DC: The New Frontier Volumes 1 and 2
Darwyn Cooke, Writer and Illustrator
Dave Stewart, Colorist
Jared K. Fletchter, Letterist
What's It About?
In a nutshell, DC: The New Frontier is a re-imagining of how the Justice League of America came to be. Or, it is the 1950's re-imagined with modern-day sensibilities and social mores. The reader follows the stories of dozens of DC heroes from the Silver Age of comic books during the mid-1950's, when superhero comics were losing popularity as they cope with both a changing world and a world-changing threat.
The book is a period piece, is heavy on the nostalgia and is set in the 1950's, just before the Silver Age when Golden Age (original) heroes were revamped and updated into the superheroes we know today. In DC: The New Frontier, you'll see some characters before they became superheroes (such as the Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern) or when they were just starting out (such as The Flash.) In all, this is Darwyn Cooke's starry-eyed homage to the heyday of the Justice League.
Who's It For?
Anyone who enjoys superhero stories, especially grand epic ones that involve many characters. Besides the occasional swear word, there's nothing that would bar this as good reading for early-to-mid teens, though it might take some maturity (such as racism in one of its ugliest incarnations) to really appreciate Cooke's motivations behind the story. There are positive themes throughout such as tolerance, equal rights, and self-sacrifice, which make it an uplifting read as well.
What's Good About It?
Pretty much everything. The book won an Eisner Award, which is the equivalent to a movie winning an Oscar. It's a wonderful introduction to the Justice League seen through the rosy lens of nostalgia, and a tribute to what makes a hero. It's not cerebral or heavy, but is instead fun, and evokes the lightheartedness of Silver Age comics without losing the gravitas of many of today's all-too-serious comics.
The dialogue, characterization, and plot are all stellar. It takes a little while for the plot to get going in the beginning, as much of the story revolves around uncovering clues to a secretive global threat, and though this story isn't just about explosions and fists, the action "scenes" don't disappoint, either.
If you like storytelling on a grand scale with many different characters who also have a good deal of depth to their characterization, than this book is for you. Also, if you enjoy period pieces, you'll get an extra boost out of this book. It'll make you feel nostalgic for the 50's even if you weren't alive then: Werner Van Braun, cocktails, pillbox hats, cheesy black-and-white sci-fi flicks, Martian conspiracies, fast-talking dialogue, cars with fins--it's all in here.
What's the Art Like?
The art is unusual when compared to other comics. Not only does it have a "retro" feel, but it's colored very simply and without a lot of shading. Darwyn Cooke is not going for hyper-realism of overly-muscled figures like in comics today, but for a nostalgic and more natural rendering of the human figure, coupled with an almost animation-like feel to his characters. Cooke's inking technique is also unique: rather than the typical "feathered" inking which highlights details, Cooke opts for wide, bold brushstrokes that chisel out cheekbones and muscles and cloth wrinkles in the least amount of lines necessary.
That being said, the art and layouts are very cinematic (even the "lighting" book is cinematic--look for "eye lights" illuminating women's faces, a lighting technique dating from the glamour days of Hollywood)—many panels stretch across the page in "widescreen" format—and are almost begging to be made into a movie. Well, in 2008 it was made into an animated movie, titled Justice League: New Frontier, and was the second animated film produced by DC Universe Animated Original Movies.
Also, compared to typical comics art, the art of DC: New Frontier is much simpler, yet still manages to be rich, beautiful, and dynamic. Not only are characters rendered with wonderful skill, but if you know anything about design during the 1950's, you'll appreciate Darwyn Cooke's eye for detail, from the style of women's hats to the length of men's ties, the myriad of 50's-era haircuts, and even the style of a man's watch or the numbers on a hotel door are all historically accurate.
The heroes assemble to fight a global menace!
What's the Downside?
There are a LOT of characters in this book. Virtually every character in the DC Universe that existed during the time it was set is in it! Not only may it be difficult to keep up with everyone, but if you're a new reader, more likely than not you won't recognize half the characters in this book besides A-list heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Some heroes are quite obscure, especially the non-superhero teams, such as the Challengers of the Unknown. However, not knowing who they are won't detract from the story, as I was a new reader when I read this book and had no idea who many of the characters were and still loved it anyway.
Widely available at major bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble or Borders and any library with a decent graphic novel collection. And of course, available on Amazon.com.