12.01.2006

Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

The New Frontier: Absolute Edition (DC): Come on, you knew this was coming. This was an easy one! There's little left to say about Darwyn Cooke's grand opus that transitions us from the Golden Age (1950's and just prior) of DC heroes into the burgeoning creativity and mass appeal of the Silver Age (1960's) "superhero" archetype. In short, Cooke (who writes, draws, and inks this masterpiece) offers up a love letter to the DCU. The New Frontier pays its respects to the war-inspired, pulp and classic heroes of a bygone era and presents us with a difficult transition. This period of time was really a turning point for American culture as the optimism of the so called "Great Generation" of people who fought in World War II (hi Grandpa!) faded quietly into the night. The new generation sought to explore the aptly titled "new frontier." It's difficult to capture the qualities of that time, it is equal parts skepticism (Cold War paranoia, McCarthyism, Jack, Bobby, and Martin being assassinated, Kent State, etc.) and hope (scientific and technological advances, Civil Rights being raised to an unprecedented level of public debate, putting a man on the moon, etc.). But Cooke nails it. Those feelings are prevalent even in this fictitious superhero world. There is a sense of sorrow that one chapter, one significant era is being closed and responsibility is solemnly handed off to the next generation of reluctant heroes (Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, etc.) for safekeeping. It's appropriate that the Absolute Edition is oversized, it only underscores the sense that this work, this time period it represents, is weighty and important. There is a changing of the guard that hasn't been equalled. The $75 price tag is worth every nickel, containing extra sketches and detailed notes by Cooke on various design and story elements. It is a pure joy to peruse once again with this additional level of explanation. Grade A+.

New X-Men: Omnibus Edition (Marvel): I'm saddened this week by the passing of X-Men artist Dave Cockrum (Erik Larsen does a bang up job chronicling his life, career, and importance of his contributions in his column over at CBR this week, check it out!), which doesn't have a whole lot to do with this book. Well, it does kinda'. Cockrum is one of those names you hear associated with "that run of X-Men" that people often refer to. He came on with the "All New - All Different!" run that Chris Claremont penned in Giant Size X-Men #1 and Uncanny X-Men #94. John Byrne took over as artist on #108, Cockrum came back around #143 when Byrne eventually left and floated in and out as John Romita Jr. and ultimately Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee got their starts much later with the title. Claremont hung on as writer pretty much for that entire run, well into the 200's. And as we all know, that run from #94 on is basically what defined the X-Men for the generation just before me, my own generation, and the one that followed. We're talking like 15 years of creativity, a singular vision, that gave us Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, The Death of Thunderbird, The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, The Hellfire Club, Kitty Pryde & Emma Frost... the list goes on. Those stories became the canon that the movies and many other titles were based on in terms of tone, characterization, and plot threads... for decades.

Along comes superstar writer Grant Morrison, accompanied by a host of writers boasting their own critical and fan acclaim. There's Frank Quitely, Igor Kordey, Chris Bachalo, and Marc Silvestri, just to name a few. Morrison gives us villain Cassandra Nova and a plethora of re-imaging in the "All New - All Different!" tradition that came before. There's a great degree of historical significance to again, a singular vision like this, being employed for 42 issues of a book. It's all too rare in the creative marketplace of today's medium. Aside from the occasional Bone or Savage Dragon, you really never see that. And Morrison brings an equally ambitious vision to the table, sure it's hampered by the unintentional rotating artist stable, but worthy of note nonetheless. With these offerings this month, it definitely feels that it is a time to honor our comic book history and look hopefully to the future. Grade A.

And since I basically reviewed this book in my intro for the New X-Men Omnibus Edition, let's also throw in the Uncanny X-Men: Omnibus Edition (Marvel). Grade A+.

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