If the only thing that Darwyn Cooke had ever done in comics was his contributions to Batman and Catwoman, he would have a solid legacy. So too just with his adaptations of the Parker novels. Even his tenure on DC’s stint with The Spirit license. Any one thing that he had put his hand to would have secured him a place of honour in the comics industry. He transcended that.

His legacy isn’t limited to one thing, but a catalogue of wonders. And within that catalogue, one piece rises to the top of the rarefied air of all-timers within the superhero genre. With Dave Stewart and Jared K. Fletcher, he created a perennial tale of the bridge between the Golden Age and Silver Age, DC: The New Frontier.

Now there’s something ya don’t see every day.”

When you think about legacy within the DC Universe, you typically think of the legacy heroes. Green Lantern. The Flash. The Atom. Black Canary. Robin. And so many more. Of the mantles being passed from one person to the next as the stories traverse into new eras. DC’s Silver Age was practically founded on it as the Justice Society gave way to the Justice League. A new age of heroes was ushered in utilizing the names of old.

DC: The New Frontier isn’t really about that explicitly, though there is an element of it. It’s about the legacy of the transition from one era to the next that never really played out on the page. It’s about the legacy of the creators who brought to life the tales of the superheroes and of the other genre books that kept comics afloat during the dark period after Wertham and the Comics Code Authority. It’s about a ’50s that we never got to see before. And it’s brilliant.

With Dinosaur Island as its centre, Darwyn Cooke crafts a tale that imagines no Earth-1 or Earth-2 to reconcile the Golden and Silver Ages of DC, but one where the universe progressed from one to the next. It cleverly uses real life elements like McCarthyism to explain what happened to the Justice Society era heroes. Why the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fell on dark times during the interim, when they had been active previously. The activities of the non-superhero groups that protected the world in between. And the early actions of the new heroes like Martian Manhunter, Barry Allen, and Hal Jordan before their debut. It gives in-universe rationale for everything that happened in real life to the comics themselves.

You can tell them I’m over here winning the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised.”

New Frontier

It’s told mainly in pages filled with three tiers. Each tier often with one panel. It gives it both a regular rhythm and an epic, larger-than-life feel. The pacing sped up when Cooke splits up a tier with more panels. Or blown up larger when he chooses a full page splash.

It also makes the storytelling deviations more interesting when the narrative shifts to a text-based report on trying to capture vigilantes that didn’t submit during McCarthy’s witch hunts. Or the pages that present the evidence surrounding the dangerous mystery holding everything together. And the newsreels, complete with a visual static and shift to black and white.

This latter also greatly accomplished by Dave Stewart’s colours and Jared K. Fletcher’s letters. Stewart and Fletcher provide the accent notes that really make Cooke’s song shine.

…it’ll never feel this good again.”

DC: The New Frontier by Cooke, Stewart, and Fletcher is timeless. It occupies a place alongside other perennial classics like Marvels and Kingdom Come, and personally I’d say in ways it even exceeds them. It plays with the same ideas of nostalgia and legacy and then elevates them to push a further idea of hope and optimism. It’s not just a look back, it’s also a blueprint for a brighter future. Cooke leaves a legacy of wonder.

New Frontier

Classic Comic Compendium: DC – The New Frontier

DC: The New Frontier
Writer & Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: January 21 2004 – September 29 2004 (original issues)
Available collected in DC: The New Frontier – Volumes 1 & 2 and DC: The New Frontier – Black Label Edition

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!


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