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Is ‘Justice League: The New Frontier’ The Best Superhero Movie Ever Made?

New Frontier

 

The best superhero film ever made isn’t The Dark Knight. It’s not the 1978 Superman. It’s not even Spider-Man 2. No, the best superhero movie is 2008’s Justice League: The New Frontier.

Now, you might be asking, how does a 75-minute, direct-to-video animated film beat out those other films, which are widely adored and were helmed by some of the most acclaimed directors working today? The answer is, none of those films were built around the work of the great Darwyn Cooke, who passed away this past weekend from cancer.

Justice League: The New Frontier is not only a condensed adaptation of Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier miniseries; it’s also co-written, art-directed, and partially storyboarded by him, alongside WB Animation luminaries like Lauren Montgomery, Butch Lukic and Curt Geda. He and his unique style — part Jack Kirby, part Alex Toth, part ’50s advertisement illustration — is what holds the film together and makes it a joy to revisit again and again.

This movie was the first I’d ever heard of Cooke when I bought it in high school. It’s the cornerstone of his work for me. The film grabbed me with its brilliant concept — what if the Justice League of the Silver Age actually dealt with the problems of 1950s America — and hooked me with its gorgeous design and music, crisp action and nuanced characterization. Plus, it also has the best Batman outside of the DC Animated Universe, arguably the single best version of Green Lantern ever made, and Superman bringing everyone together with an inspiring speech to go punch an alien island full of dinosaurs. Really, it has it all.

 

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On his audio commentary for the Emmy-nominated film, Cooke is full of admiration and awe for his WB Animation colleagues and how they brought his story to life. (Cooke storyboarded on both Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, designed Batman Beyond‘s opening, and wrote for Justice League Unlimited.) He’s not uncritical — he notes how he thinks some visuals in the climax could have moved a lot faster, and recounts how he had to battle with Bruce Timm to justify Lois Lane‘s presence in the film — but he comes across as relishing in the joy of seeing his creations brought to life, and is incredibly generous and warm.

From what I’ve heard, that’s how he was in life. I only wish that I’d been able to meet him to tell him how much I love his work. Anyone looking to discover or rediscover his contributions would do well to check out his Eisner-winning issue of Solo, his redefining Catwoman work with Ed Brubaker and his solo OGN, Selina’s Big Score. Some art student may one day write an entire thesis on how Cooke’s Parker graphic novels for IDW can evoke an entire range of emotions using only blue tones, crisp pencils and sharp, black inks.

But for me, it always comes back to Justice League: The New Frontier. So thank you, Darwyn, for making it happen. And for giving us so many gems to dive into, explore and fall in love with.

 

A Celebration of Some Of Our Favorite Pieces By Darwyn Cooke

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