Darwyn Cooke is a legendary creator. One of his finest works was called DC: The New Frontier. This is part 1 of 2 of us diving into the book.
DC: The New Frontier is a work of art. Not only because the art is amazing, but because Darwyn Cooke does such a great job with the storytelling. This episode of Hypertime to Podcast is our first two-part episode, with this first episode discussing the origins behind DC: The New Frontier and the first section of the story.
Notes for the podcast:
After the success of Batman: Ego, DC Comics approached Darwyn Cooke to do a Justice League project. Darwyn took a look at the type of Justice League stories that had been told and wanted to do something different. So he decided to write about the period just before they became the Justice League. Since Darwyn was also the most interested in the time period (he says he was a student of its history, fashion, etc) New Frontier took place in (1945-1960), he felt that would be the best fit.
When Darwyn Cooke was originally coming up with DC: The New Frontier to pit it against a real time period, it led to a lot of pushback on editors. Many tried to force it into the continuity of the books. So every outline had to go through each editorial team (Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc) which would result in stuff like pulling Wonder Woman and using Black Canary instead. There came a point after a year where he worked everything out to make sense in continuity, and then received a call from Paul Levitz.
Paul asked him where that original story went he originally proposed. Darwyn explained the situation and Paul decided to override everything before and let Darwyn write the book he originally wanted to write without worrying about continuity. Anytime one of the editors would push back, Paul’s approval gave Darwyn the confidence to just say “no”. During this entire time, he was a little burnt out after having already completed the book once, and now was going to re-write it again. Before re-doing New Frontier, he wanted to write Selina’s Big Score to see if that project worked out smoothly before investing himself in New Frontier again. Although he started out doing Catwoman with Ed Brubaker, working on New Frontier started to overlap and take over his life again. So what he thought would be a larger workload with Catwoman, became smaller as New Frontier and Catwoman overlapped. Selina’s Big Score would eventually come out, but after New Frontier released.
Since Darwyn wanted New Frontier as accurate as possible for the time period, he did a ton of research. Not only was he doing research on…say, the structure of planes, but he also did research on the DC characters themselves to try and introduce them in the world about the same time they were first published. This is why, as the Golden Age dies and the Silver Age comes about, he focused on characters such as Flash and Green Lantern; although he debated having the Challengers of the Unknown as a bigger focus due to them being the first real big hit of the Silver Age.
The story of DC: The New Frontier begins in The Pacific, 1945. You see a man and his dog in a cave, surrounded by weapons and ammunition, writing a story on the cave wall. He’s telling his story. THEIR story. The story of The Losers. They were on a rescue mission to save anyone aboard a crashed plane on a remote pacific island. As they near the island, something big causes the boat to capsize but they make it to the island. As they get their bearings, they notice a giant t-rex, and the t-rex notices them. The Losers start an attack with a missile launcher, but lose one of their own – Gunner. They are able to drive the t-rex away with some grenades, costing it it’s arm, but it was enough to scar Sargent Cloud mentally.
They are able to locate a cave that shows signs of other people being there – rations, weapons, etc; all from different troops around the world. They decide to wait there and see if the ones they were sent to rescue will show up. However, the next morning Skipper and Cloud are startled awake by rocket fire, and they quickly learn the tyrannosaurus wasn’t the only dinosaur on the island. As they investigate thinking it’s Sargent Cloud, they are attacked by a pterodactyl. They fight back, but Skipper ends up being carried off. When Cloud returns to the cave, he is met by one of the men they were sent to rescue – Colonel Flagg, who tells Cloud that the Sargent didn’t make it. Flagg’s crew didn’t make it, but he has the papers that were important to the mission, so they decide to make their escape. When they find their lifeboat, Cloud decides he will force Flagg to leave the island and complete his mission. However Cloud already had his brothers lost there, and he finds it his responsibility to take down the t-rex that killed Gunner.
Cloud goes on the search and comes across the t-rex after spending one last night beside his fallen brothers, but forgets one thing Flagg told him – Flagg set traps around the island. One giant blast later, Cloud is looking worse for wear and his dog companion dies. Cloud stands up, pulls the pins on the grenades, and leaps off the cliff he’s on into the open mouth of the t-rex.
The next few pages bring the reader up to speed with what’s going on in the world. After World War I, people thought superheroes weren’t necessary despite many problems happening in society from racism, free speech violations, and more. The Spear of Destiny was held by the Nazi’s which kept heroes at bay leaving World War 2 in the hands of normal people, and nuclear war was potentially on the brink. Superheroes in the US were deemed vigilantes and needed to either unmask or retire, resulting in the end of the Golden age of superheroes. JSA retired. Spectre didn’t care. Captain Marvel disappeared. Batman couldn’t be caught. Meanwhile superheroes like Wonder Woman and Superman helped the government to enforce foreign policy covertly.
