Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 4: Liberty Files (1 of 2)

January 19th, 2012 by | Tags: , , , ,

Gavok note: Back in 2010, Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett decided to review just about every DC Elseworlds title he could get through. Due to personal scheduling issues, he had to take a break, but now he’s back in the saddle and ready to go. Glad to have him back.

I could go on about how awful I am with deadlines or make excuses, but nobody cares, you’re here for the alternate realities. So how about a string of some really good Batman-centric books, eh?

JSA: The Liberty File
Written by: Dan Jolley & Tony Harris
Art by: Tony Harris & Ray Snyder
Focuses on: Batman narrating, various JSA reimaginings
Self-contained/Multiple books: Multiple books (one sequel)
Published in: 2000
Central premise: Bruce Wayne, “The Bat”, is an Allied spy trying to follow the trail of a new weapon the Nazis have developed. Two partners are assigned to the lone maverick due to the case’s importance: Rex “The Clock” Tyler, and Charles “The Owl” McNider.
Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere? Quite.

The Liberty File is easily in my favorite Elseworlds (thus far? probably of the entire run) because it manages to pull off well a concept that gets screwed up often: a harder Batman. But it makes sense. This is a man who’s wanted by every enemy that knows of him in a wartime era, while behind enemy lines. He has reason to be paranoid. Working alone is what keeps him safest.

There’s also the fact that this is a Bruce Wayne who knows the value of a gun. They’ve saved his life in the field, and, well… Bruce himself sums it up at one point:

Despite that, the book never dips into anything ill-advised in his narration (which we later discover is being written in an actual journal he burns the pages from after writing, from one of the army psych team’s recommendation). It has a bit of a pulp novel feel in places, honestly, and the tone is consistently solid. Anyhow, I should actually discuss the story itself here.

In the first issue of two, the trio are told to collect the now-escaped “Jack the Grin”, a smuggler who The Bat has had frequent issue with. After Bruce’s assignment to make sure he stays in custody goes awry (the plane removing Jack is shot down by flak, and he stumbles off, now an amnesiac from the landing), the team has to beat the Nazis to a) finding him, and b) discovering where the hell he hid the documents they want.

The most likely place for him to be after the crash is an unnamed Egyptian town where most of the story takes place. Intelligence agencies from all sides are at play, from the less subtle (the town’s Nazi oberkommandant shaking down the shadier elements with a goon squad) to an unnamed rogue who works with a retarded man with a cannon strapped to his back.

As I write this up I realize that there is more than a little farce in this story.

Speaking of lines that come out a little farcical: while The Bat and The Clock engage some of their rougher competition, The Owl is womanizing. Blatantly. He visits a lounge singer and informant known as the Canary, picking up some gossip and telling her he really wishes he had time for a quick shag, but duty calls. As will he at a later date. Among the things mentioned are the rumors of a German übermensch, which the Owl writes off as hearsay. If Hitler had a superman, they’d have seen him by now with how desperate he’s become.

Cut to a visit between Hitler and his superman.

After meeting back up, our trio of spies end up with a key stolen from Jack the Grin, and figure it must lead to wherever he’s hiding. They suit up and get ready to storm the place. Now, here’s a fun exercise for you, the reader.

Look at Bruce’s face. Now, we have the Hour here in quite a competent disguise for the region they’re all in. The Bat here has already been mocked upon meeting the other two for the first time with “Why the mask?” So what exactly could the Owl be dressed in that gets the most stuck-up member of this team to don an expression like that?

Oh. So that explains it.

