Chris Murman: 2.5 Bullets
Last week my slugfest review of All Star Batman and Robin ended up being pretty controversial because it went against the norm. This week I’m again expressing an opposing viewpoint, but I swear I’m not doing so just to be contrary. That said, I didn’t really think Darwyn Cooke could really go home again with this promotional piece for the direct-to-DVD movie, so I wasn’t expecting much.
What I got was exactly what I expected, which were some additional stories tying into the original work and a bunch of pages begging me to buy the movie. I didn’t think any was that stupendous, but they weren’t that bad either.
The linchpin story was the showdown between Bruce and Clark. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that story idea, because it always sells. The problem is we’ve seen it so many times that a creator really needs to go out on a limb and show the readers something new. Unfortunately, the creator who did was Mark Millar in Red Son, not Cooke. I am drawn to Cooke’s illustration work, no doubt about it, and the back and forth inner dialogue between Batman and Superman was a nice way of conveying the message to readers.
But it was also confusing at times, further proving that Jared Fletcher is drying to drive me insane. He may have been directed not to differentiate between the alien and the rich boy, and if so, that’s ridiculous and I should not be mad at Jared at all. If you’re reading, bud, clue me in or something. I have read countless books and enjoyed your work plenty, so what gives? Change the color of the captions or something, guys. I’m asking nicely.
Also, I thought it was hilarious that Wonder Woman is the “voice of reason” in this little foray back to “Silver Age 1” in DC’s history (remember, we’re currently in “Silver Age 2”). Now, I’m sure that there were many times at this point in Diana’s continuity that she was a voice for peace and not war. It’s just comical because what I have read in the past five years or so (yes, in titles other than All-Star Batman too), she would act a bit differently.
I’m sure I’m wrong, but it didn’t make it any less humorous to me when I was reading. Her big, toothy smile at the end also made me smile for the same reason. For the woman who made Max Lord’s head physically able to check out his own behind, I just haven’t seen her smile much in books lately. Green Arrow and Black Canary’s wedding shouldn’t count either, because DC thought it would be a great idea to use strippers in a book that kids read. Oh wait, that’s right, Bruce Wayne himself is in a strip club at the end of this book.
The Wally West/Dick Grayson story was a nice read, mainly because David Bullock didn’t try to muck up the story with his own art style. He just stuck with Cooke’s and called it a day. The great part of the story is it sows the seeds for the Teen Titans, and further aids the super heroes of the world in coming out of the shadows to do the right thing. At the end, they weren’t afraid of the government and their desire to keep capes a secret, which leads me to believe this story happens after the final scene in The New Frontier.
There’s really not much to say about the final story that is good. I like J. Bone just fine. I just don’t like his work on this story. Before this becomes “Chris Murman is sexist” on the message boards, you can keep your fingers rested. This redneck has a wife who makes more money than he, and we’re putting off having kids until she’s finished with grad school, so I’m happy the women’s movement made it into NF. I just think there are better ways to portray what happened than placing the scene in a cabaret. My only shock was that Hal Jordan and Ace Morgan weren’t there clinking highball glasses with Bruce. Make your prude jokes if you will, but it needs to be said.
It may seem that I hated this book from the indictments made in this review, but again this issue had its merits at times. I just didn’t think a glowing review would be fair to our readers. Criticism of this book isn’t necessarily about whether or not the team has talent, or if the overall message is rotten. We’re just really splitting hairs at this point. There were just a few things that bugged me, but anyone who owns the original series wouldn’t want to be without this issue. It’s a fun reminder that the old series still is an amazing read.
Kevin Powers: 4 Bullets
The animated film Justice League: The New Frontier was phenomenal. Make sure you check out my review of the film. Of course, the mini-series/graphic novel that the film is based on, DC: The New Frontier, is also one of the best mini-series ever, a clever and realistic retelling of the emergence of the Silver Age. Darwyn Cooke is a master of classic characters. The New Frontier proved this fact and his run on The Spirit provided more proof to back it up. I am very happy that DC has decided to pretty much leave New Frontier alone, unlike Kingdom Come which had many numerous spin-offs. However, I have heard rumblings that the New Frontier universe will continue. This is okay so long as no one but Darwyn Cooke touches the stories. With that in mind, DC follows up the release of the film with a one-shot featuring three stories written, and one drawn, by the master of The New Frontier himself, Darwyn Cooke.
If you read my review of the film, I think you can get an idea of how much I love New Frontier so I don’t really feel the need to elaborate on that too much. There are a lot of possibilities with New Frontier both throughout the Silver Age and the Golden Age. One rumor I have heard is that Cooke plans on telling a Golden Age story set in the New Frontier universe. Given the nature of McCarthyism and the fall of the Golden Age heroes, this type of story has a great deal of potential, and I would absolutely love to read it. Now I suppose the easiest way to review this issue, with three distinct and different stories, is to break them down accordingly, starting with Rip Hunter’s introduction.