We change scenery to a bar where a young Hal Jordan walks in looking for his hero and finds him. Hal’s dad used to fly with him. He gets Yeager to sign a model airplane he used to fly.
Another flash to Gotham City 1952. A chase is on as police are trying to catch Hourman as he runs across rooftops. Unfortunately, four policemen and Hourman fall to their deaths all because of the administration trying to round up heroes. We learn in the paper written by Iris West not only the outcome of Hourman, but also other cases involving “Un-American Activities”. We also learn that the President tried to have Superman round up Batman (failed), we are told about Task Force X (Suicide Squad) led by Rick Flagg, and more.
We flash to some dogfighting in the sky. Ace Morgan and Hal Jordan are in battle with some other pilots and Hal’s plane gets shot down. He is injured during it and passes out, but Ace is able to rescue him during free-fall and pulls his chute. At the same time, we see Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen hopping aboard a helicopter and are about to fly over where Hal Jordan soon lands. Which is on top of a Korean soldier shortly after coming to. The soldier is knocked out briefly and Hal signals a flare to be rescued, but it also catches the eye of other Korean soldiers. However the one he lands on gets back up and tries to kill Hal. Then Hal does the unthinkable after failing to convey the war is over, and shoots the soldier in the head in a fight for survival. The helicopter sees the flare and is capable of saving Hal, who at that moment, remembers the Korean language enough to say that war is over.
Another flash to a different part of the world. An observatory where an old man apologizes to a shadowy figure about bringing him to Earth from Mars. The shadowy figure stands up. Green. Bi-pedal and humanoid, but definitely not human.
Another flash, this time to Indo-China where Superman discovers a destroyed village with dead men. He hears some celebration and investigates to find Wonder Woman surrounded by other women. Superman came in search of Wonder Woman who went AWOL two weeks prior. During a mission to bring back an airplane and it’s American men, she noticed a rebel camp with women held in cages. Wonder Woman came back to the camp that night and disarmed the men and freeing the women. She then gave them a choice, which resulted in them gunning down the men who killed their families and raped them.
Superman is shocked at Wonder Woman standing by, but she defends her stance (quote her – page 82). She sends Superman on his way and not backing down to what she felt was right.
Another flash, this time Gotham City in 1955. We see the martian watching tv. His intake of the various programs leads him to his moral stance of good vs evil. Specifically detective shows. He decides to take up the persona of John Jones, police detective.
Another flash of the next couple years. Barry Allen being hit by lightning. Russia taking to the stars, and Eisenhower pledging to fight communism and beat the Russians in their space effort.
Gotham City again, 1957. John Jones and Slam Bradley are on a case to find a missing child. John gets one of his “hunches” and busts into a church where the child is held. They aren’t first though as they catch the Batman fighting some cultists. However the place catches on fire and John becomes immobile. Despite his incapacitation at the sight of fire, the child is saved by Batman who is terrified of him. John locates a book and takes it home with him as the ominous threat of the Centre is spoken by the cult leader.
Chapter five begins with a boxing match between Ted “Wildcat” Grant and a man 12 years younger than him by the name of Cassius Clay in Las Vegas. Various familiar faces are in the crowd – Bruce Wayne, Dinah Lance, Ollie Queen, Lois Lane, etc. Clay almost wins by KO until Grant is saved by the bell, but the following round Grant comes back and wins. Soon after, a celebration is being held. Hal and Ace telling stories to a couple women, other heroes are having conversations, and eventually Captain Cold breaks the celebration.
Iris is on the phone with Barry, and he hears her cries for help as Cold freezes her hand. Barry grabs his Flash suit and darts out towards Vegas. He thaws out Iris’s hand, gives her a quick smooch, and starts at Cold who diverts him to bombs around the city. He learns that Cold lied about one of the bombs to keep him busy during the escape, but he doesn’t fall for it and captures Cold. This results in one of the scenes that Darwyn really wanted to write about – snow in Las Vegas.
Another cut to just afterwards where Hal is having a heart-to-heart with Ace. He tells Ace what happened in Korea and how he feels like damaged goods and not happy with where he is in life at the moment. Ace gives him some good news though in that he got Hal an interview with Carol Ferris to join Ferris Aircrafts.
Another flash during chapter six where we see daredevil Matthew Ryan having a nightmare of a plane crash he and his friends were in and should have died in. He drives off in hopes to get some answers about why he keeps dreaming the same thing.
Next scene is Hal and Carol having dinner for his interview. He passes with flying colors and successfully flirts his way into the heart of his soon to be boss.
Flash back to Ryan who stops at the site of the plane crash. Surprisingly, his friends are there too for the exact same reason. They were having nightmares and being pulled to the same spot. Thus the reuniting of the Challengers of the Unknown.
