- Give Me Liberty
Give Me Liberty
Cover to Give Me Liberty #1. Art by Dave Gibbons.
Publication information Publisher Dark Horse Comics Schedule Monthly Format Limited series Publication date 1990 Number of issues 4 Main character(s) Martha Washington Creative team Creator(s) Frank Miller (writer)
Dave Gibbons (illustrator)
Collected editions Give Me Liberty ISBN 0440504465
Give Me Liberty is a four-issue comic book mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics in 1990. It was created and written by Frank Miller and drawn by Dave Gibbons. The title of the series comes from a famous quotation by Patrick Henry: "I know not what course others may take but — as for me — give me liberty or give me death."
Give Me Liberty was one of Frank Miller's two creator-owned (the other was Hard Boiled) titles he took to Dark Horse after deciding to stop working for DC Comics after a dispute over a proposed ratings system.
The story is set in a dystopian near-future where the United States have split into several extremist factions, and tells the story of Martha Washington, a young American girl from a public housing project called "The Green" (see Chicago's Cabrini–Green). The series starts with Martha's birth and sees her slowly grow up from someone struggling to break free of the public housing project, to being a war hero and major figure in deciding the fate of the United States.
The series was a mix of Miller's typical action sequences as well as being a political satire of the United States and its major corporations. The series proved to be a huge success for Dark Horse and was one of the biggest selling independent comics of the time. A trade paperback was later released and Miller followed up Give Me Liberty with several sequels continuing the story. All of these sequels were drawn by Dave Gibbons and published by Dark Horse.
The titles of the original four issues of Give Me Liberty were:
- Homes & Gardens
- Travel & Entertainment
- Health & Welfare
- Death & Taxes
Part 1: Homes & Gardens
In 1995 the story’s protagonist, Martha Washington, is born in a Chicago hospital. In 1996, Erwin Rexall is elected President of the United States and that same year, Martha’s father is killed while protesting the urban housing situation thousands of Chicago African-Americans have been forced into: Cabrini–Green, one of Chicago’s poorest and most crime-ridden housing projects, has been enclosed in a giant structure, effectively turning it into a prison.
Martha grows up with her mother and two brothers in abject poverty brought on by the economic policies of the Rexall presidency. Martha is an average student who displays a gift for computer programming (and hacking). Her tests largely consist of questions about President Rexall, one of which reveals that Rexall was effective in repealing the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, allowing him to serve more than two terms as president.
Her teacher, Donald, encourages her to be a better student and, because he lives outside the Green, brings her contraband items, such as a sandwich. One night Martha shows up at Donald’s classroom and finds that he’s been murdered by the Ice Man, a large thug who works for a local gangster, the Pope. Donald has stabbed the Ice Man in the wrist. While he is distracted with the knife in his arm, Martha seizes his weapon, a longshoreman’s hook, and plunges it into his shoulder. He chases her through the school to a locker room, but bleeds to death before he can kill her. Martha is remanded to a psychiatric hospital.
In the institution living conditions are substandard. Martha discovers that experiments are being secretly performed on children to genetically alter their minds, effectively turning them into human computers. Their heads are covered with wires plugged into their brains. Martha believes one of them resembles the Raggedy Ann doll she played with as a child.
A single page from a news periodical, Thisweek, informs us of several intervening events. A U.S. satellite laser cannon has caused serious damage to oil fields in the Saudi Arabian desert, dissolving already strained relations between the U.S. and that country; Rexall’s presidency is wracked by scandal and his economic policies of the previous 13 years are widely unpopular; U.S. government relations with Native Americans of the southwest are also strained; and national budget cuts have forced the closing of prisons and mental institutions, including Martha’s, who is left homeless on the streets of Chicago. Medical workers dispatched to round up the patients try to subdue Martha but she fights them, killing one and taking his wallet. She is able to steal money from an ATM using his account card.
In May, 2009, Rexall is critically injured when the White House is bombed by Saudi Arabian terrorists, and lies comatose, unable to continue his term. Nearly every successor in the hierarchy to the presidency is also killed in the attack, leaving only the liberal Secretary of Agriculture, Democrat Howard Nissen, alive to take the post of president. Nissen proves to be an effective leader: among other actions, he ends years of scattered global wars being fought by the PAX Peace Force (the new U.S. Army founded by Rexall) and sends the troops to South America to fight the destruction of the rainforests by renegade cattle industrialists (beef having been declared a health hazard and made illegal.) Martha decides to join PAX and is sent to fight in this war. She experiences the horrors of combat, in particular chemical weapons used by the enemy (one such chemical gets into her hair, permanently turning it blonde). She also discovers a plot by her commanding officer, Lieutenant Moretti, to destroy large patches of the rainforest for the enemy. He shoots her and leaves her for dead. Martha survives, stalks Moretti’s unit and kills all of them but Moretti, whom she severely wounds. While both recover in a hospital, Moretti blackmails Martha into becoming his unwitting servant.
