Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Frontier and other bed-time stories for the New Left

Justice League: The New Frontier is the animated adaption of “DC: The New Frontier.” This late 50s period piece re-tells the Golden Age transition to Silver Age, with political themes. JL: TNF is a revisionist DC history for comics and America—a love letter to circa 1960 comics and the New Left’s rise.

Beautiful Kirby-like models and editing make a well-paced geek-fest. Great actors; Jeremy Sistro vocalizes Batman with his chilling, dark tone. Timm and Cooke trim the comics to a brisk, faithful film—almost too faithful, with no big surprises. The villainous Centre speaks continuously through crazies, tying storylines together. There are no“this is Sparta!” moments, but numerous DCU cameos.

In this re-imagined age, the gov’ment persecutes masked heroes threatening the status quo during the so-called “Red Scare.” Many may be surprised the era’s establishment was the Democrats. AG Palmer, HCUA’s Hart, and even RFK hunted communists. These heroes stand in for activists and revolutionaries, the socialists pushing the democrats left and ushering in the Kennedy presidency.

The New Left was, with others, in the civil rights movement, and in the book the hammer wielding John Henry fought the KKK. In the movie, J’onn J’onzz takes the role as the mistreated outsider or subversive: fearing our xenophobia, his people viewed as a threat, yet won over by King Faraday’s secret hope for some utopian future.

Cooke calls it going from John Wayne to Paul Newman, with Rick Flagg representing the old traditionalists and Hal Jordan being the new enlightened hero. In Korea, Jordan would not fire on MiGs, doubting the goal was worth killing or dying. Odd, considering millions lived because the US stalemated the North. Flagg and Jordan’s space mission goes awry and the secret WMD arsenal threatens the planet. Flagg’s answer is self-destruction, pushing the proverbial big, red button. Jordan, the youthful hero, fights, attempting to land the symbolic “Ship of State.”

Superman is in the middle—an uneasy establishment agent. In the book, he’s working inside for change. Largely sidelined, he finally demands the Left’s metaphorical factions rally to stop the Centre.

A laser-belching, flying island means something. Cooke claims the Centre is communism. A fair metaphor, since socialists, while sharing communists ideals, historically have resisted politely. This monster is an island onto itself, populated with dinosaurs; opposed to human progress. Perhaps, the Centre is the status quo/political-center. Either way, the Centre is destroyed by shrinking it and destabilizing it—there’s an analogy.

"There are no Democrats, no Republicans. No hawks, no doves," King Faraday pronounces as the reconciled Left marches The Right Stuff style into battle. This sums up the ridiculous notion non-Democrats had any power in the late 50s. The enlightened, pacifist hero that wouldn’t kill for freedom or suffering, rejects the Centre’s self-declared dominance, “the Centre will hold,” and wills the world safe for the nanny-state.

The book and the movie’s montage ending echo with JFK’s speech. Interestingly, the JFK Library website’s transcript does not mirror the audio. This source’s errors are repeated in the book, and both works’ completely delete whole passages. These deletions show JFK heralding liberalism/socialism and attacking Communism. The italics lines are from the movie:

…the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their own lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make that new world strong and free, an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and within.

The line: “Their motto was not "every man for himself"--but ‘all for the common cause,’” JFK did not say though quoted in the book.

Today some would say that those struggles are all over – that all the horizons have been explored – that all the battles have been won – that there is no longer an American frontier. … and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of the 1960's the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. … Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. … But I believe the times require imagination and courage and perseverance. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of ageto all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”

The book keeps “poverty and surplus” and the Scripture quote. Both omit lines attacking promised futures, “where taxes are always low and subsidies ever high.” JFK asks, “…whether this nation … can compete with the single-minded advance of the Communist system.” This omitted anti-communist line changes the speech’s context.

Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space and the inside of men’s minds?

JFK never said the next part, "Are we up to the task--are we equal to the challenge? Are we willing to match the Russian sacrifice of the present for the future--or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the present?" The book drops the Russian bit. JFK’s answer to these challenges was “all for the common cause”—matching the Russian philosophy?!—no wonder he skipped it!

That is the question of the New Frontier. …a choice that lies not merely between two men or two parties, but between the public interest and private comfort – between national greatness and national decline – between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of “normalcy” – between dedication and mediocrity.

Not in the movie. The “two parties” line is not in the book; removing the words partisanship.

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try.

Both works pick and chose, eliminating the Cold War context and promoting gilded exhortations for collectivism and socialistic reform. Doubtless this reading is disputable, but —much like this article—clearly there is some message. The audience can digest it themselves, if they acknowledge they are, in fact, being fed something. Otherwise they may just swallow it whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment