Justice League: The New Frontier
Those of us that grew up in the late fifties and early sixties lived in the era of what has been called the silver age of comic books. These post World War II comics helped to define the super hero genre with effects that have rippled to films and television today. Most of these super heroes came from the DC comic universe populated by the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash. Of course this only scratches the surface of the number of heroes we grew up enjoying. Back then just one hero was not enough. Since all of the DC super heroes lived in the same fictional universe it was only natural to group them together. This is how the ‘Justice League of America’ was initially created. Another common aspect of the comics of those days was the imaginary or ‘what-if’ episodes. These did not have to stick to the generally accepted canon of the universe which freed the writers to let their imaginations go wild with novel variations of the characters and situations. DC has gone through many changes over the years culminating with a complete reboot a few years back in the ‘Crisis’ series of graphic novels. In the same vein Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke have taken on the difficult yet much appreciated task of reinventing the formidable ‘Justice League of America’. The result is a new alternate universe where the characters face very relevant emotions and social pressures. An animated film based on this series, ‘Justice League: The New Frontier’ is out on DVD and it is better than I could have imagined.
First of all it should be noted that this is not a cartoon, it is a graphic novel brought presented as a movie. It is a bit too violent for younger children; the PG-13 rating should not be taken lightly here. It also has some thematic elements that may be a little too complex for younger teens to fully comprehend. The target demographic here are those of us in the Baby Boomer generation who are looking for a touch of nostalgia. The story and the way the characters are presented is different from what we remember but overall is consistent with the heroes we all remember. Another aspect that separates this film from an old style cartoon is the creative cast and crew assembled for it. The director, Dave Bullock, has been at the helm of some of the more successful animated series on television. He has done everything from the darker ‘Batman Beyond’ to the lighter ‘tween series ‘Kim Possible’. He also helmed several episodes of the current ‘Justice League’ series. Scribe Berkowitz has a long resume in animated television series encompassing Superman, Batman, the Justice League and crossing over to the Marvel universe with Spider-Man. His partner here Cooke doesn’t have the televised credits the other two men have. He has been busy making quite a name for himself in the highly competitive world of graphic novels. He has brought his vision to several re-imaginations of the DC comic universe. The cast used to provide the voices are well known in the television world. Many of them are winners of Golden Globes and Emmys for their live action work. These are not the usually voice actors used in many animated features or series, they are serious actors with successful careers in the real world.
The story begins with a cartoonist painting a brief history of earth, called ‘the sphere’. It tells of a great rock that fell from the sky wiping out most of the life and the rise of a creature, man, who grows in number and his ability to bring destruction. Now with atomic weapons this sphere must be cleansed. The words are attributed to ‘the Center’ and then the painter takes a gun and shoots himself in the head. A newspaper is shown placing the time period in the end of the Eisenhower administration, around 1953. A masked hero, Hourman, has plunged to his death killing four police officers. The Un-American Activity Committee headed by Senator Joe McCarthy has acted pushing legislation against masked vigilantes. They must either retire or register their secret identities with the government. In Korea pilot Hal Jordan (voiced by David Boreanaz) is flying a mission in his combat jet. Despite the cease fire in effect some MIGs attack his air group. Jordan’s jet takes heavy damage and he plummets to the ground. He ejects out of the jet and lands. Back in the States in the Gotham City Observatory a scientist is apologizing. He wanted to contact Mars and inadvertently brought back one of its inhabitants, J'onn J'onzz (voiced by Miguel Ferrer). In Indo-China Wonder Woman (voiced by Lucy Lawless) is helping a group of villagers get their revenge on men who where raping and torturing them. Superman (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) shows up to keep his friend from aiding in violence. Superman is upset that Wonder Woman just sat back and let the freed women kill their captors. He remind her that this is why the American government is coming down hard on them and why Batman (voiced by Jeremy Sisto) is a fugitive. In Laws Vegas Iris West (voiced by Vicki Lewis) is attacked by Captain Cold (voiced by James Arnold Taylor). She was on the phone with Barry Allen (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) who activates is secret ring which releases his Flash costume. One by one the heroes are faced with a moral choice to obey the government or remain true to their calling. Behind the scenes the Martian Manhunter is seeking out extraordinary people and gathering them together to fight the growing menace of the Center.
Superman is basically a man who has gone along with the new restrictive government. He has vowed to server his adopted country and initially feels he is doing the right thing opposing his friends. He is talked out of this position by Lois Lane (voiced by Kyra Sedgwick) but many of the super heroes still consider him a sell out. Hal Jordan is approached by a dying alien who passes on a ring of power to him turning Jordan into the Green Lantern.
This is an origins movie and naturally moves slower in the beginning to introduce the variations of the familiar characters as used here. Batman is distrustful even of Superman. He has a sliver of Kryptonite just in case. Wonder Woman has trouble back on Paradise Island with another Amazon wanting to take her crown. The fear of the communists has been extended to a distrust of the super heroes and many people are just fine with it. The film is ambitious and tries to do too much for the 75 minute run time. Hopefully there will be follow up films made. The story starts to go into some of the political problems of the late fifties but then backs off and becomes more of an old fashion fight the bad guys together comic book. In its own way this does help recapture the fifties for the Baby Boomers. We had some awareness of the problems the adults spoke about but would rather have an action comic.
The animation is very good. It starts off with a style that was popular with early sixties flicks and moves into the anime influenced look and feel that most animated series on television today have. The audio is clear with an excellent channel separation. There are two commentary tracks included. The first is a round table discussion featuring many in the production team. The second is a solo act with Cooke.
This is a very good re-telling of a familiar tale with more adult versions of the characters we grew up with. While too intense for the younger set it will be a guilty pleasure for us Boomers. Warner Brothers has done a fine job here; get this and enjoy.