Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
The brilliance of Justice League: The New Frontier lies in its marriage of silver age characters with real world issues and events of that time. The movie certainly mirrored the themes of the book, but much of the original 400 page epic was lost due to time constraints, although not as brutally as Superman: Doomsday. For those wondering which parts were lost, most of it was anything not directly pertaining to the big seven of the Justice League. Even Aquaman made an otherwise unnecessary appearance, but he received more applause than just about any other character at the screening. While the book is always better than the movie, objectively minded viewers are certainly in for a treat.
The three main characters were Barry Allen/Flash, John Jones/Martian Manhunter and Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. The plot was set between 1953 and 1960 which, in America, represents a confusing and scary time, what with the threat of nuclear war, fear and persecution of Communists and racism still festering in nearly every part of American society. World War II was widely believed to be a just war by many Americans. It united them in a way that would soon be lost because those ideals were beginning to waver due to fear. At the same time in Justice League: The New Frontier, the three main characters struggled with their own personal fears and learned they had the strength to become heroes.
The Flash animation was excellent. There are only so many ways to make a red and yellow blur look interesting, but they nailed it this time. Darwyn Cooke, who wrote and drew the source material, had a major hand in designing the look of the characters. This makes perfect sense because he used to work with Bruce Timm and much of the rest of the team from this movie during their work on previous animated television programs.
Hal Jordan had the most interesting arc in the film. What's a Green Lantern's ability to overcome great fear if there was never any fear to overcome. For Green Lantern, Justice League: The New Frontier was very much an origin story.
Martian Manhunter's arc fell a bit short and didn't resonate the same way that the human characters did. It's unfortunate because I felt he had the strongest overall story in the book. Again, much had to be cut, but some of Martian Manhunter's most defining moments were peppered throughout the stories of some of the characters that were not prominently feature in the film.
Most of the casting for the voice acting was excellent. The sound of Kyle MacLachlan's voice was not what I would have expected for Superman, but the reason it worked so well was because of the attitude and nature of the version of Superman in this story. Not all actors are suited for voice acting jobs, but Brook Shields played an excellent Carol Ferris. She just turned out to have some real chops at voice acting that I haven't seen or heard before. The only problematic casting choice was Jeremy Sisto as Batman. He's a very talented actor and has done some incredible work, but he just wasn't suited for the cape and cowl. It's possible that with multiple viewings I could change my mind on this, but every time he spoke, it just wasn't Batman.
The story's primary villain, known as "The Center," was the only major detraction from the story being told. It had no personality, reason or desire, and represented the fear that all three of the main characters needed to overcome, but seemed to have all the malice of a natural disaster.
The opening credits were outstanding works of moving art, mostly reflecting the cover art from the original six issue mini series. Unfortunately the sound was set so loud that it was sometimes hard to hear voices, or even the music. The music I could hear was well done. It had a classical sensibility that reflected the right moods without becoming overbearing. This film will not become dated over a few decades because of the music. Being a period piece also helps. Unfortunately for us Superman fans, the Man of Steel's appearances were few, but memorable, and did not warrant his own theme music.
Most of the collected source material had to be jettisoned in favor of a 70 minute run time. The Challengers of the Unknown for example played a major role in the book, essentially inspiring others the become heroes and lead into the "new frontier" within the title line. Much of what brought about that inspiration was cut from the film. There were also many nods to specific moments in comic book and pop culture history, which the movie either couldn't contain or work in. For instance, in the book, Barry Allen was struck by lightning and became the Flash specifically in 1956, which was the same year that he made his first appearance in Showcase #4. Incidentally, the release of that issue is widely regarded as the official beginning of the Silver Age of comic books. Martian Manhunter and Hal Jordan's Green Lantern also appeared in the years in which their first appearances were released, but the movie glossed over those kinds of details. That's the reason why Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice Society of America already existed at the start of the movie.
My favorite character from the book was King Faraday, who was voiced in the movie by none other than Phil Morris. Faraday's role remained largely intact because most of his story tracked along with Martian Manhunter in the second half. Many of the book's other plots revolving around non-big-seven-Justice-Leaguers were paid homage with a quick shot and a line, but they were otherwise left out.
Few movie adaptations ever stand up to their source materials and Justice League: The New Frontier is no exception. While Superman Doomsday's run time felt about right for the story being told, New Frontier could have used at least another 20 minutes without becoming long-winded. It would have been nice to see more of the book in the film, but otherwise it was a fun ride that was definitely created with hardcore to moderate fans in mind.