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Fresh Looks at Classics

One of the things that I am jealous to hear is when a friend tells me he/she hasn’t read a classic comic book. I am jealous because they get to experience these classics for the FIRST time, which I won’t get to do anymore. It got me thinking that perhaps it would be neat to hear from some of these folks, to hear a fresh look at comic classics.

Here’s the first one, courtesy of my pal, Sean, who just recently read Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier for the first time.

Enjoy!

So some of you may have heard about this little comic called New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. In short, it’s a run down of DC’s Silver Age history. For someone like me, who has by and large been mostly a Marvel fan, and only got into comics in the early 90s, New Frontier serves as an excellent introduction to many of the classic, iconic versions of the DC heroes.

To start off with, let’s look at J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. My basic knowledge of the character consisted of the fact that he was from Mars (obviously), was green (also obviously), and for some reason was afraid of fire. Getting to see his origin, how he came to Earth and struggled to find his niche, has fleshed out his character immensely. His decision to become a police detective serves to strengthen the overall theme of true heroism that builds throughout the entire series. Favorite scene: J’onn watching TV and changing into the various images onscreen, particularly Bugs Bunny.

Another of the characters is the Barry Allen incarnation of the Flash. Again, I’m not too familiar with him. He can run fast and wears red. That’s about it. Reading New Frontier, I now feel I have a better grasp of his motivations. Barry seems to be the more family oriented of the heroes. Iris is his love and inspiration, and it is for her that he puts on the suit. His sense of heroism stems from his need to protect the one he loves, which is perhaps the greatest motivation of all. Favorite scenes: snow in the desert, punching out King Faraday.

There are also the various human characters throughout the story. The Losers, the Challengers of the Unknown, The Blackhawks. While I’m familiar with the current incarnations of these groups, their past iterations were a mystery to me. The entire opening portion of the book is dedicated solely to the Losers, and tells their entire tale. There is not much that is more heroic than a group of men performing their duty knowing full well that they will more than likely not return. Favorite scenes: John Cloud jumping into the mouth of a T-Rex,m when the Challengers all first meet up.

Ultimately, however, I’d say the main character of the series is Hal Jordan. Not the Hal Jordan the Green Lantern, even though he is one, by Hal Jordan the man. My Green Lantern knowledge was limited to knowing he had a ring and was afraid of the color yellow. By reading New Frontier, I’ve come to learn that Hal Jordan’s origin wasn’t being given the ring by the alien. Hal Jordan’s character is forged through the entire series. He is a hero long before obtaining the ring. I would even go as far as to say that he is the epitome of heroism. Of all the characters, he is also the most human. Hal is a hero for no reason other than it is the right thing to do. Favorite scenes: kissing Carol Ferris goodbye, flying for the first time, flinging the Centre out into space.

New Frontier was a fantastic read. The themes, character arcs, artwork, basically everything involved is absolutely phenomenal. But what it really boils down to, is fun. In a time where the average superhero comic is trying to shock and awe with its realism, New Frontier comes along and kicks all of that to the curb, focusing on the pure joy of heroes. It expertly captures that inner magic from our childhood when we first read about these characters.

26 Comments

i agree w/ u on all counts as i just reqad it recently myself and am primarily a marvel fan…i still think quicksilver’s cooler than the flash tho :P

i still think quicksilver’s cooler than the flash tho

Apples and oranges.

I am the only one in the world who didn’t like this. I tried to sell both volumes, read once, on ebay for half price. No one bid :-(

“I am the only one in the world who didn’t like this.”

Pretty much.

I liked New Frontier. It was slow paced and had to build up to full blown superhero action but I enjoyed myself seeing the creation of the DCU.

I’m mostly a Marvel guy too and can’t believe someone thinks Quicksilver’s cooler than The Flash.

I liked New Frontier a lot, although I like Marvels more- despite perferring Darwyn Cooke’s art to Alex Ross’.

I think that the current stuff being done with Quicksilver is more interesting than what is being done with Flash.

i only really say that because to me as a character quicksilver has a place in the mu but flash seems redundant in the dcu – he can do ONE of the quadrillion things superman can do but a little bit better. and there’ve been about four of him. quicksilver is the rebellious son of the mutant equivalent of dr doom, always struggling to please his father but also a hero…that’s not to say frontier’s barry allan isn’t incredible

Fanboy D- Have you read X-Factor (current version)? Quicksilver’s personality, powers, and motives have been turned around (as seen in several comics I haven’t read, like Son of M). He’s now a “villain,” and a very interesting one.

I finally got around to reading New Frontier a few weeks ago. It was a quality comic book, with serveral enjoyable scenes and excellent artwork. The problem I had was the pacing- the multiple story threads didn’t come together as neatly as I like, and some sequences were not entirely compelling (I found the Hal Jordan scenes in the middle repetitive). I would have liked to see equal time given to the big 3, as Superman & Wonder Woman lacked presence until the end. I liked New Frontier, I just didn’t like it as much as I thought I should.

yeah I don’t like the direction they’ve been going in with the new Flash. Feels like they’ve been messing up there the past 2 years.

I just have never been a fan of Quicksilver. I could never stand him.

I just can’t bring myself to care about Hal Jordan. Ever.

I enjoyed a lot of other material in New Frontier, especially the Martian Manhunter segments, but the relentless focus on Hal Jordan just utterly killed the story for me. I stopped reading halfway through the fifth issue because I was unable to bring myself to care what happened anymore.

This is the part where I shake my walking stick at all you whippersnappers and say it’s not a “fresh look at a classic” if said classic is less than five years old. I love the book too, but I think a little time has to pass before we start throwing words like ‘classic’ around.

