Justice League: The New Frontier comes out on DVD tomorrow, a straight-to-DVD release based on writer/artist Darwyn Cooke's series DC: The New Frontier. This is part of a trend of Warner and DC releasing original animated films on disc that might never have seen the light of day otherwise, beginning with last year's Superman: Doomsday. We got a sneak peek at The New Frontier at WonderCon, and we loved the setting in space. But the flick gets mired in the origin stories of Green Lantern and The Martian Manhunter. We've got a full report, with clips, below.
The story starts out in the 1950s, and heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman are fighting in Korea and Indochina, but she takes a mucher harsher stand than he does, letting victimized women deal out there own brand of murderous justice. He warns her that's the reason Batman is now a fugitive and the Justice Society is disbanded.
We're also introduced to both The Martian Manhunter and Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan in short order, long before they become the heroes we've come to know. We find out how the Manhunter comes to Earth, and how Hal loses his nerve during the Korean war and spends time in a psych hospital. While the Manhunter is trapped on Earth and spends his time watching television (there's an amusing scene where he emulates Groucho Marx and Bugs Bunny), Jordan tries to get into the space program, and eventually gets hired by the Ferris company, run by the boss' wife Carol Ferris.
Over the course of the film, while Jordan develops into a stand-up test pilot and gets drafted into a mission to Mars (sans ring), and the Manhunter fights crime as detective John Jones, different heroes begin unraveling a plot by something called The Center. At first it's not clear if it's a cult, some form of mind-control, or an alien invasion. Additionally, certain heroes like The Flash are being sought by the government, who want to unmask them and expose them and have them register, just like in the recent Civil War series from Marvel. The trouble is, it feels tacked on and cheesy, even though it's the most interesting idea in the film.
In the climactic ending, a whole slew of heroes including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, the Blackhawks, and a ton of others do battle with the Cthulhu-like Center. When things are at their bleakest, Hal Jordan finally accepts the role of Green Lantern, and the ring he was given by the dying alien Abin Sur comes to his aid and gives him a little instruction manual brain-video lesson. They triumph over the dinosaur-spewing baddie, and thus the Justice League is formed. Montages of many more heroes (including the Teen Titans) and villains scroll by as portions of John F. Kennedy's 1960 Democratic National Convention speech play in the background.
Darwyn's art-style is retro-vintage hipster cool, and the heroes are extremely well voice acted (by a pretty impressive list of stars including everyone from Kyle MacLachlan to Lucy Lawless to Neil Patrick Harris... who aren't distracting), but the plot feels mish-mashed together, and needed to be either a miniseries, or a two-part movie. The Flash's "the government is oppressing us!" speech on television could have been the start of a terrific storyline about the persecution of heroes, but it ends up feeling like it was excised far too early.
Also, there are a lot of heroes tossed into the mix who aren't given any lines at all, like Green Arrow and Ted "Wildcat" Grant, and fleeting scenes of folks like Adam Strange. There's a lot of DC comics history being presented in only an hour and a half, and as a result it feels lacking. Some of the animated scenes feel a bit like afternoon cartoons, but other sequences (especially those in space or with planes in flight) are extremely well-done, which add to the feeling that the whole project is uneven.
It'll be interesting to see this when it comes out on DVD, seeing as how they excised certain scenes and changed the story from the graphic novel. There are a slew of extra materials and interviews on the disc, which will hopefully fill some holes. While it's not perfect, it's much preferable to the nothing, which is all we've had in the form of original animated films based on DC Comics properties. If they could spend some more time hammering out the stories and improving the animation, this could be a series that lasts for years. Just give us some Kingdom Come pretty darn soon.