One of the highlights of WonderCon this weekend was the premiere of Justice League: The New Frontier. I really liked Darwyn Cooke’s original mini-series, DC: The New Frontier, and I’d been looking forward to the animated adaptation. Overall, I’d say the film succeeds.
The story links the dawn of the Silver Age of comics, and the formation of the Justice League of America, with the dawn of the Space Age, set against the political background of the Red Scare. It focuses most heavily on Green Lantern-to-be Hal Jordan and on the Martian Manhunter, but touches on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash as well.
Cooke’s drawing style and the 1950s retro look to the artwork both translate well to the screen. The voice talent does a great job as well: At no point did I find myself thinking, “Hey, that’s Lucy Lawless,” or “Funny how Hal sounds just like Angel.” In many cases, I actually had to look up the names of actors whose voices I probably would have recognized if I’d been less involved in following the story.
The first 10-15 minutes are somewhat disjointed, but it soon settles into a solid narrative, and the battle which takes up the final third of the film is quite impressive. On the surface it’s about the new generation of super-heroes banding together to face the apocalyptic threat of “The Centre,” but it’s all really about two things: hope and trust.
Some of my favorite bits from the book are still there: Barry Allen racing across the country to stop Captain Cold in Las Vegas, pausing for a nanosecond to kiss Iris on the cheek before continuing. J’onn J’onnz absorbing American culture by watching TV, transforming into the characters he sees—including Groucho Marx and Bugs Bunny. Wonder Woman explaining how she freed the captive women in an Indochina village, and let them deal with their captors as they saw fit.
There are two main places where the movie breaks down:
First, the spaceflight sequence in the middle. There was just way too much wrong with it in a “Physics don’t work that way!” sense. I can buy the secret pre-Apollo launch; that’s a staple of the genre. But it would help if the rocket moved like, well, a rocket. Though I have to admit it didn’t bother me watching it with a huge audience of comic fans. It was only when I watched it again at home (M80 was kind enough to send me a review copy) that it really pulled me out of the action.
Second, the political themes came off a lot clumsier than I remembered. It has been a few years since I’ve read it, so it could simply be rose-colored glasses, but it’s probably just the result of trying to condense a 450-odd-page story down to 75 minutes.
It’s definitely worth seeing. And it’s convinced me I need to dig through my long boxes and re-read the original. (I also need to fill in the details on my Flash site’s write-up.) There are a number of subplots which fill out the backstory and the main themes which had to get cut for time. (An audience member on Saturday asked about the Challengers of the Unknown. They’re there—but only Ace Morgan gets much screen time.)
If you haven’t read the comics (or, as they’re careful to describe it, the graphic novel), I highly recommend it. It’s available as a single hardcover or as a pair of paperbacks. There’s more on the adaptation at the official website for the movie.