Wednesday, 11 September 2013

DC New Frontier Volume 2 by Darwyn Cooke Review

The second and final volume in Darwyn Cooke's reimagining of DC's superheroes set against an early 1960s background is about as fairly dull as the first one was. I criticised a lack of plot in the first volume whereas we get one in this book, but it's still not a very good one. Basically an unstoppable giant alien headed towards America (of course) must be stopped - enter the group who will become known as the Justice League!

It's a plot of sorts but rather than complain about the arbitrariness of the alien threat - which I think is deliberately so - I would say that it's a slow read because it focuses on characters I'm not particularly fond of. Hal Jordan/Green Lantern for one gets the lion's share of the book as do a number of non-superpowered characters - government agents and so forth - who I couldn't care less about. Flash gets some time in the spotlight, Martian Manhunter gets even more, while the big 3 - Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman - get short shrift, relegated to mere cameos. I appreciate Cooke is trying to shine the spotlight on some of the less usual suspects but there's a reason why Batman and Superman are more popular than Green Lantern and Flash.

Let's talk about the big alien menace that makes up the plot. First off, a vague alien danger is pretty much what a lot of Silver Age comics did - horrors from space, etc. - and if New Frontier is a mash note to the comics of that era then it gets the villain right. Then again, it's not a great villain. We know nothing about it, except it wants to destroy everything and everyone, which is about as 2-dimensional as you can get. But I think this is deliberate because this isn't about having a complex nemesis, it's about giving the Justice League a reason for forming because up until now, they've basically just been random elements doing their own thing. With The Center (the big alien bad thing), they're forced to work together thus realising they should be a team and completing the story.

All of which is fine even though Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are basically left out as Green Lantern, Flash and Martian Manhunter (guess who Cooke's favourites are?) save the day. But like I said, focusing on those less interesting characters made the book harder to read and, though the alien threat is a plot point, the rest of the book drags and drags even when they finally fight it. Meanwhile some space stuff happens - Hal is denied going into space and mopes around Ferris Industries, in a sequence that just went on and on, racism is touched on - John Henry Irons gets called some racist epithets, all 60s era issues that places the comic squarely in its time, but nothing that stands out as particularly inspired. And ending the book quoting Kennedy's New Frontier speech - really? It's too on the nose.

Cooke's art remains the best thing about New Frontier even though once again he has trouble distinguishing his male characters in appearance, something he really needs to do as he can't really make them stand out with his script. New Frontier has its moments but it was far too long - two volumes is too much for what little story - and though I get that Cooke wants to celebrate this era in history and comics, I still think if you wanted to experience the Silver Age you'd be better off reading the actual comics of this time than New Frontier.

DC The New Frontier Volume 2

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