Warner Animation's sophomore direct-to-DVD is a solid improvement over its predecessor, Superman: Doomsday. If only for the fact that Doomsday was essentially two extended segments of Superman getting the crap beaten out of him bookending some story content; in New Frontier, the Superman bashing is taken care of in a few minutes, giving the viewer much more story.
Darwyn Cooke's comic mini-series The New Frontier takes place in the very early stages of what has come to be known as the "Silver Age" of comics - the late 50s and early 60s, with America crawling out from under the Korean War and trying not to see Commies under every bed. A mistrust of "Mystery Men" has caused most of the heroes of the Golden Age to hang up their capes, with Superman and Wonder Woman tolerated as long as they use their muscle for American purposes. Batman remains an outlaw, while other worthies like the Flash, The Martian Manhunter and a war-traumatized Hal Jordan - the Green Lantern - go through their origins.
Of course, keeping the capes down never works, and eventually everyone has to come together to fight an outlandish menace that requires super powers as well as good old human moxie to defeat.
New Frontier was a fairly complex story, and it's surprising how much the creative team actually managed to shoehorn in while still keeping the proceedings down to 75 minutes. Though an important part of the novel, fan favorites like Adam Strange, the Challengers of the Unknown, and the Blackhawks only make cameos in the movie - but it's still a gas to see them. Fans of the older Justice League TV animated series might still chafe at the musical chairs approach to the voice talent, with easily marketable names like Kyle MacLachlan as Superman or Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman... but the results are so good, only true curmudgeons will be able to find fault.
We can be relatively certain that the animation cels went straight from Korean animators to a big hard drive somewhere - the picture is flawless, and the sound design is particularly fun.
There are two audio commentary tracks available - one, by the production team, including Bruce Timm, director Dave Bullock, and voice director Andrea Romano, is the richest in technical details. The second, featuring writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, can be frustrating, as he often falls into simply describing what is happening onscreen, though when he analyzes his love for the older versions of these characters, the track really takes off. He also has a curious habit of calling the adaptation an"adoption", but we'll let that go.
There is also a very interesting preview of the next Warner Animation DVD, Batman: Gotham Knight, which promises to be six interlocking Batman stories, each directed by a different anime visionary. Super Heroes United: The Complete Justice League History strives to live up to its title, and largely succeeds. It's also notable for being the first of these docs to actually bring in Stan Lee to talk about Marvel's part in the genesis of the Silver Age. I was, incidentally, unaware there was a Bronze Age of comics. You really do learn something new everyday.
Rounding out the package are trailers for Appleseed: Ex Machina (which plays before the menu), Superman: Doomsday, August Rush, Torchwood and King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. A diverse lot, one has to admit.
Dr. Freex, 5/11/2008