With Rebirth now in full-swing, having not one but two big, delayed event books going on simultaneously, I thought I’d be fun to look back at a story that does more in six issues than a lot of events do in ten. Granted they’re oversized issues but my point still stands. So, without further ado, let’s dig into Darwyn Cooke’s “DC: The New Frontier.” Mild spoilers ahead.
Written and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Jared Fletcher
Welcome to 1950s America–a land of promise and paranoia, of glittering cities and segregated slums, of dizzying scientific progress and simmering Cold War conflict. A land without heroes.
The masked mystery men who fought for freedom in the Second World War have been outlawed. The soldiers and spies who conducted top-secret missions into the unknown now work in the shadows. And those icons who do still fight on–Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman–operate under hidden agendas and dueling ideologies.
Yet this America needs its heroes more than ever. With darkness gathering on the horizon once more, only a bold new generation of adventurers–young, daring, and dedicated to the better angels of our nature–are equal to the challenge of the New Frontier.
From Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Darwyn Cooke and Eisner Award-winning colorist Dave Stewart comes DC: THE NEW FRONTIER–a timeless tale of idealism that has become one of the most acclaimed superhero comics of the 21st century. This edition collects the original 6-issue miniseries together with the JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER SPECIAL, and features over 50 pages of designs, sketches and preliminary artwork from the author.
“DC: The New Frontier,” an out-of-continuity story published in 2004, re-imagines the start of the Silver Age and the appearance of the heroes of that era as they transition from the Golden Age. Cooke crafts this into a tightly scripted narrative that begins on Dinosaur Island at the close of WWII, takes us through the ’50s, and ends at the start of the ’60s, closing with the words to JFK’s “The New Frontier” speech. Because of this the series moves at a brisk pace but it knows when to slow down, when to cut away from an event, and when to pile on the action.
It is also set in a fictionalized, romanticized version of the 1950s. This is important because while this doesn’t mean that he shies away from some of the harsh realities of the era, such as the KKK, ongoing discrimination and racism, as well as American militarism, the narrative is not set in the “real ’50s” Nor does it purport to be. This choice is a result of the optimism that pervades all aspects of the story. No matter how difficult the situation, no matter how dire or tragic the story, this optimism insists the future is brighter, that the present’s problems are solvable and kindness will always defeat bigotry and hatred. Our heroes are fallible but only in the most noble of ways.
Cooke approaches the issues he tackles with care, turning them into the core of the comic. Each new hero gives us a glimpse into a different issue within this era: John Henry with the horrors of the KKK, Wonder Woman with American’s militaristic foreign policies, and Hourman & the JSA with McCarthyism. Superman deals with the tension that happens when your country no longer is just in its actions.
Throughout all of it, though, we are constantly reassured by Cooke’s artistry that while things seem dire, while things are tragic at the moment, soon they will be all right. This is due entirely to his stylistic choices, as well as the coloring of Dave Stewart and the lettering of Jared Fletcher. Fletcher’s soft lettering matches Cooke’s style of clean lines and uncomplicated designs while Stewart’s coloring enhances and defines Cooke’s pop art/art deco aesthetic. Bold but naturalistic colors that pop combined with Cooke’s broad-chinned and round-faced people channels the silver age without ever being straight up homage. Because of this, they are able to construct a version of the DC universe that is filled with charm and feels vast.Continued below
Much of that vastness is due to Cooke’s choice of page layout. A majority of the comic is comprised of a three-panel set up, occasionally being broken with two large panels and a row of three or four smaller ones, as well as the occasional splash page or two page spread. By keeping the paneling simply, Cooke keep us focused on the events and the people of the story. It allows every scene to breathe and for each panel to convey a large amount of information to us through the environments.
This type of characterization is what Cooke’s simple style allows him to focus on: the physicality of characters as well as their facial expressions. One particularly good page for this is the one where Wonder Woman confronts Superman in issue #2 over his defense of “protocol.” She begins the page on the table before stepping down, at which point Superman has to look up at her. Her expression shifts from bemused, to stern, to righteously indignant as her speech reaches its climax. All in three panels.
There is too much to this comic to discuss in one review, I could go on and on about the various characters and stories Cooke creates, but I won’t. I’ll just leave you with this. Even now, fourteen years after its initial publication, “DC: The New Frontier” feels fresh. Even if you miss most of the silver age references, as I did with Slam Bradly and Johnny Thunder, you can still enjoy the stellar story that Cooke crafts. This is a story that leaves you feeling inspired for the future and hopeful that the ills of today can be solved, even if it will take a while.
Plus, the comic has Dinosaur Island, beautiful splash pages, and Cooke’s rendition of the Doom Patrol. What more could you ask for?