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A high concept comic book series written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke (under the title DC: The New Frontier), later adapted as an animated film. It ran from 2003 to 2004.
Instead of reimagining the classic superheroes as they would be today, Cooke created a story firmly set in the 1950s and took the superheroes as they were in The Golden Age of Comic Books and made them believable. Even the art work itself is very similar to comics of that era, with only the layout being modernized. The plotline is broad-ranging, featuring dozens of characters in the DC Universe including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Martian Manhunter and many more.
Part of this experiment was Cooke trying to figure out a reason why various characters changed in the switch between The Golden Age of Comic Books and The Silver Age of Comic Books. It was easy enough with Legacy Characters like Green Lantern, but Batman went from a dark and menacing figure who wore grey and black into someone more kid-friendly with blue and yellow highlights. The reasons were mentioned that his costume was intended to scare criminals, but not little children.
The story took the paranoia associated with McCarthyism and how it would affect the costumed heroes. "Idealistic" heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman were forced to sign loyalty pacts, while Batman remained underground and outside any government control. Even Wonder Woman started to ignore "Man's World" and returned to Paradise Island.
Hal Jordan is a fighter pilot for The Korean War who was shot down, then recruited for a mystery space program. He is soon contacted by a dying alien and given the Green Lantern ring.
The Flash found himself struggling to remain doing his super-heroics without bending to the will of the government, so he announced his intention to stop being a hero altogether on television.
A scientist's experiment results in a alien being teleported from Mars. The scientist suffers from a heart attack and dies, and the Martian gradually assimilates himself into human culture using his shapeshifting abilities but is ever aware of his desire to return home.
While all these internal struggles continued, a Cosmic Horror slowly descends upon civilization. It has psychic powers that leaves miscelleneous people (and the Martian) aware of its existence. As the threat grows in intensity everyone, both superhero and the government, set aside their problems to confront this menace as a united League.
The comic was given an animated Direct to Video film adaptation in 2008, with the voices of David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan as Superman, Jeremy Sisto as Batman, Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman and Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash. Keith David's baritone voiced the omninous and faceless Center. The film was produced by veteran DCAU man Bruce Timm and paid strict attention to the comic, lifting the majority of dialogue and scenes from the comic straight into the film. Unfortunately the film was only 70 minutes long and many story points had to be cut out.
Critical reception was enormously positive, the only complaint being how short the film was. Compared to other DTV comic book films, including those from Marvel and prior DC videos, this film was considered a breakthrough for mature Western Animation.
- Adaptation Distillation: There were almost no storylines omitted entirely from the comic to movie; even those that were taken out had a passing mention. This is especially notable due to the short length of the movie. In just 75 minutes they managed to give in-depth origin stories to Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter while giving ample screentime Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash and driving the main story forward.
- America Saves the Day
- The Bad Guy Wins: Try as he might, John Henry can't beat the Klan.
- Badass Boast: "You really think you can hit me? It's been tried before." -- The Flash, to a soldier pointing a rifle at his head, from point blank range.
- Batman delivers a memorable one to Martian Manhunter when they first meet:
"My instincts tell me that you're to be trusted. But make no mistake: I have a $70000 sliver of radioactive meteor to stop the one from Metropolis... all I would need with you is a penny for a book of matches."
- Badass Normal: The American government has started recruiting these to make up for the lack of superheroes, so these show up a lot. Let's see, there's the Challengers Of The Unknown, The Blackhawks, The Suicide Squad, The Losers, King Faraday, The Sea Devils, Green Arrow... and Batman, of course.
- Big No: The Center.
- Cassandra Truth: Adam Strange tries to warn Earth about the Center, but is locked up in Arkham. The government is still afraid of him, though.
- Cliché Storm/Troperiffic: In-Universe; Martian Manhunter bases his human identity of John Jones on detective shows. As a result, John Jones is the single most over-the-top detective you have ever seen. Slam Bradley thinks he's ridiculous, but likes him since he's one of the few good cops in Gotham.
- Cold War: Hence the Super Registration Act
- Cowboy Cop: Wonder Woman. Superman, too. He's just discreet about it.
- Cult: The unnamed purple robed men under the thrall of the Center that Batman dispatches.
