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

The Story: As it turns out, the Freedom Fighters discover, there may be some truth to the whole mutant sewer creatures thing.

The Review: With most superhero teams, writers claim from time to time that such-and-such character is the “heart” of the team—usually a few weeks before killing them off.  After the immediate shock and grief is over, the team usually ends up functioning much like it did before.  But Uncle Sam has been a staple of the Freedom Fighters for so long he truly their emotional center.  You really can’t imagine the team without that tall, lanky, bearded Yankee on their side.

So it’s been interesting seeing Gray and Palmiotti handle Uncle Sam’s absence from the Fighters.  The impact of his “death” kind of got lost at first, what with the team being forced to continue the mission at hand without him.  But with every issue, the team has lost direction, even under the capable leadership of Miss America, until now you’re just longing for Uncle Sam to come back and make everything all right somehow.

It’s great that Gray-Palmiotti are bringing back some of the sticky issues from their original Freedom Fighters miniseries.  After all, the team was formed by some abominably shady forces and for a time operated without much deference to justice or mercy.  Under Uncle Sam’s reformation, they’ve slowly made their way back to respectability, but their actions toward the Jailbreakers this issue show that they’re toeing the line to being ruthless operatives again.

The confrontation between Phantom Lady and Miss America hits all the right points, but there’s some confusion as to who’s to blame for what went down.  Looking back at those earlier scenes, it won’t occur to you Joan doesn’t try her best to be accommodating to their enemies.  In fact, since Stormy’s the one teleporting people to safety, it seems she’d be more responsible for whatever breach of integrity they might have made.  This vilifying of Miss America—especially her coercive attitude toward Doll Man at the end—just comes off a little sudden and forced.

Meanwhile, the big plot at stake just barely inches forward, and the motivations of the current Jester seem as vague as ever.  If the Arcadians are the ones who betrayed his family, why is he so hung-up on the American government that, anyway, has been manipulated since its inception by the Arcadians?  Gray-Palmiotti are so fixated on the present action, they’re neglecting to ground it in a more meaningful premise.  If we can just get a clearer idea of how all these events tie together, the story would take a major leap in quality.

That said, it’s hard to imagine Moore’s art getting any better than it already is.  He fills every panel chock-full of detail (you gotta love the ornate symbology designs in the Arcadian stronghold), which his clean pencil-work always keeps simple and prominent.  Scott’s inks play a big role in ensuring even the squeezed panels keep from looking too distorted.  Kudos to Schwager for offering colors that always set the mood perfectly (spoiler alert—especially the sunset lighting for Stormy and Black Condor’s tryst).

Conclusion: It’s still one of the most action-packed titles on the stands, but the drama is beginning to play a bigger part in the entertainment.  Still, gaps in logistics and overbearing dialogue prevent Freedom Fighters from being taken more seriously than it could be.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings:

– I don’t quite understand how flinging Miss America into the supposedly unbreakable barrier…broke it.

– “Wheee!  I get to murder someone!”  Lines like this really aren’t helping sell your innocence in all this.

– Does anybody feel a sense of foreboding from the fact that Miss America’s name is missing from the Freedom Fighters cover logo?