Sunday, March 2, 2008

Justice League: The New Frontier

Using the “Justice League” title with “The New Frontier” is somewhat of a misnomer as Darwyn Cooke’s original comic dealt with the transition from the Golden Age of superheroes to the Silver and the period just before the creation of the Justice League of America. But the Justice League is a recognizable brand and tying this project to that brand makes sense from a marketing standpoint.

But is it any good? Yes, it is good. I was a little worried because the online chatter had been mixed, however, I realized after watching JLTNF that most folks who were disappointed wanted something else and not Darwyn Cook’s amazing work. What they wanted was some sort of tie-in to the Justice League cartoons, this is simply crazy as the New Frontier story could never connect to those shows because it’s set in the 1950s and it's different in theme to those shows.

The story is very faithful to the original comic, but it does drop most of the mini-plots to focus in the main thrust of the story, that thrust being the rise of a new era of heroes and a threat to human existence on the planet. The story was so faithful in fact that there weren’t any surprises for those of us that have read the New Frontier comic book. So, the film’s enjoyment comes from seeing a great story animated, with excellent voice acting. It would be interesting to hear reactions from folks that haven’t read the original.

There are a few things to keep in mind. Much of JLTNF focuses on lesser-known characters in the DC Universe. The big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, have supporting roles. The main storyline focuses around Hal Jordan and the Martian Manhunter. The New Frontier is infused with events and the ethos of the 1950s and very early 1960s. Not knowing anything about the time period could reduce someone’s enjoyment (I’m thinking about you Dana Perino). This movie is certainly for the older crowd as suicide, murder, and horror figure into the plot of the film.

It’s a good film and despite some of it’s darker elements. The New Frontier gives a fresh take on the concept of heroism and what it really means. Many of the topics from the show resonate and that’s part of the appeal beyond the amazing artistic style. The idea that some shadowy crap is going on but at the same time there is still great hope for a new future truly resonates. That’s part of the brilliance of Justice League: the New Frontier.

Here is what I liked in no particular order (spoilers):

Darwyn Cooke’s original drawing style and designs are intact and look wonderful when animated.

I like the way Cook draws women and, by extension, how they appear in this film. They’re my kinda’ sexy.

The Martian Manhunter is great character. I never knew much about him before but both the comic and the movie have peeked my interest. He’s a great combination of sci-fi and noir.

Now we have a good reason for the new look Batman.

I like the Lovecraftian elements. It’s almost like the age of the Superhero finally overcomes its pulp origins with The New Frontier.

They kept the nod to John Henry in and I appreciated that.

I enjoyed the voice acting

The 1950s look of the story really helps convey how exciting the dawning of the silver age was.

I bought the cheap, single DVD version and was surprised by some good extra features like a Justice League doc, and commentary tracks.

Wonder Woman’s invisible plane bit is pure genius.

The “not so good” side of the 1950s is touched upon.

Events seem more connected in the film than in the comic.

Here is what I disliked in no particular order (spoilers):

Something is a little off with the Hal Jordan/Green Lantern storyline but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Why didn’t The Martian Manhunter just impersonate one of the astronauts instead of showing up at the last minute and trying to ride the rocket from the outside?

I don’t think this film works well cross culturally.

I would have liked animated sequences rather than static images for the end speech.

Sometimes the horror aspects and Cooke’s style don’t quite work together. (Although, I think they work better here in the film than the comic)


WB's site for the film here



Arkonbey said...

Good review, it sold me!

Do they show John Cloud jumping into the T-Rex?

as far as the Martian Manhunter goes, I think there are two reasons he didn't impersonate the astronaut.

1) there were only three crew, and since he couldn't impersonate one of their personality or abilities, he would be noticed immediately. If not caught as an Martian, the 'crewman' would have been grounded for acting weird.

2) It's a long way from Gotham City to Ferris Industries. Being from Mars, he might have forgotten to re-set his watch and was almost late rather than being early

Do I win me a No-Prize?

Also, while that was a cool effect with Wonder Woman's plane, I always thought it was weird that you could see WW inside her invisible plane. I figure the skin of the plane would bend light so you see 'through' it. Otherwise, she couldn't see the instruments or guages or throttle/trim/flap controls and forget about doing any powerplant maintenance! (see, you can nitpick about MMh, I can nitpick about WW)

Doctor Smoke said...

Quick Barnacle boy!... to....
the invisible... ...

Dean Wormer said...

Okay, now I'm going to buy based on what you said.

Prolly what's throwing people is the animation does look a little close to the other WB stuff. I'm sure they used the same animation house to do so.

Arkonbey said...

Dean: Darwyn Cooke, the DC:NF artist was a storyboard artist for Batman the Animated Series, so there is a connection.

Swinebread said...

Arkonbey – Sorry that’s one of those subplots that gets dropped for movie version.

Those are good reasons… you get a no-prize indeed!

That’s a good point about her plane. I guess we’ve grown up with star trek and cloaking space ships whereas WW was created when sci-fi could be more magical I guess.

Dr. S – Now that is a drawing I’d like to see.

Dean – It’s all based on the comic book’s look and style as arkonbey says, Darwyn Cooke worked on the other shows but JLTNF is purely his design.

pidomon said...

great review. I was a little worried after having shelled out good money for superman vs doomsday (which stunk on ice IMHO) but JLTNF rocked.

Swinebread said...

I'll be sure to miss Superman vs Doomsday

I guess it CAN come down to the original source

thanks for stopping by! :)

Dr. Zaius said...

What a great review! I must have missed it the first time around. Your blog always has all sorts of thing I have never heard of, I must have overlooked it.

I agree with Arkonbey:

"Why didn't The Martian Manhunter just impersonate one of the astronauts instead of showing up at the last minute and trying to ride the rocket from the outside?"

The Martian Manhunter would have had dispose of an astronaut, and it was important to the plot that both astronauts had a big argument later.

I actually didn't like the artwork, I found that it was kind of cartoony and distracting when compared to the adult level of the subject matter, but it did not detract so much that I would really complain about it. I felt the same way about the artwork in the graphic novel, "the Dark Knight Returns" - and that was still one of my all time favorites.

I felt that what really made the film was the character development and the depth of the various relationships through out the film.

I think that you are right about the Green Lantern storyline. Despite his significant role in the film, he did seem a little two dimensional when compared to the other characters. I'm not sure why.