Directed by David Bullock
Written by Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke
Produced by Michael Goguen, Stan Berkowitz, Sander Schwartz, Gregory Noveck, and Bruce Timm
|Original artwork from the comic book series.|
As long as superhero movies have been made, fans have been critical. Even the best of films – like, say, The Dark Knight – have their detractors who wished it were more like the comic book. At to an extent, they can’t be blamed; the point of adapting a comic book into a film is to please the fans while simultaneously attracting new fans. When a studio thinks too much about mass appeal (like with Green Lantern), the results were horrendous. And while staying as accurate as possible can have it’s downsides (Watchmen got a little long in the tooth), a screenplay faithful to the source is usually better.
One of the best examples of this theory is Justice League: The New Frontier. The 2004 six-issue limited series was such an astounding achievement; it re-imagined the origins of the Justice League of America under the McCarthy-era scrutiny of communism and secrecy, with vintage American-style art that complimented the story perfectly. When DC announced the animated film adaptation of The New Frontier, many were skeptical. With such a unique story and art style, could Cooke’s tale of intrigue and mysticism be successfully adapted? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
Set after the Korean War, the film follows the founding members of the Justice League as they make their ways toward a first meeting to battle an enemy called the Centre, voiced by the commanding Keith David. In an age of distrust, all the members of the Justice Society have retired, and superheroes are a thing of the past. The New Frontier explores superheroism as a metaphor for the USA’s own fear of the unknown during that time. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the real-life decline in popularity of comic books during the 1950s, after the ‘Golden Age’ of the Justice Society, and before the ‘Silver Age’ of the Justice League.
Cooke also provides alternate histories for Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Martian Manhunter. Jordan is re-imagined as an ex-soldier who fought in Korea before becoming a test pilot for, you guessed it, Ferris Aircraft. J’onn J’onzz, on the other hand, keeps his arrival on Earth intact, but alters the way he connects with humanity by giving him television as a means of absorbing information. J’onn morphing into Bugs Bunny and the dead air Native American chief was just as nostalgic and Americana as in the comic.
Overall, the central plot of The New Frontier isn’t the focal point. So much so that the Centre is hardly delved into beyond being old as sin and spawning dinosaurs, for some reason. To a degree, the Centre somewhat resembles Lovecraft’s Cthulu in it’s design and raw, evil nature. The New Frontier is more about how a new generation of heroes comes together to save the world. As a Green Lantern fan, it’s hard watching the entire film with Hal Jordan resisting the ring. But when he finally puts it on, it’s game over. Cooke is one of the rare writers that understands the scope of Green Lantern’s power, and it’s refreshing to see that conviction animated.
Justice League: The New Frontier is by and far my favorite DC animated film. Existing outside the flimsily-connected world of all the other films, Darwyn Cooke’s epic tale exceeded it’s expectations by keeping true to the source material, using the comic book’s same visual style, and casting a great team of voice actors to bring the characters to life (I mean, Kevin Conroy’s great for Batman, but Jeremy Sisto? Awesome). Bringing actual panel scenes into the mix is the icing on top of the cake that makes this film just so damn good. It’s an homage to a great piece of graphic literature that does the original justice.