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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
DC: The New Frontier

by Darwyn Cooke

(DC Comics, volume 1: $19.95, volume 2: $19.99, 208 pages each; published in December 2004 and May 2005.)

cover scanDC: The New Frontier spans seventeen years in US history, from the end of the Second World War to the presidency of John F. Kennedy -- the title The New Frontier, in fact, is taken from a Kennedy speech.

It probably requires an outsider to fully grasp and deconstruct the political nature of US adventure heroes. The superheroes of the late 1930s were a response to the strife of the Great Depression, and those of the early 1940s bolstered wartime patriotism. Those of the 1950s were complex icons: symbolizing the US's self-image as the leader of the space-age scientific worldview, they were also the defenders of capitalist and individualistic values in the Cold War struggle against communism.

Canadian cartoonist Darwyn Cooke assembles DC Comics' rich cast of Cold War-era characters -- superheroes, spies, adventurers, soldiers, cosmonauts -- in a complex saga of political cover scanconfusion and strange invasion that explicitly tackles the paradigm shifts that were occurring in early postwar US society. Paranoia, racism, the changing meanings and perceptions of heroism and patriotism -- these themes all inform The New Frontier, in which a new breed of heroes emerges to battle a different kind of threat and to face an ever-changing world.

Cooke's visual style -- combining the minimalist elegance of Alex Toth, the kinetic energy of Jack Kirby, and the animation work of Bruce Timm -- creates a timeless, classic aura that perfectly fits his story.

Too often, "adult" is used as a coded epithet to announce sex and violence, but it's not the case here. Cooke's story truly is adult: sophisticated in both content and appearance, and showcasing the lives, relationships, and values of classic superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern with a deft emotional touch and keen insight into both comics heritage and US history.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 10 September 2005.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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