add up, weakening art that would otherwise be very impressive.

Conclusion: Freedom Fighters continues to be an enormously dynamic comic.  There’s no doubt it’s meant to entertain, but I think it’s capable of reaching a higher level of quality.  If Gray and Palmiotti could put some more thought to details that are left on the wayside of their ambitious premises, this series has the potential to elevating this generally overshadowed team into much more prime territory.

Grade: B-

-MQ Nguyen

Some Musings: – For a guy who ostensibly controls fire, Firebrand so far just seems very talented at the use of flame batons.

– No matter how heroic she is, you just can’t escape Phantom Lady’s rack.  They’re preposterous.

– Seriously, security guards?  Are the Freedom Fighters so obscure you could actually mistake them for prisoners?

– “Times like this are when I miss Young Justice.”  Glad YJ’s legacy is remembered by somebody in the DCU.