The very first page of this book sets the perfect tone for all of New Frontier. Rip Hunter pops up and gives the “Darwyn Cooke secret of the multi-verse” that I think is so simple, yet so brilliant that as a writer I couldn’t help but smile and feel a deeper connection to the subject matter. Rip Hunter explains that there are more than just 52 Earths. There are an infinite number of universes and the scientific term to categorize them is “fictional.” Something about this one bit of dialogue was amazing; it’s something that resonates when considering all forms of storytelling. I just hope Dan DiDio doesn’t take it too seriously and decide DC needs more than 53 Earths. Anyways, I also love how it ends with Rip Hunter sharing a drink with Carol Ferris as Hal comes flying in with a giant question mark over his head. Brilliant.
The first story is directly related to Cooke’s original mini-series. This story plays off of one of the first plotlines from the original mini-series when Superman and Batman were shown battling in the streets. One thing to remember about this universe is that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the only Golden Age heroes who haven’t retired. Superman works directly for the U.S. Government, Wonder Woman is an Amazonian Ambassador and Batman is a fugitive from justice. Superman tries to recruit Wonder Woman in
aiding him in bringing in Batman, but she refuses knowing that Batman really stands for good. The story covers Superman’s first encounter with Batman as a fugitive. Superman has an excellent conversation with President Eisenhower that really brings a sense of history and flavor to the story, while Batman recruits Selina Kyle to steal a piece of Kryptonite from Lex Luthor. Batman has a methodical plan to defeat Superman and he succeeds in yet another Batman vs. Superman fight. While I am not one who enjoys Batman and Superman fighting, nor do I ever want to see it on the big screen, it works here in terms of the story and in terms of the history of the time period. Both men believe they are righteous, and Batman ends up beating the hell out of Superman before Wonder Woman intervenes. When Wonder Woman stops the fight, you realize that this story is not about Batman vs. Superman, but rather about the formation of the Trinity and the trust amongst the three as Batman reveals his identity.
This story ends with a nod to the original series. Batman and Superman stage their fight to create the public image that they are equals, and Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman share a moment of narration where they express admiration for one another. The only thing that should have been done differently is the way Cooke structures the dialogue. He uses a white-colored box for each character’s inner narration. He could have used different colored panels to separate each character’s voice and create a greater sense of “structure” to the ending.
Cooke’s artwork is simply fantastic in the first story. There’s no need to go into detail because his style is New Frontier and without Cooke this whole franchise would fail miserably.
The inclusion of Robin and Kid Flash threw me off a little bit at first just because the sidekicks have hardly been featured in this universe. Robin does show up in the film and Dick Grayson is included in the mini-series, but the bulk of New Frontier takes place in the late 50s. The appearance of Dick and Wally pushes this chapter into the 1960s a little bit as Wally first showed up at the end of 1959. Robin of course first popped up in 1940. However, I love the inclusion of the two, who have always been favorites of mine, and the telling of their first meeting in the New Frontier universe. From my perspective I see this as a meeting between the first superhero sidekick and the first true legacy sidekick. I also love the way Cooke has the two meet. Oftentimes teen-centered pieces set in the 1950s and 60s used the drag race device. Cooke cleverly uses this activity to bring Wally and Dick together as they are investigating the same case. Dick’s narration throughout the story shows off how intelligent he is and how much of an influence Batman is on his life. Cooke also does a great job capturing the fun-loving and fast Wally West, who is a decent detective in his own right.
David Bullock handles the pencils for this story, and he does a pretty good job emulating Cooke’s style. If Cooke were to create an ongoing series based on the New Frontier and didn’t do the artwork for an issue or two, Bullock would be a good substitute. He does a great job actually making Dick and Wally look younger than Cooke’s Superman and Batman.
The final story in this issue is fun and different than the others. It’s not so much about heroes coming together as it is covering social gender issues of the 1950s. After defeating a cadre of thugs with Black Canary, Wonder Woman finds a Playboy amongst the men’s belongings. She immediately goes into feminist mode and wants to confront those who make the magazine. Cooke cleverly uses one of the infamous Playboy parties of the era to show Wonder Woman’s opinions on what she feels is exploitation, while Black Canary is more or less along for the ride so she can bust some heads. I thought it was funny that they run into Bruce Wayne at the party, and he quickly makes an escape as if he knows what they are planning to do. There’s some funny dialogue and one-liners from Wonder Woman, as well as the innuendo that Gloria Steinem is undercover as a Playboy bunny. This story takes a much different tone than the other two, and it works in that sense.
