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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The New Frontier. Darwyn Cooke (Writer & Artist), Dave Stewart (Colours) DC Comics (2004)

This is surprisingly unconvincing superhero story whose ambitions exceed its capacity. The story is about a period of transition, from the demise of one group of superheros to the eventual emergence of a new group. In post war America the impact of the Cold War and anti-Communist fears leads to a public and political revulsion with superheros and costumed vigilantes. Superman and Wonder Woman become full time government employees, Batman remains a renegade and the members of the Justice Society choose to retire rather than be revealed.

Against the background of increasing paranoia, the emergence of space exploration and the dawning of Civil Rights agitation, the emergence of three new superheros, The Flash, the Martian Manhunter and The Green Lantern, is woven into a bigger plot about The Centre. This plot provides a great enough threat that unity, impossible under any lesser circumstances, is required to combat it.

The art work in this story is wonderful, Darwyn Coke has a fluid style that gives life and vitality to the cast, in particular his female characters are human figures rather than the usual ill proportioned caricatures so common in superhero art. The clouring by Dave Steward is subtle and wonderfully effective.

The critical problem with this story is the writing, there are really goods parts in the mix, there is a lack of credible coherence that dramatically draws all the elements into a satisfying whole. Darwyn Cooke assumes too much knowledge on the readers part about the prior published history and continuity of most of the characters. Other than the Flash, Martian Manhunter and the Green Lantern, the rest of the cast trade far too heavily on assumed knowledge. There is insufficient context provided for them to understand why they are included or to reasonably understand their actions. Characters act because the plot requires that they do not from any individual response to circumstances, in particular there is one major cast member who has a neck snapping transition solely rooted in plot requirements.

Darwyn Cooke's ambition is very much to his credit, he has attempted to create a story that draws a connection to the political and social context and the superheros that would emerge from it. His reach exceeds his grasp and the critical dramatic structure required to support the story is not present and what has been delivered is a book where the parts are greater than the whole.

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