by Tony Dayoub
Taking advantage of the current superhero genre craze, Warner Premiere has just released its second DC Comics-inspired direct-to-DVD feature, Justice League: The New Frontier. Animated in a style reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke's original comics series, it is a sight to behold.
It also carries a PG-13 rating, so don't go running to the store to get it for your kids. Like the comic, it has decidedly mature themes. The story is seen through the eyes of test-pilot Hal Jordan, future Green Lantern. He embodies the type of new hero emerging at the dawn of the Kennedy era. While still cut from the cloth of "true American heroes" like Chuck Yeager, this generation has to deal with more gray areas than their predecessors. Even establishment heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman find themselves at odds with each other when it becomes evident that the new villains are not as clearly defined.
For Superman, it means realizing that the government he so dearly upholds the values of is capable of secretly conducting weapons tests. For Wonder Woman it means siding with women villagers raped and imprisoned by male oppressors in Vietnam, then known as Indo-China. When Batman, always with his guard up, confronts a new alien hero whose weakness is fire, he warns, "I have a $70, 000 sliver of radioactive meteor to stop the one from Metropolis. With you, all I need is a penny for a book of matches." This is not your average episode of Super Friends.
It is a nice capsulization of Darwyn Cooke's love letter to the Silver age of comics, DC: The New Frontier. A far more involved masterwork by the former animator, its cartoony style belies its serious examination of civil rights, anti-communism, and the turbulent late 50s-early 60s in which these concerns were distorting the notion of what the American Way really was. Much of the movie is shot with a definite eye to preserving Cooke's distinctive style. My only complaint, is that so much of the story is compressed into a 75 minute running time. By the story's end you may not be aware of what the film's villain represents without having read the original comic, or seen any of the DVD's featurettes for clarification. This movie would benefit from having a longer cut.
Warner Premiere is obviously attempting to pursue quality in their new direct-to-DVD feature series (check out the featurette promoting their anime-inspired Batman: Gotham Knight in this DVD's special features). The voice actors include such actors as David Boreanaz, Keith David, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris, John Heard, Lucy Lawless, Kyle MacLachlan, Kyra Sedgwick and Jeremy Sisto. And director Dave Bullock has since been busy directing George Lucas' new CGI-animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to air this fall on TNT and The Cartoon Network. Justice League: The New Frontier is a fine entry to list on any one of these professionals' resumes.
This animated film demonstrates the full potential of what superhero stories can comment on in a way that no live-action release (with the possible exception of Unbreakable and The Incredible Hulk TV series) has as of yet. Check this DVD out to see what the superhero genre is truly capable of.