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Justice League: The New Frontier
February 21, 2008
Justice League: The New Frontier cover
Justice League: The New Frontier
Buy this DVD

Review by KC Carlson

There must be crazier things 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 been done with Justice League: The New Frontier, the seminal work by artist and writer (and occasional animation creator) Darwyn Cooke, which will be released in a myriad of DVD formats next Tuesday, February 26.

And the crazy thing is that it works! It’s “different,” but …

Spoilers follow.

Due to budget and production limitations, the animated version of Justice League: The New Frontier is missing several elements from the graphic novel, including the opening sequence with the Losers on Dinosaur Island, the sequences with John Wilson (aka John Henry), all of the scenes featuring the Challengers of the Unknown and the Suicide Squad, and the interlude with the supernatural characters on the moon. But despite this, this film still works as a powerful document on heroism and as a reflection of how things were in a long-ago time where every adventure was still new. You don’t really miss these scenes — most are given a reference or two in the new narrative — and the movie has been carefully structured to include dozens of heroes in non-speaking supporting roles as part of the final battle.

The stunning opening sequence features graphic elements from the 1950s emulating the great movie title designer Saul Bass and featuring many of Cooke’s cover images from the individual issues of the series. And the filmmakers take advantage of their PG-13 rating right up front. There is a suicide (off-camera) and a brutal heat-of-the-battle killing (in silhouette, but still shocking) within the first five minutes. (Parents should check out the movie before letting younger children watch.)

Justice League: The New Frontier (Two-Disc Special Edition) cover
Justice League: The New Frontier
(Two-Disc Special Edition)
Buy this DVD

The entire film is a visual treat, and it’s obvious that everyone involved with the animation and design worked far beyond their usual fine standards. If you can tear yourself away from the astounding character design and animation, check out the background elements — every one true to the letter of their 1950s origins — and the color palette used to the fullest to evoke mood and atmosphere. (I think the Las Vegas sequence is the brightest, most colorful sequence I’ve ever seen in a DC/Warner production.) The animators really tore it up in the three major sequences of period jets in flight. The opening Korean War battle sequence takes your breath away. And then they top it. Twice!

I always cringe at the attempt to “stunt cast” the vocal parts in these movies, as the voice actors used in the original Justice League series were, for the most part, excellent as well as familiar to regular fans. But — again — here it works. There’s a certain “warmth” to Kyle MacLachlan’s voice as Superman that sets him apart from the guttural Jeremy Sisto (Batman) and the craggy Miguel Ferrer (Martian Manhunter). Neil Patrick Harris is spot-on as a slightly overwhelmed, but determined to step up, Flash, as is Lucy Lawless as the lusty warrior Wonder Woman. But the standout actors of the film are David Boreanaz, as the cocky (but not overconfident) swingin’ flyboy Hal Jordan, and Brooke Shields, who manages to make Carol Ferris a strong, multifaceted woman in very few lines of dialog.

If you only have time for one commentary, choose creator Darwyn Cooke’s solo track. He really gets down to the nuts and bolts of how his work was transferred from one medium to another, and he details the work that he did to help ease the transition. With a reputation of being a harsh critic, Cooke does point out a couple of scenes that just “don’t work” for him, but he is full of praise and gratitude for most of the people involved in getting his story to the screen. (He indicates his “special thanks” to at least 40 individuals while the end credits roll.) And in places he sounds absolutely giddy — “Wow! Look at that!” he exclaims at a key Green Lantern shot during the film’s climax.

The other commentary, featuring six of the key filmmakers, had about three too many voices in the mix. There was a lot of good material there, including Bruce Timm informing us that besides arguing with Cooke over story and character points, he didn’t have that much “hands on” to do with the film; director David Bullock was the go-to guy. Also, screenwriter Stan Berkowitz talked about the struggles to get as much material from the original book into the film.

