Darwyn Cooke Stands on the Edge of "The New Frontier"

Mon, February 18th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Justice League: The New Frontier" DVD on sale next week

When Darwyn Cooke first pitched "DC: The New Frontier" in 1999, he knew he was onto something. He just had no idea it would be so big.

With the animated version of the award-winning story due in stores on DVD next week and a "Justice League: The New Frontier Special" comic book scheduled for March 5, the acclaimed Cooke told CBR News, "I guess every now and then you get something right. So this is the time I got something right."

"DC: The New Frontier," originally released in miniseries form in 2003 and 2004 and collected into trade paperbacks and DC Comics Absolute format in 2004 and 2005, garnered multiple Eisner and Harvey awards.

"It's funny, because it has sort of invisibly added up to an incredible amount of time," said Cooke. "But geez, you know, I am just so happy for it. That people have embraced it the way they have is great. But nothing is better than when I go to one of the shows and meet the people, who have actually read it and they are telling me why it meant something to them. That is such a big part of it for me.

"And if I end up being 60 and that's how it is," continued the 45-year-old Cook, "I am sitting at the convention and guys want to talk to me about that book, I think I am going to be happy."

Meaning, there are worse legacies to have? "I think so, at this point," responded Cooke. "I think I can live that. And if I can hit it again like that, one more time that would be nice and if not, I am happy to toil in obscurity."

To possibly "hit it" again, Cooke said he does indeed have an idea for a sequel to "DC: The New Frontier," but the book isn't even on the radar right now in terms of production. "At this point, it probably won't happen," said Cooke. "Anything like that would have to be motivated by something. I doubt anything like that is going to just happen out of the blue. But if there is good reasons for it, as we go along, then sure. I haven't made a decision, ultimately in my head, of whether I ever want to go back and crack it open again, which is why these smaller stories [like 'Justice League: The New Frontier Special'] are fun. The idea of really seriously going back to it, I don't know. I really don't know.

"I have a story in mind. And it would take us up to the year 1972. That's when [Jack] Kirby comes to DC, basically. And so I would probably say, if there was a sequel, it would span that time period from when Kennedy is elected until then. Right now, at this point, it's pure vapor and rumor."

Cooke said with the re-releases, the animated film and now the special, his work on "New Frontier" has been steady for nearly a decade. "It's really never gone away," laughed Cooke. "Between putting the trades, and the Absolutes and the toys and then the movie development, I have never really been able to get far enough away from it that it feels foreign to me."

"I must say, putting the movie together, that's adapting to another medium, so it's a whole different set of muscles but in terms of the special, it was easy to just slip back into it the characters," said Cooke, who was heavily involved in the production of "Justice League: The New Frontier." It started out when script development began. I was involved in the process of reviewing the drafts of the script. And from that point, once they had a script that the Warner Bros. studio was happy with, there were still several things that I thought enhanced or brought into it.

"I did a polish re-write at the end of the script process which I think just sharpened a lot of the character arcs. In some cases, such as characters like Lois Lane, I completely wrote her into the film because she wasn't in the finished screenplay they had come up with. From that point, I worked pretty closely, mostly with the director, David Bullock, and once the script was ready and they started assembly a crew, I got involved in the design, so geez, I designed all the major characters. Glenn Wong and Jason Bone and a couple of other young guys definitely chipped in but the main characters in the film, I definitely took care of. That was heck of a lot because it's quite a cast.

"And the other thing we wanted to do, and I think it made all of the difference in the world, is that every time you see a character, they are in different clothing," continued Cooke. "Like Carol Ferris, I think she has six wardrobe changes in the film. Which usually, in an animated show, the guy has one suit that he wears everyday. So this was a monumental production in that regard, because even if you just look at a guy like Hal Jordan, we have him as a fighter pilot, we have him out for dinner in suit and tie, we have him in his flight training gear, we have him as an astronaut, we have him as Green Lantern so there was a lot of design work to keep it authentic.

"I was also involved in the storyboards for the film. I think it works out to about ten percent of the movie. And I was also involved in a lot of the color and consulting art direction; creative consulting, I suppose. Again, I worked really closely with the director. He and I basically kept in contact on a daily basis throughout that part of the production, to go over the story and adding a lot of thing back into the film that the script couldn't accommodate."

Cooke said he is not easily impressed, but what he and the creative team have produced for the animated "New Frontier" left him nodding, "Yes. I'll tell you, I am a tough guy to be blown away," said Cooke. "And I am probably as close to the thing as a person could get but I was pretty impressed. And again, I qualify that, I am very impressed considering the time and the budget that we do these types of things on, it's damn good.

"I can't think, well, since maybe 'Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker,' this is the best thing I have seen in this category. And it's maybe even better than that, if I may say so? It really came out well. What amazes me is how intact everybody's story really is."