- Death Seeker: The entirety of Task Force X, hence the nickname "Suicide Squad." Also Hal Jordan and John Cloud, though Hal gets over it.
- The trope is deconstructed, as the problems with relying on such unstable individuals are addressed. Jess Bright loses it, sabotages the spacecraft in mid-mission, and causes an international crisis.
- Deep South: Part of the story deals with John Henry, an African-American vigilante who takes on the Klan.
- Disney Death: Superman.
- Do with Him as You Will: Wonder Woman arms a group of sex slaves and sets them loose on their captors.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: King Faraday (in the movie)/John Cloud (in the comic) jumps into a T-Rex's mouth with a pair of live hand grenades. Notably, the comic scene is the current page image for the trope.
- Eagle Land: A central theme. It's a Type 2, but eventually evolves into a type 1.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Eldritch Abomination
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: No. It is not.
- Good Is Not Nice: King Faraday and pre-Robin Batman. Wonder Woman is a relatively mild case.
- Gondor Calls for Aid
- Heroic BSOD: Hal Jordan spends most of the story in one over killing a Korean soldier in self-defense. To make it worse, at that point he knew that the war was over, but couldn't communicate it to the soldier.
- Humans Are Bastards: The reason for the Center to destroy them all. The first atomic bombs were the last straw. Also the reason why Martian Manhunter chose to return to Mars.
- Ironic Echo: "There's the door, spaceman."
- Know When to Fold'Em: Comic book only. After gathering evidence on the Center, Batman decides that he's not cut out for cosmic horrors and Gotham keeps him too busy as it is, so he hands the evidence over to a guy who can deal with it: Superman.
- Let's You and Him Fight: A Superman vs. Batman fight broke over the Super Registration Act. Batman won. Though it turns out the fight was staged so Superman wouldn't have to arrest his buddy.
- The Men in Black: King Faraday.
- My Fist Forgives You: Flash is able to work with Faraday despite Faraday trying to arrest him. You know, after Flash punches him in the face.
- Mythology Gag: Captain Nathaniel Adam sacrifices himself by detonating the atomic bomb he's carrying. Don't worry, he'll get better, eventually.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: John F Kennedy is never named, even in the credits, but the voice at the end of the movie sounds just like him, and gives a modified version of JFK's New Frontier speech
- Poor Communication Kills: The whole reason Hal had to kill in self-defense was because the North Korean jet pilots and ground soldiers hadn't learned that the Korean War had ended.
- R-Rated Opening
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: It actually slides during the course of the story. It starts pretty cynical, but slowly gets more idealistic as the story progresses. How idealistic? The story ends with the friggin' formation of the Justice League of America, that's how much.
- Starts with a Suicide: The film opens with a writer of a children's book, who is aware of the Big Bad, shooting himself in the face in despair. The viewer sees it as the writer.
- Story-Boarding the Apocalypse: A particularly creepy example, wherein the Center's plans for humanity are communicated via the writings of a children's author -- specifically, a Dr. Seuss Expy.
- Super Registration Act
- Supporting Protagonist: Subverted. Hal Jordan doesn't have a huge impact on the story at first. But then, he is Hal Jordan.
- Technical Pacifist: Hal Jordan gets a lot of flak for this since he's in the Air Force. He eventually decides it's okay to kill in self-defense.
- Training the Peaceful Villagers: We never get to see it, but Wonder Woman trains a group of freed sex slaves in anticipation of a coming war.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Faraday reveals Hourman is still alive and in a government cell, but he's never seen or mentioned again. Not even after the world's saved and everyone decides to work together.
- What Have I Become?: Part of Batman's motivation in changing his look and methods. He realizes that he's taken the dark avenger thing a little too far and has become a monster to the very people he's trying to protect.
Batman: Let's just say I dress this way to scare criminals. Not children.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Superman is shocked that Wonder Woman freed slaves and sat by and watched as they killed their masters. Wonder Woman argues that it was necessary for them to get their pride back, and that she's doing more than Superman is about it.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Central City appears to be in Illinois, given that one character refers to its resident superhero as "the Illinois Flash."
- World of Badass: One of the main reasons the book is so awesome is that it works really hard to show you that Superman and Batman aren't the only badasses in the DCU.