Amongst all the opposing factions, it’s not surprising that a smuggler like Jack the Grin would escape in the chaos. A final race from the remaining agents ensues, with Jack trying like hell to get out of town, and the Nazi overseer and the Bat’s crew competing to make it to him first. A shack in the desert is the site of the final showdown: the Nazis beat them there and begin preparing to storm the place. Meanwhile, someone takes a look back to see if they lost their pursuers:

There’s actually a set of themes to how each of the three are depicted in fights. The Hour takes a pill and gets huge. One fight has him throwing around a piano, and soon after the above page he finishes off the cannon-toting duo by tossing the ball right back at them. The Owl takes advantage of his blindness and makes sure to handicap others for a leg up. His two big scenes involve large amounts of debris or smoke bombs… a shot from the second is below:

This is how I play sandbox games, what with the “clearing a blockade by crashing planes into it”. Except when the smoke clears, I’m not blind, unarmed, and up against a group of Nazi thugs. And I guess the smoke hasn’t exactly cleared either. So what I’m saying is The Owl is astoundingly badass.

The Bat, on the other hand… his scenes are a very no-nonsense, get it done fighting style. He does not hold back, because it’s his mission, and this is a war. People die. His climactic scene is a knock-down, drag-out brawl with Jack the Grin right outside this crap-ass desert shack. Jack, being hauled off by Nazis, sees the Bat and snaps right out of it. Pulling a knife from one of their belts, he takes out two before the others can react, and the others fare about as well, just messier.

What follows is about five pages of the two men beating the holy hell out of one another. The art conveys it well, this being the best single chunk to show it all off:

Rather than try and torture or intimidate him like anyone else did, the Bat just drugs Jack with truth serum to find out where the documents are hidden. We end the first volume on our valiant spies opening up the file.

This is actually a good stopping point, and each book in this story is very self-contained. Next time, I’ll be back with the last half and then we’re onto the first Elseworlds sequel from there!

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9 comments to “Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 4: Liberty Files (1 of 2)”

  1. Excellent write-up. I spent way too much money tracking down a copy of The Liberty Files and never once regretted it. Easily my favorite Elseworlds, as well.

    (Side note: Are you the “Syrg” on YouTube? “Syrg” might be a common enough username, but there IS the goon connection with Gavok, so I thought I’d ask.)

  2. Lovely series. For those of you wondering what happened to Dan Jolley, he’s been writing video games. That are more than meets the eye, if you know what I mean.

  3. Is this an underrated Elseworlds mini? I feel it is, which is a shame. There’s one helluva twist in the second issue, and an even bigger one in the second mini. Shame that Countdown: Arena kinda pissed on it by having Liberty!Bat get turned into a vampire. Long story.

  4. :barf: I must be in the minority because I hated it, zero interest in the sequel. I liked Tony Harris from Starman so it all came down to the script. The characters had only a superficial resemblance to their DCU counterparts, and twisted so much from their tenants and unrecognizable that why bother with this book in the first place, even as an Elseworld? I get put well-known DCU characters in a different context and see what happens. The whole point this wasn’t pitched as a clean-sheet WWII book with new characters was on 60+ years of equity these characters have in the first place. As much maligned as Claremont’s “Whom Gods Destroy” has been (at least on 4thletter), to me it was still a better book of DCU vs. Nazis. That said, I look forward to more Elseworlds takes here.

  5. Kevin, I guess I’ve really never understood this business where people don’t like a story based on how another creator presented the same character in some other, unrelated story

  6. @Derek: Yep, that would be me.

    @Jason/@Kevin Patterson: I don’t think this one’s really underrated (I’ve heard a few others who knew of it or enjoyed it, moreso than a lot of things that aren’t Red Son or that vampire Batman thing), but I can totally see coming down on it really hard one way or the other. I actually really, really dislike the sequel and I’m trying to write that one up without my tone coloring the story. (I think I succeeded? We’ll see.)

  7. @Syrg: Weird. I just finished watching your X-Men Legends 2 playthrough and then you’re on here.

    You ever played the DC one? Justice League Heroes?

  8. @Derek: I haven’t. I heard unkind things and it never came to PC. Worth tracking down on anything?

  9. @Syrg: A bit late to the party, but I’ll note that I’ve played JLH and it wasn’t terrible. It’s main problem was that it was the first in a potential series, but had to go up against Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which was basically third in a series. The comparison made it look worse than it was, which is a shame as with the groundwork established, there was real potential for a great follow-up.