That’s more or less what I was going to say, Greg, with the additional caveat that I’d never heard of ‘New Frontier’ until I started reading this blog. I’m not saying it’s not a classic, but it’s not out there getting referenced as one in the same way that, say, ‘Sandman’ or ‘Dark Knight Returns’ or ‘Bone’ is.

When you say, “I envy someone getting their first chance to read a classic comic,” I flash to Alan Moore’s ‘Swamp Thing’ run, or perhaps ‘Watchmen’ or ‘V for Vendetta’. ‘New Frontier’ just doesn’t spring to mind.

New Frontier is my second favorite story in comics (Flex Mentallo is tops in my book) so I guess I would consider it an “instant classic.” It is such an exuberant tale and, in so many ways, really conveys everything that is great about superhero comics.

Classic? Ehhhhhh

Okay.

(I’m so old.)

“Instant clasic” works for me!

New Frontier was okay. The art was quite nice and the story was decent enough, but I really can’t see why it gets quite so much love – unless it’s pure nostalgia at work

‘Classic’ is a tricky term. It’s rather subjective. To me, in regards to comics, it means a story that I will remember and enjoy even years after my first time reading it. Like ‘Dark Knight Returns’ or the original coming of Galactus story.

But different people enjoy different things. While I can marvel at the storytelling craft of ‘Watchmen’, I never really enjoyed the story. So for me, it’s not a ‘classic’. Let me stress the “for me” part of that statement.

The term ‘instant classic’ works for me too. There are some stories that you enjoy so much the first time, that you just know that you’re going to revisit them again and again. If only we had more of those…

I don’t know if I’d agree that the term “classic” is subjective so much as frequently misused. I’d say something that is a classic is something that has won universal acclaim (or near-universal; you can always find people who will argue against the consensus opinion) and has withstood the test of time.

So, for example, ‘Citizen Kane’ is a classic movie, while something recent (like, say, ‘Slither’, which I consider to be the best horror movie of the last decade) is not, no matter how good I think it is.

Keep in mind, when I say that I don’t think that ‘New Frontier’ is a “classic”, this isn’t to say that I think it’s bad. Far from it, I’ve got no opinion one way or another on its quality. I haven’t read it yet. But it fails both tests; it hasn’t won universal acclaim (as I mentioned, the only place I really see it pimped is this blog) and it hasn’t withstood the test of time (because it’s a relatively recent release.) Obviously, time can and possibly will change both of those things, and when/if it does, good for it. This is not (and I want to stress, not) a hate on ‘New Frontier’. I have plenty of things I love to death (Karl and Barbara Kesel’s run on ‘Hawk and Dove’) that I couldn’t honestly call classic. (Even though it should be.)

And “instant classic” is, in my humble opinion, a meaningless term of hype. It’s a marketing term for “really good”, and nothing more. To me, the essential part of “classic” is that whole “withstanding the test of time” thing; after all, how many people wanted to call ‘The Matrix’ an “instant classic” only to see ‘The Matrix Reloaded’? :)

Since New Frontier’s status as a classic is debatable, how about someone give me something else to look at?

Of the examples mentioned so far in the comments, I have not read any Swamp Thing or Sandman. And most of the others I have only just read within the past 3 years.

New Frontier probably feels more like it could be a classic because it’s so retro.

Since New Frontier’s status as a classic is debatable, how about someone give me something else to look at?

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing
The Dark Knight Returns
Batman: Year One
Frank Miller’s Daredevil
Daredevil: Born Again
Walter Simonson’s Thor
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
Grant Morrison’s Animal Man
Keith Giffen’s Justice League (or at least the first 2/3 of that run)
Denis O’Neil and Neil Adams’s Batman
Crisis on Infinite Earths
Cerebus (from High Society to Jaka’s Story)
The Preacher
Transmetropolitan
Miracleman
Watchmen
V for Vendetta
Marvels
Astro City

More personally (and therefore possibly not accurately by John Seavy’s definition)
Andy Hefler’s The Shadow
Dennis O’Neil’s The Question
Elektra Assassin
The Golden Age

Classic certainly CAN have a meaning of “standing the test of time,” but it doesn’t have to. In fact, dictionary.com goes through SIX meanings before mentioning “standing the test of time,” (granted, meanings 7 and 8 both mention it).

I certainly do not begrudge folks using their definition of it, but it does not mean mine is not accurate, as well.

Very true–I went and looked up the same definition you used, and if you were using #1 (“Of the first or highest quality, class, or rank”), and I was using #12 (“an author or a literary work of the first rank, esp. one of demonstrably enduring quality”) or #7 (“of enduring interest, quality, or style”), we would definitely be talking at cross-purposes. Which is always where the trouble starts, isn’t it?

But I still would say that ten years is a good rule of thumb to give something before calling it a classic, myself…I’d be wary even of calling ‘Transmetropolitan’ a classic just yet, even though I feel it’s destined to be one (“destined to be a classic”, another great meaningless hype term. I think Stan Lee might have copyrighted that one.) So ask me again about ‘New Frontier’ in 2010. :)

I think that ‘standing the test of time’ is more important than ‘nearly universal acclaim’. Acclaim can be generated by fads and be gone in a year (or less). But if a work can still generate buzz fifteen years later, then I would have to say that it reflects quality.

But always remember boys and girls; just because something is called a Classic doesn’t mean you have to like it or enjoy it!

And John, I have to agree with you about ‘Slither’ :)

Hmm… I’m not sure something has to be old to be a classic, but maybe we need the hindsight of age to be sure something qualifies. Maybe New Frontier will be less well received in 10 years time than it is now

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