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Justice League: The New Frontier
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2008

Format: Movie
By:   Directed by David Bullock and Written by Stan Berkowitz based on the graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke
Genre:   Animated Super Hero
Review Date:   February 25, 2008
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

“We stand at the edge of a New Frontier– the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It will deal with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”

-- John F. Kennedy, acceptance speech for the Democratic candidate for President, 1960

Kennedy's words energized a generation, weary of paranoia, repression, and endless Congressional hearings. The previous decade's leaders terrorized the dreamers, while attempting to homogenize all culture within the great suburban ideal. During that bleak period, many creative institutions came under societal and governmental scrutiny: movies, books, photography, and especially comic books. Frederic Wertham's scathing attack, Seduction of the Innocent (1954), and the ensuing Congressional hearings crippled the thriving horror, crime, and romance comics industry. And seemingly destroyed the super hero comic.

Since the end of Word War II, with no obvious villains -- communism proving too nebulous with no central bad guys like Hitler or Tojo -- to challenge super heroes, other types of comic book stories emerged to capture the popular imagination, effectively ending the Golden Age of Comics.

At the time of Wertham's book, only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman remained in the popular consciousness. In 1956 just two scant years after Seduction of the Innocent, DC (then called National) introduced a re-imagined Flash. Updated for the atomic age with a scientific origin and science-centric villains, Flash ushered in a new era of super hero comics -- The Silver Age.

Justice League: The New Frontier chronicles the period between the two eras, a pivotal time of great upheaval for a United States that was emerging as a world military, economic, and scientific power. In the story, Superman and Wonder Woman fight as federal agents in the warring Indochina. Batman still strikes terror in Gotham City crooks, while hiding from a government that hates and fears him. Korean War hero, pacifist Hal Jordan returns stateside to test planes for Ferris Aircraft. An astronomer's error teleports the last surviving Martian to Gotham City. In Central City, a new Flash emerges to confront that city's kooky criminals. These diverse storylines collide to encounter The Center, a Lovecraftian nasty bent on destroying humanity.

Based on Darwyn Cooke's sensational award-winning graphic novel The New Frontier, the film successfully captures the look and ambiance of the source material while deftly excising several subplots. The Losers, The Challengers of the Unknown, and Suicide Squad were cut. The John Henry story is whittled to a series of flashbacks. The movie version focuses on the divergent yet parallel storylines of Hal Jordan and J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter and their struggles in paranoia-driven, post-WWII America.

Justice League: The New Frontier maintains many of the key elements of the comic book and even at times lifting direct scenes and images from the original story. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman wear their traditional Golden Age costumes. The dramatic encounter between Wonder Woman and Superman in Indochina plays out nearly identically to the book. Hal Jordan's bloody fight with the Korean soldier is the comic book come to life. The climatic battle between the heroes and The Center plays eerily similar to the source material. Most importantly, the film reprints almost verbatim the children's book that first identifies The Center.

The excellent, near-perfect graphical look creates a quality to the project that far exceeds other direct-to-dvd animated movies. As evident from the viewing and the discussions between the contributors on the commentary tracks, the staff carefully deliberated every image and shot, even going as far as bringing in Darwyn Cooke to create new bridging sequences and consult on many story elements. In the 75 minute feature, nary a shot is wasted and most are beautifully crafted, especially the iconic 1950s-style credits sequence.

Loaded with extras, the two disc set features two audio commentaries, four documentaries, and three bonus Justice League episodes (each about characters or events related to the feature). The first commentary, a round robin discussion with Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Supervising Producer Mike Goguen, Voice Director Andrea Romano, Director David Bullock, Screenwriter Stan Berkowitz, and DC Comics Senior Vice President/Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, offers some interesting behind-the-scene bits, but suffers from too many participants.

At times it was difficult to determine who was speaking. The commentators made at least three different references to extras that do not exist on this set: deleted scenes, a specially produced comic book that was to be packaged with the set, and outtakes of Lucy Lawless energetically performing her Wonder Woman role at the voice recordings. The second commentary, a solo Darwyn Cooke, rehashes a lot of the first commentary and grew wearisome as Cooke kept thanking everyone for doing such a great job on the project.

The documentaries Super Heroes United!: The Complete Justice League and The Legion of Doom: The Pathology of The Super Villian deftly relate the often convoluted creative histories of DC super heroes and super villains, respectively. Comic Book Commentary: Homage to the New Frontier lovingly recounts the original graphic novel and the events leading to its creation. The three Justice League episodes (“Dark Heart”, “To Another Shore”, and “Task Force X”), while not bad, feel very much like filler and are superficial to the set's other content. The package also includes an intriguing sneak peek of the forthcoming anime-inspired direct-to-dvd animated movie Batman Gotham Knight.

The best super-hero movie from Warner Brothers since the outstanding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), the film hopefully lays a groundwork for future animated adaptations of DC graphic novels. With excellent voice acting, breathtaking music, and dazzling graphics, Justice League: The New Frontier will excite the ardent and casual fan alike.

Movie 9/10

Extras 7/10


Contributing editor Rick Klaw frequently expresses his opinion. He can't help it. Really.

 
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