Like the film, Cooke said the comic special was a natural next step for "The New Frontier." It just seemed like a natural thing. I was out for lunch with [DCU Executive Editor] Dan [DiDio] in San Diego and he mentioned it and I said, 'Why not' and we kind of took it from there," said Cooke. "Maybe it's a little corny but the special is set up like an old special used to be. It sort of has a bit of connective tissue. There are a few framing pages.

"The notion is both the special and the movie were produced back during the early 1960s, but the government seized them and classified the stuff," explained Coke. "So it's like a first look at this stuff that's been in a vault for all of these years, just to have a little more fun with it."

Cooke said the special includes three stories and the features, written and drawn by the creator, returns readers to a key moment from the original series.  "In 'The New Frontier,' there is an article that appears about superheroes being hunted down and Hourman dying and Batman and Superman having a big duel where Batman actually defeats Superman. It's the story behind all of that," revealed Cooke. "What it does is give me a chance to have those two beat the crap out each other, which some people say, 'Oh no, not again.' But well, heh, you know, sorry, you only live once and here we go.

"But it's all 1950s style. The technology for this type of a fight for Batman, he's got to be incredibly ingenious because technology-wise, it's a different world.

"We also see that the fight is stopped or the conclusion or resolution of the story comes from a really unexpected place and we see it that there was something working throughout the story of 'The New Frontier' that readers weren't aware of and that all comes clear in this tale."

Cooke continued, "The second [story] is a Wonder Woman/Black Canary story about the fight for feminism back during 'The New Frontier' era and it's a full blown comedy that I have written and J. Bone is doing the art on.

"And the third story features Robin and that story is written by me and it is drawn by David Bullock, the director the animated movie."

While no future specials are in the works, Cooke said DC's long-established publishing history is the perfect place to cull future stories for "The New Frontier" era. "There are stories within the main stories. And those are some of the things that are in the special," said Cooke. "And of course, there is the whole notion of what happens after 'The New Frontier' concludes. So, there is the potential for every type of story. There is certainly a big one as to what happens next. And there is room for lots of little ones, as well. Whether we ever do a sequel or a big one is still a big if. And it certainly isn't going to be happening anytime soon."

Cooke also spoke about his departure from DC's re-imagined "The Spirit," a title for which the writer-artist won considerable acclaim.  "Working on 'The Spirit' was really a lot easier than I thought it would be once I got over the notion that I was doing Will Eisner's 'Spirit,'" said Cooke, who wrote the first 12 issues of the 2006 series featuring Denny Colt, the 1940s' masked crime fighter known to ne'er-do-wells only as The Spirit. "I had a lot of energy for what we attempted to do. Every month, the notion was to try to tell a story that was complete but also had a completely different tone than the one you read the month before. And that was a lot of fun to be able to mix horror and crime and adventure and comedy and satire and all of these different elements up and keep it really exciting. It was like, okay, this is our satire of the media. This is our zombie story. This is our big crime story. This is our big chase story.

"It was a lot of fun to try to keep a certain amount of consistency to Denny and the world but jump all over the place the way Will [Eisner] used to."

Cooke said what he loves most about The Spirit is that at the end of the day, "He's just a guy. It's funny because I felt that by the time we got to the end of it that the characters are a really perfect fit for me because he's not meta or whatever you young whipper snappers call 'em these days," laughed Cooke. "He's just a guy. And even more than that, he's just a guy that isn't incredibly bright. He is simply tenacious and he has a real appetite for the bizarre and for adventure so he's infinitely an easier character to deal with."

Asked if he could see himself working on the character again one day, Cooke teased, "Let's hope so. I really can't talk much about it. Other than that, I'll just say, yeah, I hope so."

The new creative team on "The Spirit," which includes living legend Sergio Aragones ("Groo"), co-writer with Mark Evanier and artist Mike Ploog, make their debut on the book this week with issue #14.

Cooke also revealed that later in 2008, he will be providing art for a regular DC title, but added, "I can't tell you what it is because it's too obscure a title to talk about."

Beyond the DC artwork, Cooke said he would be concentrating his efforts on the graphic novel medium with some regular joes of his own. "I don't think you will ever see me launching my own superhero. I don't think I have got a Prime in the drawer," offered Cooke. "I have thought about it before. God, I wish I had a Hellboy in me. But, I definitely have characters of my own. Most of the work you are going to see me doing outside of the mainstream will be graphic novels about people. They are still going to be facing exceptional circumstances but I don't they will be superhero characters in that sense.

"It's really exciting what's going on right now in the graphic novel market and in terms of its readership. You've got so many different types of books out there that are succeeding, that I think it's a great time to get out there and try to something that doesn't involve capes for a change."

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