Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Justice League: the New Frontier (2008)

Well, you never know which way the winds of inspiration will blow you.  I was all set to write a review of another film, a non-fantasy film, and spent most of the weekend thinking of things I wanted to say about that particular movie.  But then I saw in my Memories Feed on Facebook that this past Mother's Day was the one-year anniversary of the death of Darwyn Cooke, famed comic book writer and artist.  Cooke died tragically of lung cancer at the age of 53 at the height of his creative talents and with no indication that he was running out of ideas and good stories to tell.

Arguably, Cooke's masterwork was DC: the New Frontier, a re-imagining of the origin of the Justice League of America and some of its key members.  New Frontier was a love letter of sorts to the Silver Age of comics that not only showed the in-text transition from the Golden Age of super heroes but also accomplished the nifty trick of capturing all the wonder and allure of a classic Silver Age story while interweaving rich characterization and  a clever plot, two qualities that are distinctly NOT associated with stories of the era.

The online reminder I received about Cooke's death got me thinking about the film adaptation of his magnum opus, retitled Justice League: the New Frontier.  The movie version manages to capture the best qualities of the graphic novel, including Cooke's distinctive artistic style,   And, the result is that very familiar characters, some of whom were getting a bit a dusty in their depictions, had new life breathed into them.

Part of the reason for this is that New Frontier is set in the late 1950s, where the Silver Age of comics began.  As a result, the film is able to convey the innocence and optimism of the time period but with a hindsight perspective that includes some of the more seedier aspects of the decade, like the Red Scare and the harsh realities of war.  Although heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are still intent on doing the right thing, all three of them are now navigating murky territory regarding morality and ethics.  It will take the emergence of a new generation of heroes to shake the Big Three out of their disenchantment with their chosen missions.

At the forefront of this new generation are Barry Allen aka the Flash (the first hero of the Silver Age), Hal Jordan (the war veteran and test pilot who becomes the new Green Lantern), and J'Onn J'Onzz (a Martian accidentally brought to Earth and stranded here).  Their respective hero journeys are interlocked with the main story about a pending threat from an entity called the Center, an alien intelligence that has grown wary of mankind and decides the human race must be eliminated due to its penchant for violence and the escalation in methods of mass destruction, namely atomic weapons.

There is a lot to admire in New Frontier.  But, the last thing I want to say is that a story like this is only possible because DC has routinely allowed writers and artists to have the freedom to reinvent its stable of characters, divorced from the constraints of continuity.  It is one of the biggest advantages that DC has had over Marvel and is what has allowed the company to produce seminal works such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sandman.  There have also been some abysmal failures, like the New 52, but gems like New Frontier make up for the missteps.

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