Pioneers of the New Frontier.
What’s the Story?
World War 2 has been won, the Nazis menace is defeated and many would claim that all is right again with the world, but is it? Paranoia and mistrust have taken root in America, so much so that not even the costumed ‘superheroes’ can combat it. The Justice Society of America have been forced into retirement, mystery men of all calibres are hunted by the government and both Superman and Wonder Woman are trusted only because they signed a piece of paper. When a threat from the dawn of history begins to stir, spreading its psychic influence across the globe, what heroes will step forward to take the challenge and protect the world? A new era is upon us, a ‘New Frontier’ for those willing and brave enough to explore it.
I talked last year about Batman: The Long Halloween (you can read my review of the film adaptation HERE), one of my favourite comics of all time. Now I want to talk about another one, and we’re sticking with DC because I make no apologises about being a die hard DC fanboy. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke is nothing less than a masterpiece in my opinion. Not only was Mr. Cooke a supremely-talented artist with a breath-taking mastery of sequential art, but he’s also an excellent storyteller. What starts out as a seemingly random set of occurrences and character pieces turns into a neatly woven tapestry with a rousing crescendo. It is both a tribute to the Silver Age of DC comics and an exploration of 50s America, unafraid to shine a light on the social and political issues of the day (most of which are still very relevant today). If I could recommend only one comic for you to go out and read, it would be DC: The New Frontier.
That brings me to the animated adaptation of the book and I’m sorry to say the movie isn’t even in the same league as the comic. I feel really bad writing that because this film is trying so hard, as hard as it possibly can but it’s just not enough to get it over the mountain it’s trying to climb. I’ve had an odd experience re-watching this film, I first saw it years ago before I’d ever even read the comic and I remember coming away liking it but not exactly blown away. Then I read the comic I was well and truly atomised by how good it was. Now, coming back to this film all these years later it’s like I’m watching it with double vision. One part of me can see all the stuff I liked before, while the other is looking into another dimension where all the missing pieces are located that this story needs to be truly fantastic.
I think it’s the runtime that kills this film the most. DC: The New Frontier is roughly 400 pages long and Justice League: The New Frontier is approximately 72 minutes. I think you can see the problem, that’s not a lot of time and there’s an almost overwhelming amount of story to fit into it. Wisely the film chooses to cut out a few subplots and characters, while shifting things around and streamlining events to try and keep things cohesive. Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that some scenes are on fast forward and others are missing their true dramatic weight. The opening scenes where Hal Jordan is shot down and ends up fighting for his life in a trench is well done, but it’s missing the true harrowing feeling you get in the comic and that’s because the detail is gone. We don’t know Hal at this point, his history of refusing to kill anyone is referenced in one line of dialogue and that’s just not enough to get the point across.
A lot of the political situation is shoved off screen as well, the government’s war on superheroes is reduced to the opening credits and a couple of lines from bystanders in a bar. We never see Wonder Woman getting pushed off stage because she was about to say some things the higher ups didn’t want her to say and John Henry’s fight against white supremacists is cut down to a news bulletin. The comic is so rich and detailed and that’s what makes it as great as it is. I get why the film had to cut some of this stuff, but it still hurts me to see this story reduced like this because when the movie gets stuff right it really gets it right. There are scenes lifted directly out of the comic, lines of dialogue that are word-for-word and all rendered in gorgeous animation. It’s those moments when everything just clicks together that makes this movie shine, but it could have been so much more with just a little more time.
In the end, Justice League: The New Frontier is a good film that stands on the verge of being truly great. The animation is fantastic and the voice cast are giving it their all, but the film is hampered by trying to squeeze so much story into such a short runtime. There are moments that are lifted directly out of the comic and they are fantastic, and yet the film isn’t afraid to make tweaks and move things around to better serve it’s adaptation. It tries the very best it can to make the most of what it has, but unfortunately that’s just not enough when the original source material is so much more rich and detailed. It’s a shame, but this film can’t quite rise to the challenge asked of it.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.