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The Old Frontier

March 3rd, 2008

Last week, Warner Bros. released Justice League: The New Frontier, the second in a series of direct-to-DVD animated features based on DC Comics characters. Unlike Mask of the Phantasm and the various spin-offs of the late, lamented Batman: The Animated Series, these new films aren’t derived from an existing TV cartoon, but are adapted (more or less) from the comics themselves.

The first of these, Superman: Doomsday, was based on the infamous “Death of Superman” stunt, which was less a story than a six-issue fight scene. Even though I love Superman, I skipped that one because I’m sick of Doomsday being treated as the central event of his mythology, rather than a cynical, overhyped marketing gimmick.

The New Frontier, however, was a good book: a six-issue miniseries which retold the introduction of the Silver Age of DC’s superheroes against a backdrop of late ’50s Cold War-era paranoia. That’s not to say that it was one of those depressing desconstructions of the heroic myth; if anything, it was written by someone who seems to understand what makes characters such as Superman, Batman and even the Green Lantern so iconic.

What I liked most about the film, besides its depiction of DC’s Silver Age in its prime, is that it really captures the pulp sci-fi flavor that informed that era. The late ’50s weren’t just about prejudice and fear, but wonder and hope. Anything was possible, the future was right around the corner, and it would come on the nosecone of a mighty, silver rocket to the stars.

With that in mind, the story centers around test pilot Hal Jordan before he becomes the fearless emerald crusader the Green Lantern. We first meet him in the midst of a dogfight on the final day of the Korean War, where his innate pacifism runs up against his instinct to survive. Traumatized by the experience, he takes a job at Ferris Aircraft where he learns that their plans are much more ambitious than mere military fighters.

Meanwhile, we get the early adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and the Martian Manhunter, not to mention appearances by Green Arrow, Aquaman, Adam Strange and the Blackhawks, all of whom ultimately team up to stop a prehistoric horror literally threatening to wipe mankind from the face of the Earth.

It’s wonderful stuff all done up in a retro style that nicely captures the original artwork. Highly recommended.

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