‘Justice League: The New Frontier’ – animated flashback on HBO Max

Darwyn Cooke’s limited series/graphic novel “DC: The New Frontier,” originally published in 2004, is part comic-book tribute and part revisionist superhero history.

The DC Animation Original Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) is a largely faithful adaptation of the story, a rethinking of the transition between the golden age of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and other marquee DC heroes, and the silver age incarnations, as seen through the prism of the real world of late-fifties America: the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam, loyalty oaths, McCarthy. The premise isn’t just historical. It fills in the gap in the comic book record.

This is not a kid’s cartoon strictly speaking, casting superhero fantasy in the social dynamics and politics of the real world, and the film has a PG-13 rating. The Flash is hounded into hiding. Martian Manhunter (the ultimate undocumented alien) gives up on the country in the Communist witch hunt. Superman goes to Indo-China and finds Wonder Woman leading Vietnamese victims of war and inspiring a women’s revolution. And Batman, who had transformed from the nocturnal vigilante to a smiling, kid-friendly inspiration with a teenage sidekick, becomes a fugitive. It takes a global threat to pull them all back into teamwork and created the next great generation of heroes.

Animation is a bit stiff and blocky, not quite the graphic sleekness and cool of the Batman series, but approaching that in its approximation of Darwyn Cooke’s distinctive style. And it seems torn between adult sensibilities and conventional instincts. But it’s an interesting take on the classic comics. Features the voices of Jeremy Sisto, Kyle MacLachlan, Lucy Lawless, David Boreanaz, Neil Patrick Harris, and Miguel Ferrer.

Rated PG-13

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Justice League: New Frontier Commemorative Edition [Blu-ray+DVD]
Justice League: New Frontier Commemorative Edition [DVD]

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It was released on Blu-ray and DVD in 2008 with two commentary tracks (one by graphic novel writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, the other by the feature filmmakers and producers) and the 40-minute “Super Heroes United: The Complete Justice League History,” a solid overview of the superhero team in the comics featuring some of the best writers on the genre. Also includes the featurettes “The Legion of Doom: The Pathology of the Super Villain” (34 mins) and “Comic Book Commentary: Homage to the New Frontier” (10 mins) and three bonus episodes of the animated “Justice League” series.

The Blu-ray+DVD special edition includes the 75-minute feature and all of the original supplements in a handsome steelcase plus a new 20-minute featurette: “Retro Action Cool: The Story of Darwyn Cooke,” a tribute to the original creator who passed away since the original disc was released.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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