Panels That Stick Out: DC’s “The New Frontier”

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I couldn’t help be inspired by Anders‘ post about some panels from Akira that stood out to him, and lately, I’ve been deep into a re-read of DC’s The New Frontier. It made sense to pull out some panels that really struck me from the book.

DC’s The New Frontier

Written and illustrated by the late Darwyn Cooke, DC’s The New Frontier is, at least for me, a distillation of everything I love about DC comics, but wrapped up in a delightful, throwback form. Cooke’s illustration skills are without question, and the design work of the 1950s-set story evokes great artists of the 50s and 60s, such as Alex Toth. The whole book, which is comprised of the six issues of the miniseries, is retro in the best way possible.

The story follows the formation of the Justice League during the backdrop of the 1950s Cold War tensions. It’s a pretty basic story of the gathering of superheroes that comes across as far more mature by acknowledging US history and rendering the transition of the Golden Age to the Silver Age by layering in real-life historical figures, such as Chuck Yeager.

The Panels

The panels in question are on page 348 of my trade collection. It depicts some members of the more mystical side of the DC universe having a meeting on the moon regarding “The Center,” the living island at the “center” of the story of The New Frontier. The scene features Dr. Fate, The Spectre, Phantom Stranger, Zatanna, and Billy Batson/Shazam.

This pair of panels is great, not only because it features some of my favorite mystical DC characters, but because these panels feature some really top-notch composition elements.

The staging of the moon meeting is interesting. When we look at the Moon in most fiction we really tend to get a sort of “planar” view of the Moon and Earth. We see them as objects resting on the same plane, more or less. With this panel though, we see that this sort of planar view of the pair is disrupted by the fact that we are looking directly down on the picnic table, yet the perspective of the Earth and Moon is very much in-line with how we see this in most media. The curious positioning of the moon-meeting playfully establishes the powers of the strange characters that are present.

The powers of these characters are further emphasized with the follow-up-panel on the page. It depicts this group, mostly in silhouette, still around the table. But even here the power is implied through deliberate choices in color and lighting. This casual picnic is literally radiating intense power.

That is not to say we’re necessarily seeing the magic happen, despite these being magical characters. Sure, the table is floating, we see that. But what we have here is the visual equivalent to something like a sound effect representing energy.

It’s just freaking rad.