Friday, January 09, 2009

Chapter X: The Greater Good (DC)
Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1 When: May 2008 Why: Darwyn Cooke How: Darwyn Cooke

The Story So Far...
Paradise Island, 1955 -- off the coastal shores of the Amazon's refuge, American intelligence superpowers engage in a secret meeting! Led by King Faraday, the cabal assess the public relations blunder of their recent efforts to round up masked mystery men refusing to cease their unauthorized vigilante activity. Of particular concern, the rebellious dark knight of Gotham City -- the Batman!

Batman's resistence to the US government's anti-outlaw efforts earns him special attention for his penchant for evading capture, overcoming the numerical and weapons superiority of the government's agents. Consequently, the powers-that-be agree to enlist the aid of two of the free world's most powerful allies - warriors from afar capable of superhuman feats - Superman and Wonder Woman!

Gathered aboard the 'neutral territory' of a billionaire's cruise yacht; little does Faraday know that he is in fact conspiring against his host, Bruce Wayne, who uses the opportunity to learn more about their plot to bring down his alias.
Fortunately for Wayne, Wonder Woman refuses to lend her Amazonian powers to the capture of a noble hero, but Superman is not so easily dissuaded.

Though his powers are many, the Man of Steel will not find his stay in Gotham easy. With intelligence on his side, the Batman sets about formulating a potent welcome for his extraterrestrial adversary. One that includes a certain rock...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessARTWORK: Jim LeeStrength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Superman 5 (Lasers)

- After witnessing the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world.
He is also extremely proficient in general urban warfare.

- With the planet Krypton on a path toward destruction, a scientist, Jor-El, bundles his only son into a rocket ship designed to take him far from the impending doom. The young Kal-El would be rocketted far from his home to come to land on the planet Earth, where a yellow sun would grant him the powers to become the man of steel - Superman!

A spiritual leader for the superhero community; Superman has a wide array of physical capabilities to back his presence up, the stalwarts being; super strength, flight, heat-vision, super breath, and super speed. He also has a keen intellect, his Kryptonian brain enhanced in much the way his body is.

A keen strategist, Superman has a broad understanding of sciences and battle tactics, but is often hindered by his own sense of caution and responsibility.

Additional: Together, Superman and Batman are known as one of the most potent crime fighting duos in all of comics - the World's Finest. Their differing ethics, however, have made for one of the most explosive rivalries in the last twenty years. Under varying circumstances the pair have clashed five times previously, on the Infinite Wars, including a vague encounter in Batman #611.

The first chronological issue currently featured on the site was one crucial to establishing the tension between the two icons, despite being completely removed from central continuity. Dark Knight Returns #4 features a dystopian alternate future where the Batman rises up against a government that has ushered the superheroes into obscurity. As a secretive puppet of the government, Superman is charged with the mission of taking the Dark Knight down.
This version of the rivalry was reprised in the also reviewed Dark Knight Strikes Again #1, the first issue in the 2002 sequel to the 1986 Frank Miller classic.

Other clashes see one of the pair influenced by a manipulator: Batman #612, with Superman under the spell of Poison Ivy, and Superman/Batman #23, seeing Batman possessed by a spirit-creature called Kryptonite Man.

History: Batman (3-2-0)
Math: Superman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
When Superman arrives in Gotham City he is met with an unlikely sight, but immediately he recognises it's intentions. High above in the night sky shines the Bat-signal, calling him to a junkyard on the outskirts of the city. The junk piles of wrecked cars are laden with lead paint, drastically minimizing the potential of the Superman's fantastic X-ray vision!

Beside the beacon, Superman finds a note -- "Think fast."
It's then that the Batman makes himself known, sending his warcry through the echoed rumbling of the Batmobile engine! It growls as the machine rumbles to life, bathing Superman in light, before emerging from the darkness!

A rocket fires from the hood, encouraging the Superman to dive left with ease.
The missile sails past in a split second. All part of the plan.

Waiting left is a triggered green spew of discontinued military toxics. Laced with a foam congealing agent, it wraps the Kryptonian in a digusting coccoon of poison. Non-lethal, for him, but nasty just the same, and a crucial delay.

The Batmobile bumps over the writhing blob, sending a blind message to the superman inside, right before the fired rocket topples a few towers of scrap metal on top like a cherry on desert. There's nothing to do now, but run. Put the foot down. Head for the hills and never look back.

In a former life, the Batmobile had been a state-of-the-art speed machine. A car so fast, not even the greatest racer could keep it on a straight line. Yet, even with the Batman fearless in his pursuit of victory, it is not fast enough.

Racing across the beach, toward the hills, the Batman keeps his flying opponent barely at arms length. A spray of oil provides a valuable veil, sticking to the Superman's face, while Batman ignites the vehicle rocket boosters and makes a death-defying turn into a hidden tunnel in the fast approaching cliff face. The alien doesn't have the luxury, careening blindly into the Earth ahead, instead.

With the Batmobile rolled inside the cave, Batman runs into the darkness.
It's alright. The plan's still going to schedule. While Superman furiously pounds his way toward the cave, Batman confers via radio with his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth. A generous coat of lead paint prevents the element of surprise being spoiled.

Hidden cameras observe the Superman's approach, broadcasting to Alfred who mans a speaker system set to disorientate. Waves of sonic reverberations pound at a Kryptonian inner ear enhanced by the Earth's yellow sun. Struggling to maintain a sense of equilibrium, the Superman topples amidst a sea of excited bats. Mounted on a motorcycle, the Batman rides in their shadow.

From behind the beaming motorcycle headlight a pneumatic weapon fires.
Harpoon-like, a sharpened green rock floats through the air attached to wire and weights. The stolen alien rock buries itself in Superman's shoulder as the bola tanble and snare around his body and arms.

