DC’s sales soared with the New 52, but the best rebooting of the DC Universe in recent years may be Darwyn Cooke’s fantastic, thought-provoking reimagining of the Silver Age. So mix a Tom Collins, kick back in your space-age egg chair, cue Sinatra, and fly yourself to the Utopia Casino in Vegas, where Bruce Wayne, Lois Lane, Carol Ferris, Hal Jordan, Selina Kyle, Oliver McQueen, Richard Flagg, and “Ace” Morgan find Ted “Wildcat” Grant’s post-title-bout party interrupted by a supervillain– and the new Flash.
Title: DC: The New Frontier: Volumes One and Two
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artists: Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart
First Published: 2004.
Heroes retire in the wake of World War II and the nascent Cold War, but other, newer characters take up the challenge. DC’s Silver Age gets reimagined in its original cultural and historical context, in a sprawling story that gives us a boy-scout Superman and an Amazon-sized Wonder Woman who have made an uneasy agreement with the American government, a Batman who has returned to the shadows, a stranger in a strange land, new heroes facing McCarthyism and racism, and much more. Disparate individuals, super-powered and not (DC’s second-string characters, many of them non-powered, play key roles in this tale), must join forces against a rising threat.
New Frontier writes postcards to postwar dreams, heroic aspirations, and childhood fantasies, while remembering that the Silver Age of comics also occurred against a backdrop of world tensions, political and racial hysteria, and uncomfortable changes. The characters are at once familiar and fresh, and the sprawling storylines ultimately come together. As a bonus, a key plot point actually makes sense of those impossible, isolated “prehistoric lost worlds” so common to comics and cheesy popculture.
The story goes to great lengths, a couple of times, to explain why DC’s very powerful magical heroes aren’t a part of this story. While a certain scene on the moon is not without its charm, these interludes feel forced and slightly ridiculous, and they clutter an already complex story. Given that Cooke is writing his own DC history, I really wish he would have left these characters out altogether. And in Captain Marvel’s case, it’s not like he was originally part of DC Comics.
Originality: 3/6 Despite having a tone antithetical to Watchmen, it borrows more than a little from that graphic masterpiece. Moore and Gibbons deconstructed the comic book hero; Cooke and Stewart try to reconstruct that character.
We’ve seen DC’s finest before, but this feels different from what has come before.
Artwork: 6/6 Cooke’s highly stylized artwork captures exactly the feel of this story. He also fills New Frontier with iconic images: Hal Jordan lying low in an Art Deco motel in the desert, an aging Wildcat exchanging punches with the young Cassius Clay in 1950s Vegas, Superman punching out a toy-like giant robot in Tokyo Bay. Police chases in Gotham, finned rockets in space, racist rednecks in Mayberryesque backwaters, a vengeful Wonder Woman in Indo-China, cocktails and cigars in stylish lounges: Sf and comics mix with Mad Men.
Story: 4/6 The story is cluttered and crowded, but the center holds. At its heart is a mystery worthy of H.P. Lovecraft, crossed with 50s SF.
Characterization: 5/6 This is tough to assess, because many of the characters receive so little time. The majors have been developed in interesting ways. J’onn J’onzz receives probably his most complex treatment to date. Lois Lane is more than a little hawkish. For the kind of story being told, these personalities have been drawn well. Too much reality, and iconic superheroes become ridiculous.
Emotional response: 5/6 If you’ve only seen the animated adaptation, you really haven’t experienced The New Frontier.
Overall: 6/6 This is a work of heartbreaking nostalgia for postwar dreams and an inspirational reconstruction of four-color heroism. The idea that, whatever our flaws, we can still reach for the stars, lives large in The New Frontier.
In total, DC: The New Frontier receives 33/42
Up Next Week
Something recent, for a change: Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.