The series chronicles the dawn of a new heroic age, but that age hasn’t started yet in the first issue, which takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Thanks to McCarthyism, the mystery men and superheroes of World War II and “the Golden Age” have been mostly outlawed, and a relative handful remain to carry on the fight with the blessing of the U.S. government (most notably Superman and Wonder Woman).
In the real world during this time, DC Comics was between super-heroic eras. Superheroes started falling out of favor once the Nazis were defeated, and other genres dominated the medium for several years (western, romance, etc.).
Fittingly, then, the first scene features the final mission of the Losers, a group of non-powered military characters who debuted in the late ‘60s in a war comic book series set in WWII. In this book, they find themselves in a land of prehistoric creatures, and they never leave. In a particularly memorable splash panel, the final Loser leaps willingly into the mouth of a tyrannosaurus rex with live grenades to take the beast down. And with that, an era ends.
Shortly later, the book asks, “”What type of person—what new breed of hero would have the character and daring to lead America to the edge of this new frontier?”
We meet Hal Jordan, the future Green Lantern, first as a boy and then as an Air Force pilot serving at the end of the Korean War. Cooke makes an excellent decision to spend time getting to know Hal pre-GL, fleshing him out into a fully rounded character.
Here, Hal distinguishes himself by his refusal to kill, even during war. He’ll serve his country, but he won’t kill for it. Then, in a visceral scene, he discovers what he would kill for—his own selfish survival. He encounters an enemy soldier who doesn’t realize the war has just ended, and the situation quickly progresses to “kill or be killed.”
The scene plays out in a way that punches you in the gut, and the tragic result will inform Hal’s motivation for the remainder of the series.
This is definitely a book to savor, for the story as well as the art.
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in DC: The New Frontier Volume One (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 13 and up