Another scene. Knoxville Tennessee. A burning home and disappearing hoods. A black man falls to the ground with a noose around his neck who saw his whole world destroyed. Had to listen to his wife and child scream until they couldn’t anymore in their burning home. The man gets up and walks into the distance in search of “the triangles”.
Next scene showcases Task Force X in battle with a pterodactyl. The beast grabs one of their men (Evans) and flies off with him. Evans uses thermite to explode in the air – right above the Statue of Liberty. During the funeral, Flagg mentions that he has seen something very similar before on an island in the Pacific.
Tennessee again. The story of John Henry being told as shadows show a man with a hammer in his hand. Exertion. Creation of a hammer.
In California, Hal is heading towards Ferris Airfield when he comes across Colonel Flagg waiting to meet him. It’s clear they will get along just fine…
Hal is entered in a container and dropped into the water to perform some tests. During this time, he reflects on a letter he wrote to his brother detailing the various exercises being conducted on him. He mentions he is falling head over heels for Carol and how him and Flagg aren’t exactly friends. Hal passes the test with flying colors, and after a quick jab at the Colonel, Hal is told about Task Force X and Flagg’s history.
Tennessee once more. Black people being murdered. Churches being burned. And some klansmen on the hunt. However, they learn they are being hunted by a black man with an axe to grind. Or in this case, two very large hammers.
Next scene is with John Jones. He goes to the movies where he sees a Superman cartoon (think Fleischer) and a newsreel about the Challengers of the Unknown. A movie starts about humans meeting a martian. Not realizing it’s not a comedy, John cracks up at the bad dialogue and the horrible props. Upon returning to his apartment, he’s met by Batman who seems to know there’s more to John than meets the eye. He is looking for more information about the night at the church 18 months prior. He wants to work together, but gives a warning to John in case his trust is misused: “It took a seventy-thousand dollar sliver of meteor to stop the one in Metropolis. With you, all I need is a penny for a book of matches”.
Washington DC and Wonder Woman receiving a congressional medal of diplomatic citizenship to the USA. During her speech, NIxon cuts her off. Shortly afterwards, Wonder Woman is told to take an extended vacation and essentially she isn’t needed anymore.
Cut to Hal and Carol driving in the desert. Carol has a surprise for Hal by showing him the true Ferris Aircraft. They seem to be developing more advanced equipment and vehicles than previously known. Hal is then introduced to Faraday who tells Hal he was hoping for someone better, but has to make due. Then he informs Hal of what brought the government to this point – German engineering being passed among allies, Russia heading into space, America trying to catch up, Task Force X and one of their divisions the Suicide Squad to face the paranormal, and finally the arrival of an alien at the observatory several years back. Hal, who always wanted to go to space, finally may have his chance as he is told they are going to Mars.
John Jones is able to open the book he took from the cult member using the key Batman provided upon their meeting. Reading it, he learns of a viking who found himself on an island covered with dinosaurs. He too was able to escape, but the book had one additional detail – a large presence that could dwarf planets and block out the sun. Upon touching the page, John is flooded with feelings of death, suffering, and despair. He learns that whatever that thing is, it’s not on it’s way…it’s already here.
- The inspiration for New Frontier came from the Tom Wolfe Book and film adaptation The Right Stuff as well as books from James Ellroy due to his ability to insert fictional characters into real history.
- The first issue received a lot of flak from publishers because it involved characters that would be deemed inconsequential to the story, all die off immediately, and people wouldn’t remember. But Darwyn set a goal to himself that he would make people care about these people only needing one issue, and if he succeeded in doing that, writing about Superman and Flash would be a breeze.
- Darwyn focused on Hal Jordan as one of the main characters because it was one of his favorites growing up. He loved not only what Hal was (a pilot and space cop) but thought his design was better than other heroes (no underwear/capes, no unneeded flaps or pockets – simple and slick). He was also making him a hero again after what Hal Jordan had become in Parallax. Darwyn wanted to show the world why Hal was cool in the first place and tried to remodel him for more current audiences.
- Darwyn would have conversations with some fighter pilots to try and get the realism as close as possible. One of those was artist/writer Mike Allred (Madman, iZombie, Silver Surfer) who is an Air Force veteran previously stationed in Germany.
- DC had problems with Darwyn’s design of Wonder Woman. During that period specifically, they were less thrilled with a more built (Darwyn says they would use “Chunky”) Wonder Woman that matched the Greek Goddess/Amazonian warrior moniker that Darwyn envisioned her as Look up Michael Turner Wonder Woman if you want to see what DC had Wonder Woman looking like at the time. In Darwyn’s own words “Like basically a 14-year old with boobs bigger than her head.”
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Intro and Outro Music: “RetroFuture Clean” by Kevin MacLeod
RetroFuture Clean Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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