One of the best comic books released this decade, Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier casts a backward look at some iconic DC Comics characters by returning them to the '50s-giving-way-to-'60s setting that kicked off the second great age of superheroes. While New Frontier was at least partly about how cool characters like The Flash and Green Lantern looked filtered through Cooke's streamlined, jet-age-inspired illustrations, it worked on a deeper level as an examination of why those times produced those particular heroes. (Or, in the case of Golden Age leftovers like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, how the times reshaped the icons.) With an eye toward contemporary relevance, Cooke somehow made power rings, lonely Martians, Cold War paranoia, and the threat of nuclear annihilation all make sense together.
With Justice League: The New Frontier, Cooke, animation veteran Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series), and others convert the comic into a 75-minute animated film. The book's epic scope feels a bit reduced in translation. A story that could easily have filled a longer feature has been unavoidably trimmed without acquiring a faster pace. After introducing a sprawling cast of characters, it barely has time enough to rush to the world-threatening finale that inspires the heroes to band together for the common good.
It does look great, however. Many of the scenes are drawn directly from Cooke's art, which makes an easy leap to animation. (Cooke worked in cartoons for years, and he provided some of the storyboards, which doesn't hurt.) The voice cast, which includes Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash and Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, has also been chosen carefully, and a coda set to the John F. Kennedy speech that gives The New Frontier its title ends it memorably. Here, DC's heroes and villains provide visuals for Kennedy's idealistic sentiments, embodying the principles and failings of the times and the country that inspired them. It's the whole project in miniature, in other words.
Key features: Cooke and the animators provide separate commentaries alongside a fairly dull history of the Justice League. A second disc features three episodes of the terrific Timm-produced Justice League series.