Justice League: The New Frontier (Blu-ray) cover
Justice League: The New Frontier (Blu-ray)
Buy this DVD

Voice director Andrea Romano (who should have gotten her own mini-doc with the stellar voice talent she lined up, a missed opportunity) told a wonderful anecdote about how she got the Vietnamese background voices in the Wonder Woman scene. I also got a kick out of Timm frequently exclaiming some variation of “you guys are crazy” when commenting on the amount of detail in the animation and background elements. The most interesting thing to come out of this commentary was the revelation that if enough people bought the DVD, an Extended Edition with extended and additional scenes might be a possibility.

Also on the the disc is an excellent documentary on the history of the Justice League in the comics, including comments from Denny O’Neil, Mark Waid, Paul Levitz, Dan Didio, Stan Lee (!), and many others. Plus, there’s a lengthy sneak peek for the next DC Warner Premiere project: Batman Gotham Knight, an anthology of six different Batman stories by different creators and directors that looks really wild.

Not available for review was the special feature “Comic Book Commentary: Homage to the New Frontier” in which Cooke explains in greater detail the changes between the source material and the animated film, including elements that either evolved or were truncated for the film. That sounds like essential viewing for the hard-core New Frontier fan. Buyers who want this particular feature should look for either the two-disc Special Edition or the Blu-ray format (which includes all of the special features).

Find out more at the official site for the DVD release.

27 Responses  
Contest: Win the New Frontier DVD » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] the upcoming Justice League: New Frontier animated movie sounds good to you, you’ll want to enter this contest. I am very excited to [...]

 
James Schee writes:  

Wow, its been a long time since I’ve said this. Yet I hate you guys for getting to see this before me!! LOL!!

I’m tempted to enter the contest, but since I start a new job this Monday I plan to splurge a bit and get the 2 Disc DVD set on Tuesday.

I’m really anxious to see that is the Absolute edition of this story was my favorite thing from DC in a LONG time. Which surprised me as most of the characters in it I either never heard of or liked.

 
Roger A. writes:  

This sounds so cool! I can hardly wait for Tuesday!

 
Cole Moore Odell writes:  

I look forward to this, but the nature of the cuts worries me. What made the New Frontier comic interesting to me wasn’t the JLA origin per se, but the context Cooke placed it in; the “new frontier” of a super-powered world overtaking a hard-boiled post-WW2 moment of human soldiers, spies and adventurers that was interesting in its own right. Cooke seemed to be reclaiming a lost legacy for DC, breathing new life into the King Faradays, Challengers, et al. And I always thought that the John Henry sequences, segregated from the main plot and characters as they were, were an effective meta-comment on the kinds of themes and characters that were excluded from comics in the 50s and 60s.

Those are exactly the elements that have been cut out here, not just to make a 75-minute running time, but to make this marketable as a “Justice League” story.

 
Johanna writes:  

It’s true, Cole, that this project has a different audience than the book. And by folding it into the existing Justice League video continuity, it’s going to have different themes and purposes.

If you say you like the book better for the reasons you’ve listed, I can’t disagree. I haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, but I suspect my reaction will be similar to yours, because my favorite part of the book was the opening Dino Island sequence.

 
reagu writes:  

I’m actually looking forward to the DVD which is due this month. Maybe when I get a chance, I’ll read the graphic novel.

 
Kelson writes:  

I caught New Frontier at WonderCon over the weekend (which was an odd experience, with the audience often laughing at inappropriate times), and posted my review earlier today.

 
Johanna writes:  

I wanna hear more about the inappropriate!

 
Kelson writes:  

There were several scenes that I think weren’t intended to be funny, but where people — lots of them — laughed: The Vietnamese women cheering after Superman left, thinking Wonder Woman had chased him off, or the result of Superman’s attempt to scout around the floating island. Batman’s “penny for a book of matches” line. And, strangest of all, Diana’s arrival in the invisible jet.

Come to think of it, most of the Superman/Wonder Woman scenes got that kind of reaction.

 
Johanna writes:  

I don’t recall specifics of those, so I’ll have to pay attention when I watch the movie. I wonder if there’s some “it’s a cartoon, it’s got to be for kids and funny” expectations going on.

