Justice League: The New Frontier

The title of this graphic novel-made-film is a reference to a speech by John F. Kennedy. In that speech, Kennedy makes reference to the future, to how principle and honor must go hand in hand with power and technology; and how justice and freedom must never be infringed. His words were inspiring, and to a certain extent tooled to stoke propaganda against the Soviet Union. In any event, the speech serves as inspiration and semantic guidance for the film, which tells a tale adapted from the Silver Age origins of the Justice League.

The New Frontier is a popular, award-winning graphic novel and comic series. This film adaptation lends its deco art style from those graphic novels, taking up some influence from Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe and some broader strokes from the 1960’s. The story follows many of the DC Comics primary heroes, as they cope with the changing world– McCarthyism, racism, fear, paranoia,  and war. As seen in other comic book storylines, such as Marvels, some of the heroes are attacked because of their powers. They are feared for being different, and blamed for many problems.

J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, has a particularly relevant storyline. He is the ultimate outcast. A Martian, were he to walk around freely he would be the subject of fear and hatred. He would be pursued and jailed by the government. J’onn, as an allegory for outcasts in 1960’s (and modern) society, cloaks himself in a number of aliases all designed to keep the truth he hides a secret. While his marginalization is representative of racial and religious minorities, it is perhaps more fitting of sexual minorities of that era. References are made to other heroes who fight various levels of racism and prejudice as well, including an African American reminiscent of the folklore character John Henry, and his successor the super hero known as Steel.

Superman and Wonder Woman also cope with big issues, as their senses of loyalty are placed in direct conflict with their own liberty. Both characters are now depicted as being tools of the government, running patrols during the Korean War and other conflicts as little more than foot soldiers. Wonder Woman nearly goes rogue, allowing a group of village women to massacre some soldiers as revenge for their rape and the murder of their men and children. This conflict puts these two classic characters at odds, demonstrating how the social troubles of that era divided a lot of people.

The overall plot arch follows a growing cult, which is being slowly combated by Batman and the Martian Manhunter. At the same time, the events of the life of the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, are detailed as he attempts to rebuild his life after being forced to kill during the war. The event left him emotionally scarred and sent him to a psychiatric hospital. With that on his record, rebuilding his life as a pilot was not easy.

The cult in question are all people in the unwitting psychic service of an entity known as the Center. The Center seems to be the embodiment of all chaos and hatred, and it seems to eliminate mankind. It is the personification of the ills of that era. Defeating the Center is all that lies between these characters, and by proxy humanity, and the “new frontier” described by President Kennedy.

This film is an amazing adaptation. It carries much higher production values than its predecessors in both animation and music. The voice cast is dream given, featuring actors whose voices seem to have been forged for the roles. Lucy Lawless, famous for her role as Xena, is particularly appealing as Wonder Woman. The original graphic novel from which this film was so handsomely remediated, was equally well conceived and executed. The slick art direction ties the entire thing together, giving the film a clean, crisp, new feeling to events and materials which are, by design, 50 years old.

The only drawback for this film is that in its brief run time, it does not demonstrate the true breadth of issues that the US and the world faced in the 1960’s. Racism and sexism, paranoia and Cold War ravings, are all present but largely take a back seat to the excitement of the space race, the wonder of the super hero genre, and the nebulous ideals of President Kennedy. With the true problems of the 1960’s given such a secondary vein, the story comes off a little hollow, despite all its strengths. This is due, in large part, to trying to fit the graphic novel’s expansive story into a brief film, and it is entirely forgiven.

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