Darwyn Cooke's award-winning, 2004 comic-book miniseries, DC: The New Frontier was tuned into a direct-to-video DVD in 2008. Set during the 1950s, the story bridges the gap between DC's Golden and Silver Ages by presenting an origin story for the Justice League of America.
The prologue informs us about THE CENTRE, a creature who has existed almost since Earth's creation. Since humans have harnessed atomic power, it has determined that the species "must be cleansed" from the planet and slowly proceeds with its plan. Cold War fears have caused many heroes to pack it in. The Justice Society of America disbands and Wonder Woman returns to Amazon Island. The scant few that remain in service have chosen different paths. Superman signs a loyalty oath to America. Batman becomes a fugitive. There are also characters, familiar to DC Comics readers, who have yet to become superheroes, such as Air Force pilot Hal Jordan, and a Martian who has been accidentally teleported to Earth by a science experiment. The heroes' plot lines converge, drawing them together to work as a united front to combat THE CENTRE.
Justice League: The New Frontier is good, superhero fun, but it noticeably falls short of the greatness it strives for. The story is interesting, with some very good plot turns and great choices in the presentation of the characters, but it also gets outlandish at times even for a comic book story. During a failed test flight to Mars, the cockpit is blown open and Jordan hangs on with one hand as he starts to catch fire during re-entry. Disappointingly, there is a deus ex machina moment allowing one hero to save the day, which is regrettably too common to the genre.
There are a few scenes that deal with America's past racism. Unfortunately, it is too brief, causing me to assume as I watched that the idea was given more focus in the comic books. It is also too obvious in its presentation. We've seen the concept that racism is bad dealt with many times, and while it is certainly a good message to delve into, there's nothing new brought to the discussion in this film.
The art is terrific, displaying a great retro style and vibrant colors. The depiction of the Flash's speed is well rendered. The voice characterizations are by famous performers so it takes a moment for the brain to accept Kyle MacLachlan as Superman and Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman. Keith David is perfect as the ominous voice of THE CENTRE, but Jeremy Sisto, who is a great actor, didn't work as Batman.
The New Frontier Two-disc Special Edition comes with two commentary tracks. One features the creative team that brought the film to life and the other features Cooke alone. The creative team does a very good job explaining the work that went into the project and the reasoning behind the changes that were made in the adaptation. Cooke gives an honest assessment of the film and isn't afraid to say when he didn't like something.
Comprehensive documentaries examine The Justice League and Super Villains. A 10-minute featurette provides information on the comic book series. Three episodes, each from a different season, of Cartoon Network's Justice League Unlimited are included: "Dark Heart," "To Another Shore," and "Task Force X."
Filled with more pluses than minuses, Justice League: The New Frontier is an adventure worth exploring.