Absolute DC: The New Frontier — Best of 2006

Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier is a lusciously illustrated paean to the Silver Age of American superheroes. The Absolute Edition shows off the art even better with its oversized pages and upscale slipcased presentation. This is not a book for casual reading. (There are two trade paperback collections for that.) This is a book for poring over, with it well-supported on a desk or table so you don’t hurt yourself.

The slipcase gives an introduction to the material, with heroes from the obvious (Superman, Flash) to the obscure (the Challengers of the Unknown, Capt. Storm) all racing towards the future. If you look closely at the back of the box, you’ll even notice a sense of whimsy, as Billy Batson is perched on a flying carpet eating a bowl of ice cream. The dot-pattern overlays that color them in evoke the printing methods of a previous era, contributing to the sense of nostalgia.

New Frontier looks back at the stories of Cooke’s childhood (and the childhood of so many other readers), placing them in the cultural context of the era in which they were published. Cooke loves his heroes and his history, but he also acknowledges that post-War America had its flaws, including racism and forced conformity, not to mention the Cold War with its looming fear of nuclear warfare.

Absolute DC: The New Frontier cover
Absolute DC: The New Frontier
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A new world demands a new group of heroes, and Cooke’s vision starts with Hal Jordan, fighter pilot, danger junkie, and future Green Lantern. He’s trying to stick by his ideals during tough times: first, the Korean War, and then while the government is demanding vigilante registration (an oxymoronic concept). He misses the adrenaline and moral clarity of wartime, even if it led him to make a decision he’ll always regret.

Superman and Wonder Woman are working for the government, assisting with secret missions in Indochina but disagreeing on the best methods to use. Batman’s operating by his own rules, as always. The alien Martian Manhunter is the ultimate stranger in a strange land, learning heroism from television. The Flash gains superspeed through a chemical accident; his day job, as a police scientist, combines respect for both authority and technology in one character. The supporting characters are also tougher: Slam Bradley, an old-fashioned fists-first private eye, partners with the Manhunter, while Lois Lane is a war correspondent.

Cooke combines a wide variety of characters, expanding beyond the superpowered to include the more rugged adventure heroes such as the Losers, a doomed group of four military men and their dog. In the chapter that opens the book, they’re sent to rescue a scientist who’s crashed on a deserted island that turns out to be populated by dinosaurs. This kind of storytelling, taking everything the writer loves and mixing it altogether, is the dream of many readers. In lesser hands, it would be dismissed as “fan fiction”, but Cooke’s art makes it more. His animation experience results in powerful storytelling and panels that become iconic moments. The larger-than-life sacrifices of these heroes hit hard, and the opening sequence is one of the best in comics from the last decade.

For the first half, this book is a collection of revamped origin stories with stunning art and more attention paid to psychology, but knowing the characters in depth makes the ultimate battle more meaningful. There are lots of government conspiracies and a growing sense of what’s called mass hysteria, premonitions of a coming evil. When the giant creature appears, Superman rallies all the heroes in a battle for freedom.

As Wonder Woman puts it to Superman, “My America… Our America is an ideal, not an administration. During World War 2, we knew we were right, and we’ve always just assumed we were right ever since.” It’s a shame that the plot keeps her out of the final fight, because the inspiring double-page spread of the heroes walking to battle winds up being a Martian, a woman holding his hand, and a whole bunch of macho white men. (Earlier in the book, Cooke adds a version of Steel, a black man fighting the KKK, but his story ends realistically badly.) Still, that’s faithful to the era, and I appreciate Cooke’s argument for humanity’s grit and stubbornness over magical solutions from outer space or mystical realms. It’s his love letter to the American fighting man.

This deluxe edition contains additional story pages, improving the flow of certain sequences and filling in character details and motivations, and annotated character sketches. There are notes from Cooke about his influences, illustrated by some of the images he homages, as well as the story rules he followed and identifications of some of the lesser known characters. Overall, an impressive package for a significant story.

You can learn more about Cooke’s career at wikipedia.


15 Responses to “Absolute DC: The New Frontier — Best of 2006”

  1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I looked over my friend Dan’s copy last weekend and thought it was amazing. Looking forward to getting up my own copy in the next week or two and reading the whole thing.

  2. Bill D. Says:

    My copy of this came in the mail a week or so back, and it might be the biggest brick of perfect I’ve ever seen.

  3. Rob Barrett Says:

    It’s wonderful stuff.

  4. Chris G. Says:

    One extra that I particularly enjoyed were the design sheets and notes for the New Frontier action figures.

  5. James Schee Says:

    I was really surprised by just how much I liked this book after getting it as a Christmas present. I don’t have the connection to these characters, heck I didn’t know who half of them even were (King Faraday, Flagg and the Challengers of the Unknown for some examples), before reading this because they are from a time before I started reading comics.

    Yet it was just so enjoyable, seeing the era and world building was just so amazing. I was even startled to see how some characters I had previously disliked (Hal Jordan for one) seemed so much more interesting when really placed in the era they were created in.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Cooke does, and am now really curious about the upcoming direct to video animated movie (which Cooke was heavily involved in) will be like.

  6. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 18, 2007: Climb on board the Gospel Blimp Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson reviews the “Absolute Edition” of Darwyn Cooke’s fondly nostalgiac DC: The New Frontier. [...]

  7. A Detailed Harvey Awards Ceremony Writeup » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Haspiel presented a double recognition of Darwyn Cooke, with The Spirit winning Best New Series and Absolute New Frontier winning Best Graphic Album — Previously [...]

  8. Happy Holidays! Best of 2006 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Absolute DC: The New FrontierA loving revisitation of the classic superheroes that fired Darwyn Cooke’s young imagination in a super-deluxe package. [...]

  9. Justice League: The New Frontier » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] to do than trying to adapt a critically acclaimed — as well as beloved — 400+ page graphic novel into a 75-minute animated film, but I can’t think of any. But that’s exactly what has [...]

  10. TWitM #23 rocks Race and the New Frontier | Providence Daily Dose Says:

    [...] League: New Frontier, the cartoon adaption of Darwyn Cooke’s instant classic about the dawn of the Silver Age of DC Comics, came out on DVD last week. When I was watching it, I [...]

  11. Final Crisis Crossovers: Requiem and Rogues’ Revenge » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] in the past decade or so took place in the Justice League animated series and Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier. Requiem does much to rectify that shortcoming and presents J’onn’s legacy in great style and [...]

  12. Baltimore Comic-Con 2008: Bigger and Better Than Ever » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] we got one of the few last copies of his sketchbook Retroactive. We’d brought our copy of the Absolute New Frontier to get signed, the only book we dragged along from home. We were praising it to him, when he [...]

  13. Wonder Woman Voice Actress Vicki Lewis » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] now, here’s the reason I wanted to run this: an adorable picture of Vicki Lewis with New Frontier author Darwyn Cooke at WonderCon [...]

  14. Parker: The Hunter » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] an unusual project, but one uniquely suited to the talents involved. Darwyn Cooke (The New Frontier, The Spirit) is adapting Richard Stark’s Parker novels into comic form; The Hunter is the [...]

  15. Learn Storytelling From a Master: Darwyn Cooke » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] a writeup at the Trouble With Comics blog of a storytelling workshop with Darwyn Cooke (Parker, The New Frontier) she attended last month. It sounds amazing, covering lots of basics. It was part of a series of [...]

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