Part 2: Travel & Entertainment
Martha becomes a war hero, helping PAX win several decisive battles. Her actions also benefit Moretti, who takes nearly all the credit for Martha’s heroics. The war finally ends with PAX victorious. During a ceremony where she is decorated for bravery in combat (and Moretti is promoted to colonel), Martha talks to President Nissen and tells him about Cabrini–Green and its horrid squalor. Nissen promises to destroy the enclosing structure, sending PAX to aid in the effort. Martha is reunited with her mother.
In 2011, Martha is charged with a mission to stop the terrorist group Aryan Thrust (a white supremacist organization of gay men) from destroying the White House with a huge orbiting laser cannon stationed in Earth’s outer atmosphere. Martha kills all the men in the control room using her PAX-issue sabre (eschewing the use firearms due to the danger of puncturing the station's outer hull), but not before the leader is able to voice the command to fire the pre-targeted cannon, which begins a short countdown. Several Aryan Thrust soldiers fire at Martha with machine guns, ripping a large hole in the outer hull, causing a chain reaction that will destroy the station in minutes. Martha races to the central computer room and finds the same wired child she’d seen in the mental institution. Martha convinces her to stop the firing sequence, and they both escape in Martha's shuttle before the station explodes.
Martha’s shuttle is damaged in the explosion and crash lands in the desert southwest, within the territorial boundary of the Apache Nation, a sovereign nation that is hostile to the U.S. government. A few years before, the Apaches had seized control of a large oil refinery within their territory; in a surprising domestic policy move, Nissen offered ownership of the refinery to the Apaches as a gesture of good will. However, health conditions at the refinery are poor; the air is toxic and many natives are stricken with skin and lung ailments. Martha and her child companion, known as Raggy Ann (due to her resemblance to a Raggedy Ann doll), are taken as captives. Martha forms a tense friendship with one of the Apaches, Wasserstein; he tells her that the Apaches are hostile mainly because of the poor treatment they’ve received in recent years as well as throughout America’s history.
Meanwhile, Colonel Moretti has been working behind the scenes as a treacherous adviser to the President. Nissen has also become an alcoholic, perhaps because of the state of the Apache people and his separation from his own wife (who plans to run against him for the White House) but mostly due to Moretti’s influence. In a drunken rage he murders his Vice President and signs an official document without reading it. The document, drafted by Moretti himself, orders the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to use the space laser cannon to incinerate the Apache Nation. The attack will also kill Martha, a plan Moretti has been working toward for years.
Part 3: Health & Welfare
Martha attempts a daring escape from the Apache Nation. She has first hand knowledge of Moretti’s plan to destroy the region with laser fire because Raggy Ann is telepathic and voices Moretti’s thoughts. She steals a Jeep and heads out into the desert; Wasserstein catches up to her vehicle and tries to stop her escape. At that moment, the laser cannon fires and destroys the refinery and the Apache territory. Martha looks directly at the blast and is blinded.
She is captured by the Surgeon General’s army. The Surgeon General, who hides behind a surgical mask and appears mentally insane, is a separatist with his own territory in the Pacific Northwest. He is also a religious fanatic who opposes pornography, rock music, birth control, and especially unclean environmental conditions. He uses a technique based on music to brainwash Martha and transform her into a perfect soldier. He also replaces her blinded eyes and renames her "Margaret Snowden."
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Lucius Spank, checks into a hotel room. Moretti, hiding in the closet, lunges at the man and shoots him in the head. He places an official document in Spank’s hand and the gun in the other hand, making it appear the general committed suicide. The document is the same one the president signed after killing his Vice President. The letter quickly makes the news and is devastating to Nissen’s administration. He calls a White House meeting of his closest advisers and tells them that the only solution to his failing presidency is declaring another war. As he stumbles over the logic of such a policy he is stabbed to death, the first blow being delivered by Moretti himself, then by the new vice president and the remainder of his Cabinet. Moretti leaves the room and locks the doors, preventing the escape of the conspirators. As he starts to leave the grounds of the White House in a limousine, the building explodes behind him killing everyone inside. Moretti’s limo is flipped over but he is only mildly injured. Moretti declares himself interim leader of the nation until elections can be properly organized. Moretti orders the destruction of the Surgeon General's stronghold, Fortress Health, by laser cannon. The Surgeon General counters with his own plan to launch hundreds of nuclear missiles at the cannon. He also reveals that he possesses President Rexall’s brain, for which he will clone a new body and reinstate as president.
