'New Frontier' Does These Heroes Justice

By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

For comics fans, about the only thing better than a superhero tale is one involving an alliance of superheroes. With Tuesday's release of "Justice League: The New Frontier," fans will get one of the most famous partnerships around: DC Comics' Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Martian Manhunter and others (the other one being Marvel's Avengers, naturally).

"The New Frontier" is based on the critically acclaimed six-part graphic novel "DC: The New Frontier" (2003-04) by writer-artist Darwyn Cooke. The story centers on DC's greatest superheroes as they join forces with the United States (weary of vigilante activity at the time) to take down a force threatening life on Earth. It eventually results in the formation of the Justice League of America at the dawn of the Kennedy administration.

Everything that made the novel a hit can be found in the animated version. Superman and Wonder Woman are hired muscle for the U. S. government. Equals in strength, they often clash over whether they should be spreading the ideals of the American way around the world. Batman is a shadowy figure, not confined by laws. The Flash wonders if he's even really a hero compared with the likes of Superman when all the Flash does is run fast, catch bank robbers and fight giant gorillas. The Martian Manhunter, who can change his appearance and look human, longs to return to Mars and leave his adoptive country, where ignorance, hatred and bigotry consume so many around him. Hal Jordan, a pilot who dreams of reaching the stars and eventually becomes the Green Lantern, plays a vital role.

Produced by Michael Goguen and superhero cartoon expert Bruce W. Timm, the look of "The New Frontier" is a tribute to the artwork of Cooke. While previous Timm-produced animations such as "Superman: Doomsday" and the animated Batman series feature broad-shouldered, square-jawed heroes, "The New Frontier" seems to jump straight from the pages of the graphic novel, using Cooke's artistic style for its look.

Not to be lost in the visual style is the incredible job by the voice actors. The cast includes Kyle MacLachlan (Superman), Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman), Neil Patrick Harris (the Flash), David Boreanaz (Green Lantern) and Brooke Shields (Green Lantern love interest Carol Ferris). Jeremy Sisto (Batman) provides a voice for the Dark Knight that is so on point with the essence of the character it will send a chill down your spine. When Batman delivers a threat to the Martian Manhunter, letting him know what he will do to the alien should he get out of line, you feel the Martian Manhunter's fear.

Bonus features include a commentary from Cooke on converting the story to animated form. In it, he talks about why some scenes from the book didn't make it into the film and why aspects of the story were changed. Other prominent contributors to the DC Comics universe, including DC Comics President Paul Levitz and writers Mark Waid and Chuck Dixon, provide commentary as well.

Also included is a sneak peek at "Batman: Gotham Knight," the animated direct-to-DVD prequel to the upcoming film "The Dark Knight," and a documentary on the history of comics villains. If you purchase the two-disc special edition ($24.98) you get even more extras, including three episodes from the "Justice League" animated series selected by Timm.

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