Starred Review.The versions of the classic DC Comics heroes that baby boomers grew up reading were developed during comics' "Silver Age," from 1956 through the 1960s; after that time, superhero comics aimed at older, more jaded readers turned "grim and … see full wiki
Picking up where the first volume of "DC: THE NEW FRONTIER" left off -- notably, in 1959 -- Darwyn Cooke continues to spin his epic yarn surrounding the founding of the Justice League against the nostalgic and political backdrop of the late 1950's and early 1960's -- a period in America largely noted for ... well ... an awful lot of stuff that even today still troubles and confuses most people, certainly many Americans. Issues of racial equality, political indifference to broken governments, space exploration versus understand our own world better, etc., still find ample play time in most news outlets, though the warm-fuzzy ending to this tale might lead you to believe otherwise. (Again, as referenced in my review of Volume 1, I don't say that as a political statement; it's only a reflection of the facts as I see 'em.)
Thankfully, Volume 2 is a vast improvement in the narrative department over the quick, clipped scenes of Vol. 1. The heroes have, largely, come together, though the Justice League hasn't. They've found one another -- or, in the cases of the Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter, two characters who get ample amount of page space in "Frontier" -- are well into their origin stories and are only facing one or two pivotal events to set them on their course to becoming two of the greatest heroes the planet has to offer. The menace -- a lurking alien presence known as 'the Centre' -- has come to light, and leave it to Big Bold Blue -- Superman himself -- to throw down the gauntlet, deliver a speech about ignoring those feelings and opinions that divide us in order to serve all of the greater good when it becomes necessary, and to set the chain of events in motion that'll, once and for all, bring these heroes together in a quest to save the planet and to save mankind from itself.
But what have we learned?
Cooke's cultural-theme "Frontier" eeks great mileage out of the racial harmony (or the lack of it, as most frequently appears here). John Henry Irons brief appearances explore the nature of racial inequity at its most pervasive, most vile, but, in the end, he's still a victim to a culture that's broke. The Martian Manhunter elevates the idea of racial inequity into an area best explored in comics -- the fact that he's the last Martian trying to find a way to fit into the xenophobic American experience; while mankind never quite reconciles its fears, John Jonzz rises to the occasion by proving himself the better man. But, in the end, it's the Green Lantern -- a character who spent the better part of Vol. 1 struggling with the conceit of racial discrimination -- who essentially commits genecide to rid Earth of the alien menace. Is that one great step for man, one giant leap for mankind? I think not ... or, at least, I don't think much of the solution. Also, and it is a minor point, but the island-sized existence of the Centre seemed lifted a bit too similar to the alien ships in the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY to seem an independent creation -- with living creatures serving as its attack craft -- and maudlin trip through the Centre's interior seemed a bit too reminescent of an H.R. Puff'n'stuff-like acid drug trip with splashes of retro colors and hues and shapes ... I guess that's why I never much cared for comics of the 1960's and early 70's.
In fact, I grew to love comics more and more with the advent of the grim 1980's. Frank Miller's take of the Batman was a welcome departure for what came before -- a dark, nihilistic, grim fairy tale where good guys don't necessarily finish last when the best you could hope for is that they finish with their life and limb -- has meant far more to me because (and this harkens to my review about the generational aspect running through both volumes of "Frontier" as well as my review of the first volume) it's part and parcel of the generation I'm part of. Cooke's a few years older than I am, and -- in the story's afterward -- he spells out briefly how the collective optimism of hope and unity and 'just being a kid at that time' influenced him to tell this story that clearly a lifetime in the making. The mid-to-late 1970's brought in far more disillusionment in the United States (the aftermath of Vietnam, the Nixon resignation, Jimmy Carter's panic-fueled gas crisis, etc.), and the stories that sprang from that consciousness just mean more to me and my generation, I guess.
That's not to say "Frontier" isn't a wild trip; it's just that -- outside of embracing the artwork, the foundation aspects for the Justice League, and the Martian Manhunter's origins -- it'll never mean much more to me than just another graphic novel. Not an epic ... just epic in its scope.
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