Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DC: The New Frontier

Nothing irks me more than knowing that I have gaps in my knowledge of comics and the DC Universe in particular. When there is buzz about something that I am not reading, when there are runs that are lauded that I haven't read, it bothers me. I freely admit I have only read the first 6 issues of James Robinson's Starman. That is a gap.

Another gap I needed to fill was Darwyn Cooke's DC:The New Frontier. I had heard nothing but great things about this mini-series and finally was able to read it. I know I am very late to the table (the series came out in 2004) but this was just a fantastic mini-series, exploring the coming of a heroic age in the late 50's and early 60's America. That was such a tumultuous time in America, a time of great change and great optimism, but also of violence and uncertainty. To put super-heroes in that era is a fantastic concept. How would that America, one in transition, accept the concept of super-powered vigilantes.

It would have been easy to make this a book about the big three: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And they do have a role in the book. Batman represents order, but order working frighteningly outside the law. Superman represents order within the framework of the government, but he is struggling with his tasks wondering if they really represent the 'right thing' to do. And Diana is right in the middle, working with the American political administration for the most part, but never losing sight of justice. She is willing to do what's right even if it is opposition to what the government or even Superman thinks.

It even would have been easy to make this about the big 7. And Cooke does have a nice focus on Green Lantern, the Flash, and the Martian Manhunter. But this is DC:The New Frontier. So we see all the corners of the DCU, and many of them of the 'no powers' variety. Cooke wants to concentrate on the person who is the hero not the powers. This story was more about Hal than GL, Barry than Flash, and J'onn than the Martian Manhunter. But we also see that The Losers, The Challengers of the Unknown, and even King Faraday are
heroes just like the metahumans around them. Perhaps the most human character is John Henry, heroically fighting the racist world he is living in, suffering in the combustible social environment in America.For a DCU nut like me, it was great to see these human characters move the story along as much as Superman.

On top of that, we get glimpses of other DC characters too. So when we hear that one of the fighter pilots with Hal is named Trainor, we know it's Larry Trainor, pre-Negative Man.

It really is a nice exploration of the entire DC universe.

When the DC animated movie of New Frontier came out it was renamed Justice League:New Frontier. In 2008, DC released a special one-shot of new stories based in that world as a way to promote the movie. I didn't know what to expect as this could have been simple fluff pieces to give the movie some publicity. Cooke writes three stories and pencils one and all are great.

My favorite is the first story, the one Cooke both wrote and drew. It answers one of the questions I had when I read the initial mini-series: how could that Superman and Batman be friends? The story talks about their initial clashes and how they came to realize they were both on the same side of truth and justice, albeit inside and outside of the system. Is it still a spoiler if the book is 2+ years old? I'll simply say this: Wonder Woman, probably my favorite character of the New Frontier universe, plays a big part in bringing them together in friendship. That story alone made the issue worth the money I spent.

But back to the main mini-series. At the end of New Frontier, Cooke prints the John F Kennedy's Presidential nomination speech, the 'New Frontier' speech and shows images of super-heroes responding to that call to action.

The JFK speech resonates even today. Here is but a small piece of it.

But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric – and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me regardless of party.

But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier.  My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age – to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”

I would be remiss if I didn't include the 2 shots Cooke has of Supergirl in the book. She is one of those 'young in heart' new generation of heroes, born from the first group of heroes to emerge. Cooke has such a great retro-style.

And here is a section of a great splash of the heroes of the DCU springing into action. Supergirl looks so graceful there in the background.

I am glad I filled in this gap of my comic knowledge. New Frontier is a great story with great art, there are human hooks and inhuman threats. The book is such a nice layered look at a more innocent and idealistic heroes within the unsettled American and world political environment of that time.

Darwyn Cooke is going to be at the Boston Comic-Con this year. I will do everything in my power to get a Supergirl commission from him.


Gene said...

Anj wrote:
"And here is a section of a great splash of the heroes of the DCU springing into action. Supergirl looks so graceful there in the background."

They recreated that scene complete with Supergirl and JFK's New Frontier speech at the end of the animated movie.

Hope you succeed in obtaining a Supergirl commission from Mr. Cooke. That is something I would love to see!

Anonymous said...

Now, a Mr. Cooke Commish...that would be great to see up here! Saw the New Frontier...It was actually quite good. -ealperin