Wasserstein, the only survivor of the destruction of the Apache Nation, has formulated a plan to infiltrate Fortress Health and rescue Martha. Raggy Ann joins him, her telepathic abilities a useful asset. “Margaret” is dispatched to deal with the intruder. She encounters Wasserstein at a computer bank and shoots him. She turns him and Raggy Ann over to Fortress Health authorities. Moments before, Raggy Ann had “uploaded” the memories that Martha lost during her brainwashing. She walks outside to the grounds of the fortress just as the Surgeon General orders the launch of his missiles.
Part 4: Death & Taxes
Moretti assumes command of all of America’s military forces and is sequestered aboard a huge plane that he uses as a mobile command center. However, Moretti lacks the experience of a true national leader and the splintering of the United States grows worse as areas like Brooklyn, Manhattan, Florida and Texas declare independence and seem poised on the brink of civil war. Moretti's attempts to negotiate with these factions fail rapidly and his obsessive pre-occupation with the Surgeon General is heavily criticized by his military advisers.
Martha reports to the Surgeon General’s command center and he updates her on the situation. If the fortress is attacked, she will take Rexall’s brain, housed in small, mobile container, and evacuate the area with it. Martha unexpectedly shoots the Surgeon General several times, revealing that he is actually a sophisticated robot. At the same time, Wasserstein, still alive, escapes confinement with Raggy Ann. They find the control room and Martha has Raggy Ann detonate one of the missiles, destroying them all. The cannon and its command crew are safe.
Moretti sends all air forces to bomb Fortress Health. Martha takes Wasserstein, Raggy Ann, Rexall’s encased brain, and Rexall’s wife and escapes the bombing in a plane, with the still-functioning Surgeon General clinging to the plane’s exterior. Moretti is informed by his troops that Fortress Health has fallen but there is no sign of Martha or Rexall. Martha’s plane streaks away, pursued by Moretti himself. Moretti’s pilot fires missiles at Martha’s jet, but they hit the Surgeon General instead after he is blasted off the plane by the shotgun-wielding Martha.
Martha and her weary fugitive group fly south to the Brazilian rainforest. They will be safe there since an executive order from the Nissen administration protects it from destruction by orbiting laser cannons. Moretti gathers a PAX unit of former criminals, some of whom have personal grudges with Martha. They hunt the fugitives in the rainforest. Martha and Wasserstein fight together using a box of surgical tools they find on the plane, killing nearly all of Moretti's unit. Moretti finds Rexall’s brain with his wife, whom he brutally murders. Martha finds Moretti and they engage in hand-to-hand combat. She overpowers and arrests him.
The story closes in the year 2012. Rexall has been given a new robotic body and is easily voted back into office in a special election. Moretti stands trial for murder and treason and is sentenced to death by firing squad. Martha visits him the day he is to be executed and they talk for a while. Martha gives him her belt and he hangs himself from a pipe in his cell.
Give Me Liberty was followed by:
- the five-issue series Martha Washington Goes to War in 1994, which was closely based on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. In this series, Rexall's increasingly corrupt government is subverted by the Surgeon General, who attempts a coup. Meanwhile, Martha is on the trail of the "Ghosts", a seditionist faction with an artificially-intelligent supercomputer. Joining up with the seditionists, Martha is instrumental in bringing down the corrupt government.
- the one-shot issue Happy Birthday Martha Washington in March 1995, featuring:
- "Collateral Damage", originally published in black and white under the title Martha Washington’s War Diary in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special (1991)
- "State of the Art", originally published in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (1993)
- the one-shot issue Martha Washington Stranded in Space in November 1995, featuring:
- "Crossover", guest-starring The Big Guy. Martha investigates a space anomaly that temporarily sends her to Big Guy's reality.
- "Attack of the Flesh Eating Monsters", originally published in black and white in Dark Horse Presents #100-4. Martha fights off an attack by monsters conforming to 1950s pulp-SF stereotypes; she discovers that this is merely a psychological study conducted by the world-controlling AI.
- the three-issue series Martha Washington Saves the World in 1997. An actual alien spaceship arrives, and Martha uses its superior technology to defeat the megalomaniacal AI.
- the one-shot issue Martha Washington Dies in 2007
There is an additional Martha Washington story "Logistics", which was published exclusively as part of a comic distributed with the Martha Washington action figure.
On September 9, 2009, Dark Horse released a 600-page hardcover titled The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty First Century. The book includes every Martha Washington story as well as several extras.
- ^ Martha Washington Dies in July: Talking to Diana Schutz, Newsarama, March 27, 2008
- ^ DarkHorse.com, Dark Horse Comics description page
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