What stands out the most in the late Darwyn Cooke’s masterpiece DC: The New Frontier is the sense of characterization that is on display. Right from the opening pages, Cooke introduces readers to The Losers, an often forgotten group of soldiers who fought monsters in the pages of Golden Age comics. Going into this series, I didn’t care about The Losers. Halfway through the first issue, as their story was coming to a close, I found myself moved by what had transpired to these brothers in arms.
Imagine how I felt after getting to the major heroes in the story.
Cooke manages over the course of the six issues that make up The New Frontier to take the essence of many of DC’s characters and put them on display for the readers to engage with in this re-imagining of the origins of the “Silver Age” of DC Comics during the turbulent Nineteen Fifties and Sixties. This is a difficult feat to pull off in comics, especially in this day and age of constant event books and “soft reboots” to entice new readers. Wonder Woman stands out as arguably one of the clearest superheroes to receive such a treatment, being returned to the liberated warrior-princess looking for equality for men and women all across the globe that she was conceived to be. Green Lantern and The Flash are also standouts in this regard, showing who these heroes are when they aren’t displaying their super powers just as much as it shows their adventures saving the planet from intergalactic aliens and powered crooks.
Cooke also takes the publishing changes that certain characters went through into account with the character arcs of his heroes. Batman begins acting as he did when he was created – a dark avenger of the night, striking fear into whomever sees him. But by story’s end, he has changed into a softer champion for Gotham, accompanied by his new sidekick Robin. Add on the great stories he tells for lesser-known groups like the classic Suicide Squad and The Losers and Cooke’s story is without a doubt a stellar example of how to get to the essence of these characters.
The New Frontier doesn’t just excel at strong characterization though. It stands as a testament to a bygone type of superhero storytelling – looking at these heroes as near-infallible beacons of hope. With superhero stories hinging on a “dark and gritty” style for years now, The New Frontier stands as a breath of fresh air even ten years after its debut. Seeing the overarching theme being to manifest as the story progresses, showing a belief in the will of humanity to overcome adversity and come together in unity, feels more compelling than many of the grim deconstructions that have perforated superhero comics in the past decade or more.
Cooke also showcased his affinity for times past in the world around the heroes. By taking the story back to the Fifties and Sixties, when sweeping changes were coming to both America and the world at large, it helps to add a deeper meaning to the way Cooke characterizes his heroes. Seeing Wonder Woman and Superman argue U.S. policy in the jungles of Indo-China shows not only Wonder Woman’s desire for equality, but also the road Superman will travel to understanding that human needs outweigh foreign policies. John Henry’s war against the Klu Klux Klan in the South showcases both the advent of heroes that aren’t just white males but also the growing civil rights debate (a timely theme in this day of racial shootings and violence). Even the “main” storyline of the series, Hal Jordan’s desire to become an astronaut in the heat of the space race, reflects his desire to break the bonds of his past traumas and take flight above the Earth – which he eventually accomplishes as Green Lantern. With the change from the Golden Age into the Silver Age taking place during this time period, Cooke bottles the issues and milestones of that period to detail his heroes’ journeys into a cohesive universe.
Cooke’s world is most reflected in the art he brings to the six issues of this series. Like in his fan-favorite series of Parker graphic novels, Cooke shows his eye for history in the small background details he includes. His art captures just the right notes, from retro billboards and camera equipment to the bodywork of cars and airplanes that zoom across the page. Cooke’s art also is reminiscent of classic Silver Age artists like Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane in that it seems simple at first glance but reveals layers of emotion the further you study it. Cooke’s writing was arguably surpassed by his mastery of art. A book like The New Frontier makes the case for that very strong.
For anyone looking for a quintessential story about DC’s best and brightest, there aren’t many – one might even say there aren’t any – stories better than Cooke’s The New Frontier. Anyone who hasn’t read this story needs to treat themselves to a copy immediately.
DC: The New Frontier is available now in comic book shops everywhere.