I started writing a lengthy blog post about Darwyn Cooke’s masterful New Frontier back in March after reading it for the second time, long before I learned that he had fallen victim to “aggressive cancer”.
This is not that post.
In that post I go on at length about the brilliance of the work, how it manages the herculean and seemingly impossible task of combining nostalgia and revisionism into a single, robust narrative, surpassing both and becoming far, far greater than the sum of its parts. I’m still writing it and maybe you’ll see it some day. Maybe not. It’s a tough nut to crack and probably beyond my meager skills as a writer and a thinker, at least at present. If 2016 has taught us anything it is that the clock is ticking for all of us, winding down as it approaches the last hour.
There is a bit of that post in this one but the tone is wholly different. This is far less critical and far more personal.
If a friend asked me why I loved comics so much, they would get a very small stack of books (no more than seven or so) in short order. On top of that stack would be New Frontier. It is to my mind, everything that is good about comics and very, very little (if anything) of what is bad. It has a sense of history and continuity without being inaccessible to the new reader. It has mature themes but would not be inappropriate (or uninteresting) to a kid above the age of 10. The art is dynamic and the writing sparkles with pith and heart. And yes, it is both nostalgic and revisionist in the best possible sense of both of those terms.
Given its setting and its subject matter it’s all too easy to think of New Frontier as one more example of a middle aged, cis-gendered white male telling us how much better things were in the 1950s. If you’re of a more conservative bent you could just as easily read it as just another modern comic that attempts to overcomplicate simple stories with a lot of handwringing and guilt trips designed to pander to the SJW set. Both impressions are mistaken.
What’s so special about New Frontier is the fact that it stands with its feet firmly planted between two highly polarized points of view. It refuses to fully embrace either and as such it becomes something else, something far rarer for a story about men and women in tights and capes fighting crime.
It becomes something real. It asks us to believe that change for the better is possible but that it will not be easy to achieve. It wants us to put aside our petty differences and work together to make a better place.
Thanks for giving us that Darwyn Cooke. We need it now more than ever.