Comics have always had a penchant for the political. Even Stan lee would tell you that from the X-Men’s origins, their story was intended as an allegory for racism. Still, comics don’t always have to hide their true intentions and politically charged representations behind an allegory. Some of DC Universe’s more recent straight-to-video releases have proven that, but none better than Justice League: The New Frontier.
Although cursed with a heavy handed name, the film follows the exploits of the various members of the Justice League in the 1950s. Justice League: The New Frontier finds itself up against an interesting and surprisingly engaging villain who calls into question the morality and ethics of the time period, which I’ll explore later, but the real wonder of the piece is how it positions its heroes, particularly in its opening moments.
The film begins by showing the audience these various heroes in conflict. For Hal Jordan, who later becomes the Green Lantern, this comes in a literal form as he finds himself in Korea at the end of the war. It is only when we see our heroes kill, even if it is out of necessity, you begin to see the ugliness and horror of being a hero. Wonder Woman’s introduction is less obviously political, but still speaks to issues of the time as she goes up against a group of men who have captured and abused a group of women. Once again, the setting of Vietnam at this point has a certain relevance, but what’s more interesting is how Wonder Woman embodies the struggles of the feminist movement that was occurring during this time in American history.
The only issue with this film’s political positioning stems from its roots as an inherently patriotic medium. We have Superman, who some will undoubtedly recognize as the protector of truth, justice, and the American way, but it’s not just him. Wonder Woman’s costuming colors call to mind the American flag, so we see this unabashed patriotism in a number of characters, even aliens such as Superman. This prevents the movie from ever really engaging with its political roots. For instance, in the example of Wonder Woman’s feminist vengeance against the Vietnamese, there’s an odd sense of displacement going on. The attitudes towards the supposedly submissive women of a culture may have existed in Vietnam (in fact, they did) but this was also a battle that women like Wonder Woman were fighting on the homefront. It wasn’t an entirely foreign issue, but due to the overly patriotic nature of the medium, we distance Americans from any wrongdoing. It’s not an absolute refusal of the negative aspects of American history, so it is forgivable, but it remains an unfortunate and impossibly political choice.
Still, what is most surprising about the film, even besides its highly political purpose, is its choice of villains. For those unaware of the movie, the villain itself is simply referred to as The Centre. It has watched as humankind has evolved into what it has become and it is so sickened by mankind’s propensity for evil, that it feels that humankind no longer deserves to live. While this calls in to question the moral debate of “are we inherently or are we inherently evil?” it does so in an interesting way by never providing us with a concrete villain. The Centre never really takes corporeal form, unless he is possessing a person. That being said, the choice of people that The Centre inhabits is somewhat obvious, but telling nevertheless. It only seems to take over the forms of the evil-doers that the Justice league seems to face in their day to day life. Therefore, the Centre, who stands in as evil incarnate, has no face or physical form, except for the evil-doers that plague humanity already. It’s an interesting choice to not give body to something the audience is supposed to feel so strongly about, but in the end, Justice League: the New Frontier never really suffers for it. Its purposeful use of the political and the moral/ethical provide a strong entry into the DC Universe catalog, and one that will not soon be forgotten.