Comic Fodder

Justice League: New Frontier DVD Review

Recently, Warner Bros. and DC have been collaborating on bringing some of the DC Universe's greatest comic stories to the small screen via direct-to-DVD releases. Last year we saw Superman/Doomsday which turned out to be a hack job in my eyes. An epic story butchered into a 70 minute flick losing all sense of grandeur the original story possessed. Now the focus has shifted to Darwyn Cooke's retelling of the beginning of the silver age of comics and the formation of the Justice League of America.

First things first, DC: The New Frontier is my favorite comic book. It stands above Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and even Kingdom Come. In a little over 400 pages, Darwyn Cooke crafted a masterpiece that exemplifies why I love DC's characters so much. So upon the announcement of this project I was both excited and worried. On one hand, I would finally get to see this comic in motion, in an art style mirroring the original source material. However, with such a dense book, following several converging storylines, some things are bound to get cut for runtime purposes, something I didn't want to see as every bit of the original graphic novel is compelling and essential to understanding the mindset the United States during the 1950s.

With the space race in full swing, segregation in its darkest hour, and America crumbling under its own insecurities. Citizens of the United States blindly turned their fear and paranoia towards the masked vigilantes that swore to protect them. With the Justice Society disbanded, and all heroes going the way of the dobo or underground, America has been left wide open for the unsuspecting biblical threat coming its way. That is the premise of Justice League New Frontier that sees true heroes rise from the ashes of a crumbling nation by putting aside all differences in the name of defending the one place they all love.

So with all this buildup I'm giving the first thing worth "reviewing" is the actual adaptation of the source material. Overall its pretty solid. The film leaves out some development for characters that received a lot of face time in the comic, namely the Challengers of the Unknown, Suicide Squad, and the Losers from the book's prologue. Thankfully, while these teams are fantastic, they don't serve the overall plot of the book, instead serving as acknowledgments that these characters did exist during this time, and how they fit into the lining of the Silver Age. The other important subplots involving John Henry, and America's struggle with segregation, along with Dr. Ray Palmer's technical advances are handled through news casts on radios and televisions that works reasonably well. While showing these scenes, especially the John Henry moments, would have added a much needed layer of drama and tone to the overall feel of the film, the news casts are a successful way to hit these points and keep the film to a brisk 70 minutes.

Next up is the voice acting. While everyone gives some slam bang performances, I was most impressed with Jeremy Sisto's Batman. Kevin Conroy has been the figurehead of voicing Batman since the early 90s with the Batman Animated Series. so when I read comics I picture his voice channeling through Bats. However, Sisto gives a great performance that made me put aside my differences with not casting Conroy in the first place. New Frontier's Batman was sold to me when he delivers a badass line to Martian Manhunter about his one weakness, sounding just like a confident Batman should.

Finally, Justice League The New Frontier gives its viewers some great animation. I have always found the people behind DC's animated shows and pictures able to produce great movement in their animation and this film is no slouch. The character models look like their comic book source material, down to their shadows, and all move with a fluidity that can't be rivaled by that other big company and their recent straight to DVD films.

Justice League The New Frontier is a worthy purchase for fans of animation, comics, or both. With a solid 70 minute feature along with multiple commentary tracks including one by Darwyn Cooke, a sneak peak at the next Direct-to-DVD film on DC's palette, Batman: Gotham Knight, seen here, and multiple featurettes covering the history of the Justice League and super-villians, Justice League The New Frontier becomes a great addition to a DVD library. I am a happy camper with the way this film turned out as it could have been a disaster.

I'm giving the big thumbs up on this one.

I was lucky enough to've gotten a screening copy with the 1st 20 minutes of the film and already being a fan of the original source material let me just say WOW!!! This is one of the closest adaptions from comic to film that I've ever seen and it transfers over nicely! The animation is great, though maybe not quite as crisp as the Superman/Doomsday recently released. I have to say it is worth seeing more than once:

-- Posted by: John at February 27, 2008 2:32 AM

looking forward to seeing the movie and reading the comic... but which order?

-- Posted by: Joey at February 27, 2008 9:35 AM

Thats a tough call. While most people would tell you to read the book first as you will gain insight into territories not explored in the film, I challenge you to watch first. Not only is it a shorter investment, but I am curious to see how the film stands up to someone new to the material. Having read the book multiple times, it is easy for me to watch Justice League New Frontier and fill in missing gaps in the narrative with my extensive knowledge of the source material.

If new viewers can come away from the film understanding every facet of the story and how all the peices fit, then we know the producers and filmmakers behind the project succeeded in their adaptation.

Also, if you come away from the film impressed, you can then head to your local comic shop and pick up the graphic novels collecting the story. You will gain more insight into the world Darwyn Cooke created while experiencing something different enough to justify the purchase.

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