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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Justice League: The New Frontier (***)


Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier graphic novel is a dynamic reinterpretation of the dawn of the Silver Age of the DC Universe. I'm much more of a DC nut than a Marvel zombie. I'm fluent in both universes but I've always liked the DCU more. Names like Adam Strange, King Farady, Sarge Steel, Rick Flagg, and the Challengers of the Unknown are old hat to me. The 1950's setting of "The New Frontier" was vividly realized and I liked Cooke's take on Superman, Batman, J'onn J'onzz, Wonder Woman, Flash, and especially Hal Jordan. It's fitting Hal Jordan is the central character in the book as he's DC's greatest space age hero, Green Lantern. It's a really good story.

I watched Justice League: The New Frontier this morning. It's pretty good too. It's kind of like an abbreviated greatest hits of the book, but that's to be expected in a 90 minute adaptation. A lot of the story depth, details of the period, and inner workings of the major characters was lost, but that's also to be expected, especially in Bruce Timm's style of animation. The animation is very much pages of the comic brought to life.

Certain key events lose their oomph in the cartoon because they occur to minor characters who are in fact major characters in the book (Flagg and Faraday, and the cartoon never quite explains who this Ace Morgan palling around with Hal Jordan is). The Losers turn out to only be referenced in a quick frame and The Challengers of the Unknown, DC's predecessors to the Fantastic Four, are missing entirely. With some characters missing, it makes for a somewhat sparsely attended final battle scene against the Centre at the end. However, the cartoon does deepen the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane, adding a scene not in the book and shifting a key moment from Wonder Woman in the book to Lois. Overall, I wouldn't recommend watching it before reading the book.

The voice work seems to be a little better than the usual voice work in DC cartoons. Kevin Conroy's Batman aside, I always disliked the monotonous, almost sleepy voice over acting in modern DC cartoons. The New Frontier, being a 1950s period piece, filtered most of the voice work to have that helium-sounding, fast style of speaking that was prominent in the mid-20th century. Most of the voice acting is low key, but Lucy Lawless is so obvious as Wonder Woman it's a little distracting. You always know you're hearing Lucy Lawless. The most fun voice is David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan. They also filtered his voice to be higher pitched 50's style, but there are plenty of moments he speaks more slowly and you can hear Angel's grumpy, growly voice.

Justice League: The New Frontier is a very well done animated movie and a good companion to the comic book, but I'd have to say Darwyn Cooke's "DC: The New Frontier" is the better experience overall.