This week, Warner Bros. Animation released the long-awaited adaptation of Justice League: The New Frontier, based on the comic books of the same name by Darwyn Cooke.
Cooke is one of modern comics’ most unique stylists, with a streamlined look that hearkens back to the clean visuals of the Silver Age (Carmine Infantino in his prime, Gil Kane, Curt Swan), even as it seamlessly meshes with the modern day. His Cold War-era story of the formation of the Justice League relies on the work of many Silver Age comics craftsmen, but he brings a new sensibility to the table, too, tying in the heroes with McCarthyism, the Korean War and America’s distrust of authority figures. Some of those riffs play pretty well in 2008, given the current political scene.
But this isn’t a political tract; it’s a comic book brought to life. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman take somewhat of a backseat to the new guys in town: the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and the Flash, whose stories interlock with the Big Three in various ways.
If anything, attempting to adapt all six of Cooke’s double-sized issues into one 75-minute film makes for some rushed storytelling in places. One wants to know more about the Batman’s outlaw status in the beginning of the film, see more of the ideological clash between Superman and Wonder Woman (not to mention the barest hint of a lovers’ tiff — Lois Lane, eat your heart out!), and allow some second-banana heroes like Adam Strange, Green Arrow and Aquaman some screen time. All these are glossed over quickly in the rush to get the heroes together for a big battle against the obligatory Villain of the Week before the movie’s end.
Overall, the animation is good, with characters sticking to Cooke’s 1950s-era model sheet. His Batman is definitely in line with the Golden Age rendition of the character: The long ears on the cowl will turn younger fans off.
Lots of guest voices (Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris, Lucy Lawless, and Brooke Shield among them) liven up the film, although no voice is terribly recognizable.
I picked up the two-disc special edition. This includes the movie, audio commentaries, JLA documentary and Batman anime preview from the single-disc release. The second disc (which I haven’t had time to explore) includes three bonus episodes of the Justice League animated TV show and a documentary called “The Legion of Doom: The Pathology of the Super Villain.”
There are worse ways to spend an afternoon or evening. Overall, the books are still better, but that’s almost always the case. The filmmakers have created a solid, enjoyable adaptation.