Darwyn Cooke’s graphic epic JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER was a loving ode to DC Comics’ Silver Age 1950’s ethos that focused on the meaning of heroism and gave fanboys everywhere a fun trip down Memory Lane, with Cooke’s stunning animation-style artwork being the cherry atop the superheroic cake. Comics fans everywhere showed it the love that it absolutely deserved, and when it was announced as part of DC’s ongoing roster of made-for-DVD features comics and animation geeks went wild with anticipation. Bruce Timm, mastermind behind much of the thoroughly entertaining DC animation of the past fifteen years or so, was involved so that was a good sign, and the voice acting ensemble featured some intriguing bits of name casting, so how could it be anything other than simply awesome?
Allow me to elucidate.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER was a truly epic comics work that unfolded over some four hundred pages, and its scope wasted not one of them in setting up its characters’ personalities, motivations, and what motivated them to become the Earth’s protectors, to say nothing of the passing of the torch from the heroes of WWII to those of the nascent space age. There was a hell of a lot going on, and there was just no way get it across with its depth intact within the seventy-five minutes allotted for the movie, and that’s a damned shame. If you haven’t read the source material or you aren’t possessed of an intimate working knowledge of the DC Universe from roughly 1954 through 1960 there’s much in the film that won’t make any sense to the layman, including dozens of characters whose unexplained walk-ons will make all but the fanboys in the room exclaim “Who the hell are these guys?” Such familiar faces as the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange, and even the Green Arrow come off as a bunch of costumed eccentrics hanging around waiting for a fancy dress party to break out, only to have their gathering interrupted by the need to participate in saving the world from “The Center,” a gigantic sentient island that aims to destroy mankind (a villain quite reminiscent of “The Swarm” from the first two WILD CARDS novels).
What seemed to be a no-brainer piece of casting falls flat as my girl Lucy “Xena: Warrior Princess” Lawless essays the part of Wonder woman to zero effect; a trained musical performer, Lawless’s lilting and rather girly voice is simply wrong for Cooke’s interpretation of the character, a take ironically much like Lawless’s Xena persona. But as performed here, Lawless gives the Amazon princess an airy, light delivery that evokes none of Cooke’s ancient warrior-goddess in the Twentieth Century, a state that could have been remedied by having Lawless husky up her voice a tad (again, like Xena).
Kyle MacLachlan fares somewhat better as Superman,
Jeremy Sisto delivers an appropriately creepy Batman,
and Neil Patrick Harris hits exactly the right note as the Barry Allen Flash,
but the standout performances belong to David “Angel” Boreanaz as Hal Jordan (the Silver Age Green Lantern)
and Miguel Ferrer as J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.
Both characters were in many ways the heart and soul of the graphic novel — Earthman Jordan being thrust into the cosmic, Martian J’onzz finding himself stuck on Earth and attempting to understand and assimilate into the human race — and both shine to great advantage as seen in the animated feature.
But when all is said and done, JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER is definitely worth seeing, if for no reason other than to see all of the colorful characters involved and for the enjoyment of a superhero movie geared to a more adult sensibility than is usually seen. It’s a fun way to spend seventy-five minutes, and I was definitely entertained, but don’t expect the grandeur and richness of intent found in Cooke’s original story to survive the translation. And, again, if you don’t know your DC Comics history inside and out, it can be a sometimes confusing and convoluted ride, so have a fanboy/girl at the ready when viewing. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!