Hoopla Graphic Novel Review: ‘DC: The New Frontier’ by Darwyn Cooke

A blog entry from Josh, who is part of our circulation department.

Ever since Darwyn Cooke burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as a storyboard artist on ‘Batman: The Animated Series,’ he’s been been lauded for the unique blend of elegance and dynamo that he achieved in his artwork. What folks rarely seemed to mention, though, was how good of a writer he also was. It took Cooke making the seemingly backward career move from TV to comics (think: scion to serf) to finally right that wrong.

Essentially a re-telling of the Justice League’s formation, ‘DC: The New Frontier’ also covers 1950s race politics, the Red Scare and a dinosaur-populated monster island, blending it all into one epic, awe-inspiring superstory. Where most comics today tend to try to deconstruct the medium, Cooke seems more interested in re-constructing many of the ‘silver age’ elements that had been discarded over the years — space age science, pulp heroics, sweeping romance and an overall sense of wonder. Costume clad heroes both familiar and obscure pop up throughout. Some only appear briefly, in 10-20 page solo stories. Others weave in and out of the main mystery in an almost Altman-esque manner, finally converging en masse at the end of the book for a ‘We Are The World’-of-superfriends battle to save the planet. A few of the standout story lines are the Martian Manhunter’s arrival on Earth and his awkward assimilation of its culture, Hal Jordan’s transformation into the Green Lantern, and the Challengers of the Unknown’s beginning and (spoiler alert!) end.

Oh, and then there’s the art.

Ignore the word bubbles, and the book feels like a collection of long-lost pre-production art to some never-made superhero extravaganza from the glory days of the Hollywood studio system. Cooke’s biggest artistic influence is clearly Bruce Timm (the mastermind behind the aforementioned ‘Batman’ cartoon), but also evident in his work are the stylistic touches of Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino. In ‘DC: The New Frontier’, Cooke uses bits of all these classic cartoonists’ styles, blended with a bit of streamline moderne design and googie architecture, to perfectly capture the ‘anything is possible’ essence of the post-WWII United States. It’s gorgeous.

The ‘Deluxe Edition’ eBook format that DC has re-released the series in only adds to one’s appreciation of the art. Instead of the awkward-looking printing that sometimes ruins the enlargement of comic book pages, the simple grace of Cooke’s lines is actually enhanced by the digital blow up.

CLAMS cardholders can read DC: The New Frontier free on Hoopla!

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