This is the second volume of the DC: The New Frontier TPB and contains issues #4 - 6. It continues Darwyn Cooke's ambitious project to bring back a sense of wonder to DC superheroes and bridge together the DC Golden Age of Comics with the Silver Age and beyond into one comprehensive and cohesive continuity. The first volume covered the years 1945 to 1958, beginning with the final mission of the Losers, detailing the break-up of the JSA and Superman and Wonder Woman's secret roles in the Cold War, and culminating with the advent of the Silver Age heroes.
Volume 2 continues the superheroes' interactions with real life events and covers the gaps between 1958 and the formation of the Justice League in the '60s. Set in the background of an America rife with escalating racial tensions, post-McCarthy era paranoia, the Space Race with the Russians, and JFK's optimistic Camelot, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, King Faraday, the Challengers of the Unknown and test pilot Hal Jordan (who, in this volume, finally becomes Green Lantern), among others, strive to find meaning and true purpose in their calling. In time, an overwhelmingly menacing force called the Centre threatens to wipe out humanity and forces these fractured individual heroes to come together to save the world.
I have to hand it to Darwyn Cooke. This really is a daunting task but he manages to do yeoman's work in 6 limited-series issues. He seamlessly integrates real life issues such as racial inequality, bigotry, and national distrust. A telling point is Cooke's portrayal of newcomer (to Earth) J'onn J'onnz, who rightfully harbors a fear of man's hostile reaction should his true nature surface. There are numerous protagonists involved and yet each hero gets fair representation in his own vignette. By the end, the reader gets a real good sense of each protagonist's personality, internal sensibility and personal story arc. Hal Jordan, in particular, seems to embody the bold, can-do spirit of America as was characterized in the immediate post-WW2 era. Yes, because of the large cast, the story at times feels scattershot as Cooke jumps from one hero to another. However, no worries, it all ties together nicely.
Darwyn Cooke uses his past experience as a storyboard artist for Batman Beyond to maximum effect in New Frontier. He deliberately channels the classic, deceptively simple, "more innocent" styles of Dick Sprang and Steve Ditko - with just a touch of Keith Giffen and animator Bruce Timm. His artwork here purposely invokes memories of a simpler, less ambiguous time for superheroes. Back in the '30s, '40s and '50s, Mystery Men (and Women) were clearly on the side of good and villains were clear cut ne'er-do-wells. No lines were blurred or crossed. Darwyn's old school renderings drives that point nostalgically home. Cooke artistically conveys the little moments, the seminal scenes, and the grandiose sequences, all rendered with easy, stylish conviction. Those big splash pages are truly BEAUTIFUL to behold. It must be mentioned that Dave Stewart's colors ideally complements Darwyn's illustrations.
Nowadays, a lot of people choose to look back at the '50s as America's true Golden Age, a time when we as a nation truly were righteous, and flourishing, and on top of the world. Cooke reminds us that there's a bit of revisionist history being played out here, that not every American actually took part and enjoyed the benefits of an era that was supposedly one of our best. Darwyn Cooke elevates the New Frontier to a somewhat "important" work.
For those who enjoyed DC: The New Frontier, Volumes 1 and 2, I recommend the Golden Age mini-series by James Robinson and Paul Smith, which also covers the timeline between the Golden and Silver Ages, though focusing more on the JSA. And always worth looking into is Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's Marvels, a depiction of 35 years of Marvel superheroes as seen thru the eyes and camera lenses of a newspaper photographer. Ross's lush paintings alone are worth the price of the book.