Comics Review: New Frontier



Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier is a somewhat unusual concept. It bridges DC Comics' Golden Age and Silver Age. It makes the assumption that characters first became active the year their first appearance was published - for example, Superman began his career in 1938 and Batman in 1939. The comic takes us from 1945 to 1960. It does not suppose parallel Earths - there is no Earth-1 or Earth-2. The Batman of 1960 has been active for over twenty years (as a 40-something year old myself, I wish him luck).

New Frontier begins very dark, with superheroes becoming distrusted - the Justice Society disbands in the face of the paranoia at the start of the Cold War. Some heroes try to continue operating in this environment and we see the grim end of one of them. The only three who continue operating are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman and Wonder Woman work for the government, enforcing US foreign policy, while Batman is rogue.

However, things slowly improve. The Martian Manhunter begins operating in Gotham City. Barry Allen becomes the Flash. The Challengers of the Unknown are formed. A former Air Force Pilot, Hal Jordan, becomes a Green Lantern. The endpoint Darwyn Cooke had in mind was The Brave and the Bold #28 -the first appearance of the Justice League of America.

While the comic gradually builds up to a happy ending, evoking John F. Kennedy's New Frontier speech, Cooke also stays true to history. We see the brutal racism that was once accepted. Hal Jordan is wracked with guilt and shows signs of PTSD over being forced to kill a North Korean soldier in hand to hand combat, especially given this occurred after the armistice went into effect, something he was unable to communicate.

What Cooke manages to do is combine the optimism of the Silver Age with the reality of the 1950s. It's a difficult feat and he succeeds fantastically. One panel can have Batman threatening J'onn J'onzz and another have him questioning what he has become after a kidnapped child is terrified of him. He reflects on how he wanted to frighten criminals, not children. Unsurprisingly, Robin shows up shortly thereafter. Cooke juggles a few gazillion characters and manages to give them all their fair share of time and character development. And the art is absolutely gorgeous. It evokes the period well and is a joy to look at.

There's a few things that don't work. For example, there's some hiccups in the timeline, with Eisenhower president in 1952- he won election then, but did not become president until January of 1953. Hal Jordan as a pacifist fighter pilot definitely stretches belief and is something I don't think was necessary for his story arc. (Essentially, in fighter combat Hal never fired his own weapons but rather set up enemy fighters for his wingman to take out.) Hal's philosophy is he was willing to die for his country but not kill for it.

Overall, I find these concerns to be relatively minor compared with the joy of reading the story - and experiencing the art as well. I highly recommend it.

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