Sunday, March 9, 2008

Justice League: The New Frontier on DVD

Justice League: The New Frontier is a PG-13 direct-to-DVD animation from the DC Comics universe, from a story by Darwyn Cooke. Based on a six-part comic book, it takes place in the 1950s, before any of these heroes were updated or killed or became evil and then good again. You know it’s not for kids when we see Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) come upon a scene in Southeast Asia. His old friend Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) is celebrating with a roomful of local women with guns. Wha’ happened? asks the big Boy Scout. These women were raped and left in cages by their brutalizers, she explains. I just disarmed the men, left their guns in a clearing, and liberated the women from their cages. What happened next was up to the women. Superman is horrified and Wonder Woman tells him, hit the road spaceman. She’s even a smidge taller than Superman, letting you know who’s boss here.

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of the Flash (first two versions) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan of course) and was thrilled to see their prominent roles in this movie. Flash rescues his reporter/girl friend (what it is with superheroes and beautiful reporters?) from Mr. Freeze in ring-a-ding-ding Las Vegas and Green Lantern’s origin is retold. Unlike most origins, GL’s is simple and unchanging: man finds dying alien in desert, receives his power ring, and his job. The ring actually seeks out Hal, bravest person on Earth, to take the place of Abin Sur, who had been the Green Lantern for our sector of the galaxy. Any more on this would be TMI for people who don’t follow comics and too trivial for those who do.

Batman kicks butt bigtime and transitions from the original creepy-cowled maniac of the 1940s to the friendlier-cowled, ward-watching superhero of the 1950s. J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, is revealed to be an accidental visitor to Earth, trying to blend in but without the advantage of growing up with the Kents. Aquaman even shows up in the last scene but why spoil it? Needless to say, the scene takes place on the beach.

The Justice League is a club for superheroes. Writer Darwyn Cooke borrowed a concept from Paul Levitz, that in the 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy hounded the masked vigilantes of the League into the shadows, except for Wonder Woman and Superman (they signed loyalty oaths). For Batman it’s business as usual and he keeps up the franchise working underground from the Batcave. The analogy of this plot to real life is the blame put on comic books by politicians for juvenile delinquency. Most of the major superhero titles, except Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, went under.

The DVD extras contains a fascinating history of the Justice League. I was stunned to hear the unmistakable voice of Stan Lee (from the might Marvel universe) on this documentary. Then we see Stan, who reveals that the Fantastic Four was cooked up on the golf course when Marvel’s president asked Lee and Jack Kirby to come up with something to compete with DC’s Justice League.

Oh yeah, the plot: the League reunites to fight a living island of dinos and monsters.

While the ending is never in doubt, it’s a fun ride to get there. I like this movie a lot and look forward to more in the series. One of the extras was a preview of Batman: Gotham Knight, an anime-style direct-to-DVD. Promotion is calling it a bridge between the previous and upcoming live-action Bat flicks. I call it a must-see DVD.

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