Justice League - The New Frontier (Two-Disc Special Edition)
by Dave Bullock (Director)
Review by Drew Bittner
Warner Home Video DVD ISBN/ITEM#: B000PFSYO4
Date: 02 February 2008 List Price $24.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A primordial intelligence has decided that mankind -- and the species' rapid development of lethal weaponry -- is a danger ... and must be destroyed. This is revealed in the pages of a book whose author commits suicide after finishing the final page.
Thus begins Justice League: The New Frontier, based on the miniseries by Darwyn Cooke. It is the early 1950s and America's heroes -- the Justice Society -- are hounded into retirement by McCarthy's witch hunts; only two, Superman and Wonder Woman, remain active, having sworn loyalty oaths.
It is 1953. The Korean War ends as two jet pilots discuss their future. One, Hal Jordan, dreams of being a test pilot and "climbing the pyramid" into space -- shortly before they're attacked by Korean jets who haven't heard about the armistice. Without firing a shot, Jordan overcomes the two enemy fighters, only to go down as a third enters the fight. He survives by killing an enemy soldier, a pointless death when the guns should be silent.
The action picks up as a Martian is brought to Earth by an overeager astronomer, setting a peaceful stranger loose in a nation boiling with intolerance, fear and violence. Trying to fit in, he tries on several identities until he discovers the guise of a police detective -- John Jones -- and becomes the Martian Manhunter.
In Indochina, Superman and Wonder Woman nearly come to blows over how a local atrocity is resolved, while the Flash takes on the villainous Captain Cold in Las Vegas.
Investigating a kidnapping leads Jones to a church where Batman is fighting cultists who swear allegiance to "the Centre". Jones is incapacitated by raging flames, while Batman is dismayed by the kidnapped child's hysterical fear of him. In Metropolis, Lois Lane tells Superman that the country needs hope ... and a leader.
Meanwhile, Jordan finds that his post-war blues haven't hurt his chances of riding into space; his flying buddy Ace Morgan has wangled him a job at Ferris Aircraft, a cutting-edge outfit in need of a hot pilot. Jordan learns quickly that Col. Rick Flagg and Carol Ferris have something very big in mind, however, because of a little discovery in Gotham City.
All these storylines converge as Jordan has a fateful trip into space (and an even more important close encounter soon after), the Flash quits the hero business, and the Martian Manhunter is caught by government agent King Faraday. The Centre is rising ... its powers are fully woken and on the attack ... and mankind's hours are numbered unless these scattered heroes can come together as -- the Justice League.
Combining the "gosh wow" of comics' Silver Age with the sophisticated and mature storytelling of the 2000s, Cooke's story respects and reinvents what we've seen in the comic books for generations: the origins of Earth's foremost team of heroes. Written as a period piece, from the early '50s to 1961, the heroes are in a time of darkness -- the height of the Cold War -- and living in an era that fears and distrusts "heroes". Superman and Wonder Woman work for the government, Batman is an outlaw, and the rest are either retired or work under the government's radar.
The story itself is a gem, using Hal Jordan as a viewpoint character for much of the action. It should be no surprise that he becomes Green Lantern, the newest of Earth's modern pantheon, but his journey toward that end shows him the difference between cowardice and principle. At the same time, the Flash grapples with feelings of being "only a guy who runs after jewel thieves" but steps to the fore when his nation needs him. The action-packed finale makes terrific use of these two heroes, but gives every character a chance to shine (especially King Faraday).
And "every character" is a lot of people. Longtime readers of DC Comics will find a treasure trove of Easter eggs, as little-known characters appear and vanish with blinding speed. (One particular favorite was a pilot named Trainor -- who would go on to become Negative Man in the Doom Patrol.) There are pretty much too many heroes to keep track of, from Adam Strange to the Challengers of the Unknown to Task Force X (aka the Suicide Squad). Trivia fans can entertain themselves for hours catching all the subtle allusions to heroes on-screen or referenced in the dialogue (or even in the boxing banner in Las Vegas).
Which leads to the voice talent that brought the characters to life. While I've been a huge fan of Bruce Timm's Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Animated Adventures voice casting, this was an amazing match-up of actor to character. Jeremy Sisto in particular is astounding as Batman, bringing chills with innocuous lines such as "I have a $70,000 sliver of radioactive meteor for the one in Metropolis. For you, all I need is a penny for a book of matches". It's incredible work; Sisto has a career in animation waiting whenever he pleases.
He's far from the only standout in this picture. Kyle MacLachlan is fantastic as Superman, rivaled only by Miguel Ferrer as the soft-spoken and anguished John Jones. Both are aliens who are treated very differently by the powers that be. Lucy Lawless proves she has what it takes to portray strong women (even without Xena's trademark battle cry); David Boreanaz brings a singular wistful yearning to Hal Jordan, covered over by pilot-like breeziness and flirting with Carol Ferris (Shields); and Neil Patrick Harris delivers as the earnest, under-confident and much-in-love Flash.
Truly, there isn't a single actor who delivers less than a knockout performance.
The art style captures Cooke's linework perfectly, especially in the way he illustrates the heroes. His portrayal is very retro, going back to Superman and Batman's original looks (before Batman was updated to the costume he had in the 1950s). The art captures the look and feel of the times, from the women's dresses to the workday suits of Slam Bradley and John Jones, the futuristic sweep of Ferris Aircraft to the Las Vegas casino where Captain Cold nearly foils the Flash.
Justice League: The New Frontier is nothing less than a love letter to the DC Comics universe. It's an exploration of what makes a hero and what ordinary people can do when they let go and embrace the extraordinary. It's all that and more, and it gets the:
From: Stu Shiffman: