Sunday, December 11, 2022

Darwyn Cooke's Golden Age of Superheroes & "The Lost Opportunity of The New Frontier" | Forbes

A decade has elapsed since the New 52 marketing campaign, and DC Comics continue to find themselves caught in the throes of the worst of flash-in-the-pan commercial gimmicks and redundant reboots. These have been rolled out as an endless cavalcade of corrective measures to adjust from the previous misguided realignment of their properties, only to find themselves back at square one, and with an ever-diminishing readership. All of this done at the imperative of their various marketing and editorial branches (beholden to Warner Brothers), over the benefits of trusting in their artist and writer teams to build substantial storytelling within their fictional universes. In the long term, this will be their loss. Readership will go where talent, creativity, and the rich rewards of artists who are invested in the depth and value of their work is not only appreciated, but the desired objective of the publisher. Over the last decade, the 'big two', being Marvel and DC respectively, have sacrificed the last vestiges of these values in an series of illusory market grabs, under the auspice of lining their pockets. But the numbers have clearly stated otherwise, with readership continuously down since the mid-2010s. But it needn't have been this way. DC Comics themselves had invested in talent and a number of artists and writers at the beginning of that decade, looking to enrich their enterprises with the vitality and energy of independent comics properties of the millennial cusp. Among them, the "The New Design Frontiers of Darwyn Cooke’s Comic Book Art", enhanced a small run of titles with their fresh graphic identity and a more modern, urban, adult sensibility. The Eisner Award-winning comic writer and artist was paired with another contemporary in his field, noir and crime comics author Ed Brubaker, for their bold revamping of the Catwoman character. This pairing was the result of Brubaker's critically hailed and Harvey and Eisner award-winning work on the police procedural comic "Gotham Central", and their shared passion from crime fiction and film noir, which Cooke spoke at length on in the 2007 "The Comics Journal: Darwyn Cooke Interview". Within a span of just a few years, both authors would then leave Marvel and DC, never to return to produce a major work for them, but instead finding longterm residency in the more fertile soil of independent publishers such as Image and IDW. Around this period, Cooke shared his views on where the industry had gone astray, "Darwyn Cooke Gets Honest about 'Before Watchmen'' wherein he detailed the disenfranchising environment of misaligned priorities being handed down by editorial and the overarching corporate bodies of Disney and Warner Brothers.

But this departure was not before Darwyn Cooke delivered one unmitigated and great superhero property for DC, in the form of 2004's "DC: The New Frontier". The story, set in primarily in the 1950s, featured dozens of DC characters and drew inspiration from the Golden and early Silver Age period's comic books, pulp fiction, and cinema, as well as its structure from Tom Wolfe's non-fiction account of the start of the U.S. space program "The Right Stuff". As with much of Cooke's work, it also pulled from the gritty crime fiction of the era, particularly that of James Ellroy, due to the author's penchant for weaving fictional characters into the tapestry of his historic settings. In this way, the major DC characters are introduced in "The New Frontier" in the same manner as their original conception, but with a freshly postmodern outlook on the real world pre-and-post war era, and its social and political concerns. Detailed in Under the Radar's "Darwyn Cooke, Creator of Justice League: The New Frontier" interview, Cooke describes the book's accompanying visual style, which took inspiration from 1950s advertising, album cover, film poster and graphic art, along with the early Marvel works of Jack Kirby, and the 1960s Hanna-Barbera creations of Alex Toth. On the eve of Darwyn Cooke's untimely death in 2016, and the book's reprinting in a new deluxe edition, Forbes pop culture and comics writer Rob Salkowitz published his thoughts in "The Lost Opportunity of The New Frontier"; "Darwyn Cooke's masterpiece offered DC a way to embrace its brand-defining Silver Age legacy without seeming corny or outdated, and welcome new fans into the mythos without driving away long-time readers. The 2004 mini-series that sets the origin of the DC universe in the optimistic era of the early 1960s is not only a complete triumph of the superhero genre, but also a story that could have solved many, many problems for DC here in the 21st century. Instead, we got Zack Snyder's "Batman v. Superman". If the company had been looking for a reset button to bring in new fans without driving old ones away in disgust, "The New Frontier" could have been a useful starting point. Today it’s a curiosity. The Democratic National Convention of the early 60s recognized that, at a moment when competition is fierce, your brand is tarnished and the world seems to be going a different direction, there are worse strategies than to restate your ideals with vigor and hope, not fear and confusion. When a visionary gifts you with a path forward, you should take it."