Blood sprays for the first time in ages.
The Superman tastes surprise and vulnerability all at once. Pain.

His body floats like a ragdoll on a wagon, bouncing off the walls of the cave.
Dragged on the line, the Superman feels strength leaving his body, and a shoulder burning with agony. The ironic legacy of his heritage; Kryptonite.

Light emerges in the cave and finally the Batman's master plan is revealed.
Spying a metal chamber with open door, Superman knows the cage that is waiting for him. Tasting defeat for the first time, he clings to the Earth that embraced him as a child in a rocket ship, desperately trying to slow his trajectory. It works.

The stubborn weight tugs at the line, jerking the bike to a halt like a bucking bronco. Both men bounce out of control; Batman, into a clutter of computers -- the alien, onto his back as a loosening chunk of dirt flips him over, and the Kryptonite dart tears it's way out of his body.

Batman recovers first.

A kick to the face wakes the Superman, but it's the Batman's words that enrage him. He reaches up to snatch his counterpart by the throat, verbalizing a restraint not seen in his actions. The Dark Knight, showing his own wounds, just grins and dares him to do it. He doesn't get the chance. Wonder Woman stops him!

The Amazon puts herself between the two men and calls for sanity.
Recognising the faults and virtues of both men, she asks them to realise their potential for a greater good. A good that denies the controllers and schemers a world at their control. Reluctant to turn on his masters, Superman is convinced by a single gesture. A show of good faith. Bruce Wayne removes his lead-lined cowl, exposing his entire empire to the government's Superman.

It is a faith well placed.

The Hammer...
Where I come from, a peaceful resolution of this sort, might be deemed a mutual draw. Here on the Infinite Wars, however, we have to make a different assessment, and reward Batman the victory on the point value of his sheer dominance over Superman!

With each year we establish new traditions here on the Infinite Wars, and today's entry represents two of them. In the background, the fun of ranking superheroes drives our choice to reprise last year's leaders for a shot at starting off the new year. Also at work, however, is the gushing fanboy desire to start with one of the biggest rivalries in comics -- Batman vs Superman!

Clutching two of the industry's most recognised icons in each fist to smash them against each other isn't typically the type of edict to garner the respect of the comics intelligencia, (we should know). Even toffy critics had to agree in 2008, however, that there's just something bloody cool about these two fighting!

For the DVD release of the animated adpatation of DC: The New Frontier; the master, Darwyn Cooke, returned to the universe currently dubbed Earth-21. The special offers up three stories from the world of New Frontier, but it's Chapter X that inserts itself into the events of the classic mini-series, doing just a fraction more than offer up a stylish fight sequence.

The subject of Wonder Woman's place in the DCU is something we've discussed several times on the Infinite Wars, and under the cover of innocence, Cooke makes a similar discussion with this tale.

Those who read the original mini already know just how well Cooke presents Wonder Woman on the many fronts that defined the ideal of her character. His Wonder Woman represents the warrior ideals of the Amazon, whilst commenting on the evolving mistrust in a world that has hunted it's heroes.

Chapter X continues along similar lines, using basic politics to emphasise simple differences that make "the Trinity" such an integral part of the Justice League. More importantly, in revealing the extremes that make Batman and Superman as powerful as they are, Cooke discusses the importance of Wonder Woman as a binding influence that unites two stubborn men whose strengths lie in qualities that remove them from understanding mortal men.

Cooke's Wonder Woman draws on both the warrior qualities that make her a practical figure in modern superheroes, but cleverly utilizes the wisdom of a diplomat. Admittedly, her role as a descending voice of humanity could easily be shared as poignantly by any of her counterparts, but neither Batman nor Superman are in particular need of further exploration.

This grasp of characters is vital to the success of what Darwyn Cooke does, but, that said, the greatness of New Frontier quite obviously lies in the visuals.
His history in animation radiates off pages that appear every bit storyboards, as they do, comic book. I think I prefer the latter, but it was a rivetting decision to introduce cartoon audiences to this version of the iconic characters.

As one of the must-have issues of 2008, you can imagine how difficult it was for the Infinite Wars to sit on it, particularly given how brief our liasons with the year's comics have been. I think it was worth it, though. Don't you?

Justice League: The New Frontier Special was never going to trap lightning in a bottle for a second time. The original mini-series remains one of the greatest stories of the decade, if for no other reason than the synergy between concept, and visual design. Cooke is never better than when he's behind the pencil of retro inspired versions of the DC characters, so even if he's just trying to sell you a DVD, there's something to be enjoyed.

Some of Cooke's collaborators jump on board for some fun back-ups featuring Robin, Kid Flash, and an over-the-top feminist Wonder Woman in a strip club.
That said, absence only makes the heart grow fonder. If there's a complaint of the works of these prolific figures in comics, it's that they so rarely seem interested in dedicating massive amounts of time to the medium.

The prospect of other specials hasn't been ruled out by the creator, but it seems it'll be quite some time before there's something more to say about the world of New Frontier. Maybe that's for the best. Chapter X fills in some of the unspoken blanks of the original tale, doing so in brief enough a space to be enjoyed, even though the Batman/Superman lynchpin offers little new.

The Fight: 5.5 The Issue: 5.5

Unfortunately, despite being a valid piece of the story, to the best of our knowledge, "Chapter X" is yet to be included in any collected form. That said, you can find DC: The New Frontier in several formats, including the above linked "Absolute" oversized hardcover edition, or as an adapted animated feature on DVD! For alternate versions of the DVD and more affordable trades, check out the above link to New Frontier, or browse the Infinite Wars Amazon Gift Shoppe, where most reviews featured are on sale. By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars!

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