REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER

CAST
David Boreanaz (Angel)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Neil Patrick Harris (The Smurfs)
John Heard (Home Alone)
Lucy Lawless (Ash vs Evil Dead)
Kyle MacLachlan (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Lex Lang (Constantine TV)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon)
Jeremy Sisto (Wrong turn)
Keith David (Pitch Black)
Robin Atkin Downes (Babylon 5)
Joe Mantegna (The Simpsons)
Alan Ritchson (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014)

Darwyn Cooke entered the comic book world via an animation career that included a stint on the staff of Batman: The Animated Series. He quickly impressed fans with his clean, classic illustration style, using old ideas as fodder for fresh visions. It’s kind of fitting, then, that things have come full circle, and now his old animation cohorts are adapting one of his comic books into a movie. Justice League: The New Frontier is directed by frequent Cooke collaborator David Bullock, and it is based on the 2004 comic book miniseries The New Frontier. In that drawn adventure novel, the writer/artist used his love of 1950s comics and culture to weave a complex tapestry using a host of genres, characters, and real world political touchstones. It is a gorgeous book, and for the most part, massively entertaining.

A 75-minute film is actually a far more compact means of expression than a sprawling comic book miniseries. Bullock, working with Cooke as a creative consultant, has dropped a lot of the backstory, relegating subplots on Monster Island with the Losers and the original Suicide Squad to quick mentions. This leaves the full running time devoted to the superhero mission and the rise of two new heroes.

Justice League: The New Frontier starts just at the end of the Korean War, putting America in the middle of the space race and the Red Scare. Superheroes have been swept up in the xenophobic hysteria, with the public being convinced that men hiding their identities behind masks are no better than the communists who plan revolutions behind closed doors. Superman (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) is still functioning above board, having signed a loyalty oath to America. So does Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless), though she is less enamored with the American Way the more paranoid and oppressive it gets. Other heroes, like Batman (Jeremy Sisto) and the Flash (Neil Patrick Harris), are still serving the public, but they risk arrest with every good deed they do. In the midst of all this fear and loathing, a primordial psychic force that has watched from the shadows as mankind has grown more dangerous and self-destructive over the centuries has begun shoring up its power to put an end to the human scourge. Calling itself “the Center” (as in “of all things”), this creature has become the stuff of cults and legends, controlling the minds of men and monsters alike.

Also coming to the fore at this time are two new super beings, and they are ostensibly the leads of the ensemble cast. Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz) is a veteran and a test pilot who many believe to be a coward due to his refusal to fire his guns in battle. His nobility will eventually lead to him being chosen as the Green Lantern, a cosmic defender assigned to protect Earth. The other hero is J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer), who through a quirk of science was teleported to and stranded on our planet. He is the most representative of the “other,” the things we fear because they are different. Jordan’s political ideas make him like the communists, whereas J’onzz’ green skin gives the storytellers room to tie his plight into race.

Justice League: The New Frontier is an entertaining animated adventure. Based on a multi-leveled comic book by Darwyn Cooke, it features the greatest heroes of the DC Comics universe banding together in the 1950s to fight a villain who is feeding on the hatred and paranoia of the times to rid the Earth of the human scourge. The movie is more streamlined and has a solid story that fits well into the new Warner Bros. effort to bring slightly more adult cartoons directly to DVD. The animation is mostly clean and dynamic, and as a whole, it’s an impressive two-disc release filled with lots of extras.

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REVIEW: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD – SEASON 1-3

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MAIN CAST

Diedrich Bader (Vampires Suck)
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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Arnold Taylor (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Marc Worden (Ultimate Avengers)
Grey DeLisle (The Replacements)
John Dimaggio (Futurama)
Tom Kenny (Super hero Squad)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Corey Burton (Critters)
R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Vyvan Pham (Generator Rex)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Mikey Kelley (TMNT)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Will Wheaton (Powers)
Xander Berkeley (Kick-Ass)
Loren Lester (Batman: TAS)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Jeff Bennett (James Bond Jr.)
Oded Fehr (The Mummy)
Ellen Greene (Pushing Daisies)
Armin Shimmerman (Star Trek: DS9)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Tom Everett Scott (Scream: The Series)
Billy West (Futurama)
Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover)
Paul Reubens (Gotham)
Diane Delano (Jeepers Creepers II)
Peter Woodward (Crusade)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
James Remar (Flashforward)
Jeffrey Combs (Gothman)
Ioan Grufford (Ringer)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
William Katt (Carrie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mark Hamill (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Adam West (BAtman 60s)
Julie Newmar (Batman 60s)
Dana Delany (Body of Proof)
Tony Todd (Chuck)
Peter Scolari (Gotham)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and Thje X-Men)
John Wesley Shipp (The Flash)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Olivia D’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Mae Whitman (Independence Day)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Vanessa Marshall (Star Wars: Revels)
John Michael Higgins (Still Waiting)
Michael Jai White (Arrow)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Ted McGinley (Highlander 2)
Henry Winkler (Happy Days)

There’s a gloriously meta moment in the back half of this season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where the show’s producers are raked over the coals at Comic-Con. One of the twentysomethings in the crowd grouses and groans about how the Caped Crusader in the cartoon isn’t his Batman, and…well, he’s not wrong. DC’s comics anymore are joylessly grim and gritty…22 monthly pages of misery and scowling and torture and dismemberment and death and high collars and way too much crosshatching. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, meanwhile, is defined by its vivid colors and clean, thick linework. It’s a series whose boundless imagination and thirst for high adventure make you feel like a six year old again, all wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear.