 
Ken Hardin writes:  

I’m a big fan of the DCAU guys, so I have been looking forward to this for some time, because frankly Cooke’s work could use a serious trimming — just too many random pop-ins and strained relations. The John Henry business was such a strain and a reach — you could have accomplished the same effect with Superman or one of the Golden Agers as the sounding board to much greater, integrated effect.

I am disappointed in the removal of both the Challengers and the Suicide Squad — the idea of “normal” humans bridging that gap is pretty fundamental to the whole book.

 
Johanna writes:  

How do you envision doing the same thing with Superman, since you can’t kill him? That subplot is powerful because a little girl’s taught racism destroys a hero. Having some familiar white-guy hero say “racism is bad, kids” at no personal cost just doesn’t measure up. But I’m not sure I understand your point in this area.

 
Carycomic writes:  

I’m afraid KC Carlson only speaks for him/herself. Because, “a reference or two in the new narrative” is one or two too few for my peace of mind. The deleted scenes he talks about were crucial to the trilogy of graphic novels. And, I consider them just as crucial for any DVD adaptation.

So, not only will I most definitely “miss these scenes.” I’m afraid I’m going to miss the DVD all together..by leaving it unbought. And, I urge everyone reading this review to do the same!

Boycott JL:TNF! Boycott JL:TNF!

 
Johanna writes:  

I think the ship has already sailed on that one, with plenty of people buying it the day it was out.

And any reviewer only speaks for themselves — but the good ones point out things readers appreciate and might agree with.

Trilogy? There was one big hardcover or the same story in two paperbacks. Where are you getting a series of three from?

 
Good Superhero Comics: Week of March 5 » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] League: The New Frontier Special — Can you believe I still haven’t watched the DVD movie? From the opening page, where an aggressively suburban Rip Hunter says “Who cares what world [...]

 
Justice League: The New Frontier Video Clips » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] about a couple of Justice League: The New Frontier [...]

 
Batman: Gotham Knight Premiere Announced » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] of the film crew and cast, including legendary animation producer Bruce Timm (Superman Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier), acclaimed comics writer Brian Azzarello, and Emmy Award-winning television writer Alan [...]

 
Wonder Woman Original Animation Trailer » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] of the various original animation DVDs Warner Bros. has done, this is going to be my favorite, I can [...]

 
Baltimore Comic-Con 2008: Bigger and Better Than Ever » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] he responded that it was a shame that it had been out of print for over a year, including when the DVD adaptation came out. That seems foolhardy on DC’s part, but [...]

 
Westfield Comics Blog » KC Column: Best of 2008 writes:  

[...] New Frontier DVD – Last year I said that this was the project that I was most looking forward to in 2008, and despite some initial misgivings (mostly in my own head), it did not disappoint. More about it over at CWR, written the week it came out. [...]

 
Wonder Woman Voice Actress Vicki Lewis » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] Also surprising to me is that this is her second DCU appearance. She previously voiced Iris West, the Flash’s fiancee, in Justice League: The New Frontier. [...]

 
Wonder Woman (The DVD Movie) » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] A featurette on the making of Justice League: The New Frontier [...]

 
Green Lantern DVD Shifts Ship Dates Again » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] Justice League: The New Frontier – over 740,000 units shipped [...]

 
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies New to DVD in September » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] It’s based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, adapted by Stan Berkowitz (Justice League: The New Frontier) and directed by Sam Liu (The Batman). The plot is described as follows: United States President [...]

 
Green Lantern: First Flight » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] well-done — one of the best films in this series of DC Universe original movies. (Only Justice League: The New Frontier tops it.) Yet the DVD package itself is not as good, with skimpy original extras and next to [...]

 
Superman/Batman: Interview With Writer Stan Berkowitz » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] The next original DC animated film is Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, due out on DVD on September 29. Based on a comic story by Jeph Loeb about Lex Luthor becoming President of the U.S. and declaring the heroes illegal, the movie was written by Stan Berkowitz, who also adapted Justice League: The New Frontier. [...]

 
DC Doesn’t Want to Animate Super-Heroines » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] sales started out extremely slow and then over time were eventually able to catch up to probably Justice League Frontier. The execs decided because it wasn’t able to sell quickly right away, whereas Justice League was, [...]

 

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