DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 1
(Written And Illustrated By Darwyn Cooke)
DC:NF is an exercise in what TVTropes calls reconstruction, which I will let a for-real comics author, and so has the edge over your humble blogsman in that he actually knows what the hell he’s talking about, explain:
“It strikes me that the only reason to take apart a pocket watch, or a car engine, aside from the simple delight of disassembly, is to find out how it works. To understand it, so you can put it back together again better than before, or build a new one that goes beyond what the old one could do. We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and wind it up, time to take it out on the road and floor it, see what it’ll do.”
So basically, what if the Justice League and everyone in it were actually what we remember them being in our collective cultural heart and mind? Not as laced with sexism, racism and homophobia as they were in the Golden Age? Not as artificially perfect, bland and two-dimensional (largely because they were bein strangled by censors and moral guardians) as they were in the Silver Age? And the less said about the Dark Age, the better, although it did lay the groundwork for a lot of good stuff, introducing the concept of the graphic novel and making Aquaman cool. (The Bronze Age is generally agreed to be Pretty Okay, as far as I’ve been able to discern.) What IF the heroes we know and love were Good and True but also capable of moral nuance, and aware that real problems require more than just punching and that sometimes there’s just no good solution, but that you have to try anyway?
You get New Frontier, is what.
Combining extremely strong artwork, humanized versions of heroes it’s previously been very difficult to empathize with, and origin stories for the Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter that make them actually interesting, New Frontier is a chance to take what we love best about these characters and let them use those traits to ask some hard questions: is Superman a war criminal for following orders and supporting a possibly* unjust war**, is Wonder Woman right in her assertion that there’s no point following the made-up ‘rules’ of war that make them feel better but don’t actually do any good for the people they’re supposed to be helping***? Does the Aqua-Man (BADASS BEARD DANCING LIKE KELP IN THE CURRENT) actually have any obligation to help a crisis threatening the dry-landers who are actively destroying his kingdom with pollution, and if so how in Davy Jones’ ass is he supposed to when he’s already responsible for the safety of an undersea empire more than twice the area of the entire surface world? DINOSAURS!, which is not a question but still very important? Has Captain Cold considered that he might just have a hypothalamus disorder, and maybe that’s why he’s always wearing a damn parka? SOME OF THESE AND MORE, because I actually just remembered Captain Cold was in this book before I remembered The Flash is; WHAT CAN I SAY: I’m a Snarter at heart. Also at heart? A guy who’s gonna root for a black man forging twin sledgehammers and using them to singlehandedly murder an entire chapter of the Klan. I don’t have any jokes for that one, it was just extremely upsetting and satisfying; 0/10 that it had to happen, 10/10 that it did.
New Frontier isn’t perfect–the Big Bad is a thing that’s super cool unto itself but makes negative 6,000% sense in this story for my money–but it isn’t trying to be; it’s trying to show that we were always right to care about these characters and their stories, and it doesn’t matter if they’re going through a gross gritty phase, or they’ve got a writer with upsetting and obvious personal politics this year, or if three company-wide continuity reboots in the span of 24 months may actually have made it literally impossible for J. Jonah Jameson not to have been Uncle Ben. What matters is that when we read these, the make us want to be our best selves; that’s not often easy or simple, and it helps to know that it isn’t for Hal Jordan, either, and he’s got a friggin’ magic ring and he doesn’t even have to deal with that absolute chudguncher Deborah In HR who still hasn’t set up your direct deposit even though that’s her whole goddamn job, DEBORAH, we all know you’re just playing Angry Birds and pretending to know how NFTs work over there.
Score: 9/10 Times J’onn J’onzz Turned Into Columbo Before Realizing He Wasn’t Real, But That The Litigious Estate Of Peter Falk Very Much Is
***Absofuckinglutely yes (in context)
The Devil Is A Part-Timer!, Vol. 1
(Written and Illustrated by Akio Hiragi and Satoshi Wagahara)
Look, it’s a simple premise: Satan–y’know, from Hell–gets portal-pooped into modern-day Tokyo after Heaven’s own Magical Warrior Girl kicks his ass, he takes a job at MgRonalds so he and his diabolical mjordomo don’t literally starve to death, and it turns out he’s really great at, and really enjoys, customer service and takes it very seriously. Oh also the forces of both the Infernal and Divine hierarchies have sent agents after him to claim his head and throne, and at one point he has a baby that’s a sword and also a jewel made of God’s crystallized essence with the same Hero who banished him to Earth, so they have to co-parent together despite her always trying to kill him. BUT MAINLY it’s about him trying to set the regional sales record for the limited-time black-pepper fries, his majordomo managing their household budget with an iron fist, and them, the Hero and the Devil’s coworker who has a crush on him having nice slice-of-life adventures, like figuring out how to buy a TV, running a seaside snack-bar for the summer, and taking their weird sword-jewel-baby to the amusement park.
As has been discussed, I’m a big, big fan of Wholesome, Mundane Stories In Fantastical Situations and their counterpart, Wholesome, Fantastic Characters In Mundane Situations, and THIS IS A VERY GOOD THAT. It takes what’s so engaging about (good) isekai manga and applies it to our world, exploring things as simple as shopping for a futon, setting up a sales promotion for a religious festival, or going on a human date with a coworker through the same newcomer’s eye that a story taking place in a magical otherworld would use to explain the intricacies of learning skills and growing stronger by fighting monsters, how magical ingredients cause different potions to interact differently with different kinds of beastfolk, or why a guy who can summon food from earth is somehow the boss of a terrifyingly powerful wolf-god as long as he keeps him fed. This makes everything seem wondrous and fascinating, and admittedly part of this is the Japanese cultural love of ritual and procedure, but in a time where being alive on earth is mostly exhausting at best, it’s genuinely heartening and refreshing to see our world from the perspective of someone who has no idea how any of it works and cannot wait to find out.
At seventeen volumes and counting, The Devil Is A Part-Timer! is one of those series that can seem intimidating to get into, but like The Way Of The Househusband the first volume will tell you everything you need to know about what reading this series is going to be like, and if it catches you like it caught me your biggest problem will be forcing yourself to wait until you finish one volume to buy the next.
Score: 9/10 Holy Knights Forced To Become Telemarketers When They Come To Earth, Proving That The Afterlife Doesn’t Have The Market Cornered On Irony