I have to say that I absolutely love where animation is taking the comic book genre. Sure, the live-action films are for the most part pretty great (with some exceptions like Daredevil and The Hulk). But it’s in the animated genre that the really cool things are happening.
With Lionsgate putting out some great Marvel properties, Warner Bros. Is now following suit with some excellent direct-to-DVD feature animated films. This past fall, we were treated to the first PG-13 rated flick in Superman: Doomsday, which got tons of buzz at Comic-Con, with a little thanks to the tote bag giveaway with the giant bloody S on it. But when the film finally came out on DVD, it proved to be more exciting and better told than it actually was in the comics fifteen years ago.
Now we have the second installment in the PG-13 saga: Justice League: The New Frontier. Based on the graphic novel, this film tells the story of the Justice League reboot in the Silver Age of comic books. It takes place in the 1950s when the black-and-white world of WWII good-vs-evil has disappeared.
The superheroes are being scrutinized and questioned by the government, and some have even considered retirement. However, it’s a massive threat known as the Centre, formed in a living Dinosaur Island that is attacking the mainland, that brings the heroes together to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Joining the old school heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are some new heroes in the form of the Martian Manhunter and Hal Jordan, soon to be Green Lantern. In fact, a good portion of the film follows the origin of these two characters. And it ultimately leads me to ask why there hasn’t been a Green Lantern feature film yet (or a Martian Manhunter one for that matter).
The animated Justice League: The New Frontier is everything you’d expect from an honorable comic book adaptation. There is no worrying about an egomaniacal director or some lousy producer demanding out-of-place musical numbers in order to sell a soundtrack. This film is nothing more than the comic book brought to life, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Like other superhero team stories, many characters tend to take a back seat. Surprisingly, though, it’s the A-listers like Batman and Superman who stay back to let the secondary (and sometimes more interesting) characters take the lead.
While I grew up with Superman and Batman comic books, I was a child of the 70s. So, by the time I tapped into the Justice League, it was populated by lesser heroes and had nothing to do with the major players at all. I was a young child during the SuperFriends television show, and I liked it as a boy of ten would. But as an adult, I am thrilled to see the stories go back to the original major players with stories about a league rather than a gallery of cheesy secondary roles or a caricature show with overly simplified heroes.
The Justice League: The New Frontier DVD comes with two discs. The first includes the 75-minute features alone with two audio commentary tracks – one with the filmmakers and the other with the original comic book writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. There’s also a sneak peek at the sure-to-be awesome Batman: Gotham Knight release, which includes several Batman stories told in the anime style.
The first disc also contains a comprehensive look at the Justice League over the years, breaking down their evolution from the golden age with the Justice Society, through the silver age, to the humorously named and Aquaman-led “Detroit Age” and into the modern age.
The second disc includes a 30-minute discussion of the Legion of Doom and how the super villains evolved over the years. Additionally, there’s a 10-minute commentary on the book’s adaptation by Darwyn Cooke. Finally, if you didn’t get enough of the Justice League in the film, there are three bonus episodes of the Justice League television series.
Justice League: The New Frontier is a joy for an old-school comic book fan, and hopefully a view of some awesome things to come.
The Upside: Another awesome comic book animation piece.
The Downside: They’re just not able to do this with feature films.
On the Side: I really, really, really, really want to see a Green Lantern movie.