You know all about The Dark Knight’s war on crime, and in The Brave and the Bold , he’ll duke it out against any badnik, anywhere. He doesn’t go it alone, either, with every episode pairing Batman up with at least one other DC superhero. Heck, to keep it interesting, The Brave and the Bold shies away from the obvious choices like Superman and Wonder Woman. Instead, you get more interesting team-ups like Blue Beetle (more than one, even!), Elongated Man, Wildcat, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, and B’wana Beast.
Other animated incarnations of Batman have been rooted in something close enough to reality. Sure, you might have androids and the occasional Man-Bat, but they tried to veer away from anything too fantastic. The Brave and tbe Bold has free reign to do just about whatever it wants. One week, maybe you’ll get an adventure in the far-flung reaches of space with a bunch of blobby alien amoebas who mistake Batman for Blue Beetle’s sidekick. The next might offer up Tolkien-esque high fantasy with dragons and dark sorcery. Later on, Aquaman and The Atom could play Fantastic Voyage inside Batman’s bloodstream, all while the Caped Crusader is swimming around in a thirty-story walking pile of toxic waste. He could be in a Western or a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a capes-and-cowls musical or even investigate a series of grisly something-or-anothers alongside Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England.

Batman has markedly different relationships with every one of those masked heroes. There’s the gadget geekery with an earlier incarnation of the Blue Beetle. With the younger, greener-but-still-blue Beetle, Batman takes on more of a mentor role.

More of a stern paternal figure for Plastic Man, and a rival for Green Arrow. Sometime it might not even be the most pleasant dynamic, such as a decidedly adult Robin who doesn’t feel like he can fully step outside the long shadow that Batman casts.

There are some really unique takes on iconic (and not so iconic!) DC superheroes here, and far and away the standout is Aquaman. This barrel-chested, adventure-loving braggart is my favorite incarnation of the king of the seven seas, and if Aquaman ever scores a cartoon of his own, I hope he looks and acts a lot like this. Oh, and The Brave and the Bold does a spectacular job mining DC’s longboxes for villains too, and along with some of the familiar favorites, you get a chance to boo and hiss at the likes of Kanjar Ro, The Sportsmaster, Kite Man, Gentleman Ghost, Chemo, Calendar ManKing, Crazy Quilt, and Shrapnel. The Brave and the Bold delivers its own versions of Toyman, Vandal Savage, and Libra while it’s at it, the latter of whom has the closest thing to a season arc that the series inches towards.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is every bit as fun and thrilling as you’d expect from a series where every episode’s title ends with an exclamation point. Each installment is fat-packed with action, and the series has a knack for piling it on in ways I never saw coming. Even with as imaginative and off-the-walls as The Brave and the Bold can get, it still sticks to its own internal logic, so the numerous twists, turns, and surprises are all very much earned.

The majority of the episodes have a cold open not related to the remainder of the episode. Despite its episodic nature, if you’re expecting a big storyline in these 26 episodes, you’re going to be pretty disappointed as the extent of an overarching story in the season is the occasional villain that appears more than once, like Starro, but that’s really the only connecting bridge between episodes.

Season 2 contains one of my favorite episodes of not only this particular season, but probably in the entire series, “Chill of the Night!”, which goes back to Batman’s origins as Bruce Wayne learns more about the man who murdered his parents, turning him into the crime-fighter he would become, it’s one of the most well known origin stories in media, ever, but it’s done so well here. Another reason I love this episode is my blinding nostalgia for the voice cast.

The original 1960’s Batman, Adam West, guest stars as Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, while Julie Newmar, who starred opposite of West as Catwoman from the original Batman TV show, plays Batman’s mother, Martha Wayne. My favorite Batman of all time, theatrical or not, Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series and various other series/movies/games, voices the Phantom Stranger. Lastly, the baddie of the episode, The Spectre, is voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, the definitive voice of the Joker.

The Episodes in season 3 are wildly imaginative; so much so that purists will probably be put off, at least initially. They range from “Night of the Batmen”, where batman is incapacitated and it is up to Aquaman, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man to don the cowl, and keep gotham safe. As weird as that may sound, this episode is pure fun, and a joy to watch. Other stand outs are the never before seen in the states “The Mask of Matches Malone”, “Shadow of the Bat”, “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”, and “Powerless”.

Special mention has to be made of the final episode of the series however, “Mitefall”. In this meta episode, Batmite does a fantastic job breaking down why the series is ending, and the disconnect of the so-called “purists”, whose baseless, closed minded, ignorance eventually doomed this excellent series.

When all is said and done, we received three outstanding, and criminally underrated, seasons and it is a joy to see.