Sunday Comics! Square Jaws & Sassy Dames

This last week I read Darwyn Cooke's DC: the New Frontier and, well, it's pretty much a masterpiece: well-plotted, well-written and gorgeously drawn. I mean, take a look at this:

That's Superman. Getting the business handed to him. By a big red robot. Oh, Darwyn, you had me at "business".

New Frontier is a reimagining of DC's Silver Age, setting the characters of that era in the "real world" of that era. Well, as close to the real world as you can get when Cape Canaveral is being attacked by giant dino-monsters.

It attempts to do for comics what the Right Stuff did for the aerospace program, that is, show how it all came together to make the world we have now. In fact, the similarity between the two can sort of ruin it for you if you think about it too hard, so look! Here's a T. Rex getting blown up! By a bazooka!

This is definitely a Silver Age book, chock full of hard-as-nails s.o.b.'s with square jaws and gumption and dames who are pretty but take no guff. Basically, the quintessential DC book if the cliche' of DC heroes being basically a bunch of Greatest Generation types in tight pajamas holds. Your granddad in his long underwear. Cooke's Square-Jawed Favorites King Faraday and Slam Bradley show up as well as the Challengers of the Unknown, Suicide Squad, Blackhawks and Hal Jordan (oh, how Cooke loves him some Hal...). In fact, I remember closing the book and going, "Well, now I don't have to feel guilty about not owning all those DC Archive hardcovers, as they would probably not deliver the radness as well as Cooke delivers it here."

Which is not to say it's perfect. The over-reliance on square-jawed guys who all sort of look like Robert Mitchum makes it hard to tell who's who at times. Cooke expects that the reader know a lot about DC history going in (Which I don't. I'm a Marvel guy.)

There's a few pages devoted to a Challengers of the Unknown team forming that don't pay off for quite a while (I was left wondering, "Um, I know I'm supposed to know why these people forming a team of some sort is important, but... help a brotha out Darwyn.") and Hal's blonde war buddy (who is a Challenger? Or is that Suicide Squad?) is always winkingly introduced like "Hey, it's this guy. Recognize him? Huh?" By the end of the book you pretty much suss out who everybody is and why they're important, but I kept feeling like maybe my copy was missing some pages or I needed Cliff Notes or something.

See, lots of guys who sort of look the same.

There's always a reference to Cooke's background in animation when they talk about his work. I've heard "cartoony" (often derisively) used more than once, and while I'd tend to agree that that to the point that his work utilizes the simplicity of form that is usually associated with animation, there's a huge debt owed to Kirby as well as other Silver age artists. He's as much a classicist as, say Tim Sale or Frank Miller. I first was introduced to Cooke through his run as artist on Ed Brubakers Catwoman (a post on that fantastic run sometime, perhaps?) and while I don't know that he was the right artist for that book, it was still impressive. The simplicity of his work lends itself to this kind of story: good good guys, bad bad guys, a pinch of moral gray area thrown in for good measure, but, at teh end of the day, a fine-tuned Silver Age story. Cooke's not trying to do a Watchmen-style deconstruction of these characters, nor is he retooling the characters for modern use like, say, Morrison's Seven Soldiers experiment. He's doing a fairly straight Silver age story, all lovingly rendered in his retro/"Modern with a captial 'M' as in the art movement" style (referring to writing as well as art style).

It's gorgeous stuff. I'd purchase it, and, in fact, placed the over-sized Absolute Edition hardcover in my Amazon wish list with the intent to actually buy it. Which is sort of a big deal. It's like a promise ring or something.


huston/lilia said...

thanks to big red robot, i just requested this from my local library.

Dylan said...

That's why this is here, brother o' mine. Glad to be of service. It's worth it, if only to see bad-arsed Silver Age heroes take on dinosaurs. Let me know what you think... in a few days.

b3n said...

I'm loving your comic posts. They read like you're trying. These posts are making you push yourself a little, BRR? Methinks so.

And I applaud it.

chrishaley said...

Glad you finally got to give it a go.