After dozens of retcons, revisions, reboots, and re-imaginings, there isn't a whole lot left to wring out of the old classic superhero characters. But a few skilled pros have done well by taking the old toys—mint in the box, as they were 40 years ago—and playing with them the way they should've been played with all along. In the spirit of Kurt Busiek and Paul Dini, Darwyn Cooke's DC miniseries The New Frontier plugs the stars of the Silver Age into an epic story involving aliens, dinosaurs, communists, segregationists, and the dawn of a new heroic era. Cooke uses nearly every character in the DC stable, placing them in a plausibly real early-'60s America, with all the darkness that portends, but he retains the sense of optimism and camaraderie that made Silver Age DC such a delight. More importantly, Cooke gives the heroes the kind of epic plot and richer meaning that their original creators—pitching to a younger crowd—couldn't.
The New Frontier: Absolute Edition collects the original six-issue miniseries in a handsome, oversized hardbound volume, with some new pages that fill out the story, and a wealth of supporting appendices. The best of the latter are Cooke's notes on each chapter, in which he points out the specific homages to old DC comics and the nods to his influences. Cooke's art is in the tradition of Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, and Joe Kubert, in that he likes blocky figures in dynamic poses, but his drawing is cartoonier and more stylized, like something from a child's notebook. That tension between childlike wonder and adult sophistication gives The New Frontier a lot of its drive, as Cooke tries to find a place for chipper boy scouts like Flash and Green Lantern in a culture about to be torn apart by assassinations and protests. He does it by contrasting their pure heroism with the more compromised form of DC's military characters, showing how the world can be simultaneously more complex and a lot simpler than we want to make it. And in the process, Cooke recodes the heroes of DC's Justice League with the kind of grandeur and nuance that longtime fans often had to supply out of their own imaginations.