The artwork in this final story is atrocious. It’s inconsistent, it’s a bit too silly, even for the light hearted tone of this story, and it just does not fit into the New Frontier universe. There’s a standard when it comes to New Frontier, and that standard should always be emulating Darwyn Cooke. Dave Bullock does a great job in the Teen Titans story, but J. Bone doesn’t even come close and it really brings down the quality of this title.
The final section is also great for anyone who likes “Making of” features. It’s a brief section covering the art of the film, and it definitely should be kept for anyone who really appreciates the film.
I really liked this issue, save for the art in the final section. The only other thing that really bothered me was the title of the book. I can understand why the film is called “Justice League,” that’s going to help it sell. However, in comic form, the title of this should be “DC: The New Frontier.” It’s a small nitpick, but I’m a purist and I love the original source material. Anyway, as long as Darwyn Cooke remains in full control of New Frontier, I’d be happy to see the stories continue. I just don’t want DC to kill it based on critical reception of the film and original series. This issue is a very nice complement to everything Cooke has done and can do with the New Frontier franchise.
Jason Sacks: 4.5 Bullets
I was an early booster of New Frontier on this very site. Back in 2003-4, I posted a series of five-bullet reviews for the series, going so far as to proclaim, “Remember that spark when everything came together; old influences and new, comics and television and real life and a certain inexpressible special spark that made the book special? Remember how it felt like a bolt of lightning striking, sparking a whole new direction for comics? New Frontier is such a comic.”
By now, of course, the book has come to be recognized as a classic, beloved by readers and critics alike, and inspiration for one of the finest animated features ever created. Cooke has publicly stated that he won’t be spending his time doing hero books anymore. He’s moving on to do more personal work. But thank goodness he’s left the super-hero fans a parting gift with the New Frontier Special.
This wonderful comic presents a “missing” chapter from New Frontier that fills in some interesting gaps in the original story. It features the DC trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but does so in a very intriguing way.
Superman is ordered by President Eisenhower to bring down Batman, but things go in unexpected ways. In this issue, we see the badass fighting genius Batman that was so prominent in the 1980s and ’90s. But we also see an interesting element of weakness and vulnerability in Batman that is very intriguing. When Wonder Woman screams at Batman, “They send him to catch you and you respond by building a cage of your own. There must be great tragedy behind such darkness,” we see Diana pierce Bruce’s soul. With her wisdom and empathy, Wonder Woman has helped Batman realize some deeper truths about himself. It would be soon after this insight that Batman would adopt Robin as his partner, and lead to one of the most charming scenes in the original run of New Frontier.
The genius of New Frontier was that Cooke was absol
utely dedicated to seeing inside his characters, to bringing them greater depth through use of a few small master strokes. Think of Hal Jordan’s worship of Check Yeager, or the heroism of the Losers’ last stand, or King Farraday’s friendship with J’onn J’onzz. This issue is full of scenes and moments like that. There are touches like Wonder Woman referring to President Eisenhower as “General” Eisenhower to show her disrespect for the anti-superhero policies he advocated, to Batman’s emotional vulnerability to Superman’s true strength of character by allowing himself to appear to be beaten by Batman.
And the art in this “missing chapter” is also wonderful. Notice the juxtaposition of Eisenhower on page eight with Luthor on page nine for a subtle comment on the story. Or the look of joy on Batman’s face during his fight with Superman. Or the use of shadow to depict the fake battle between Superman and Batman – it’s just a shadow of a real battle, so it’s effective as a scene shown in shadows.
Yeah, the first story is filled with all the insight, charm and easter eggs of the original New Frontier. My only question now is whether my copy of Absolute New Frontier is now out of date.
The second story, featuring Robin and Kid Flash with art by Dave Bullock and Michael Cho, is quite charming. It reads like a Silver Age Robin story, guest-starring Kid Flash as they track down a nasty group of juvenile delinquents who have deeper and nastier plans than just crashing cars. The story has a sweet and innocent feel, much like the earliest issues of Teen Titans, even down to the funny way that Kid Flash saves the day.
Unfortunately the third story, where Wonder Woman and Black Canary fight sexism at a thinly-disguised Playboy Club, falls flat for me. J. Bone’s art is clumsy and overly exaggerated for this story, and the story seems dedicated to the idea of making a buffoon of Wonder Woman. Ironically, she seems to possess a male sort of hotheadedness and love of violence of this story, which really undercuts her character. The attempts at humor are just too broad for the point that Cooke and Bone seem to be trying to present in this story, and the cute final scene will go over the head of many readers.
On the basis of that last little story I had to knock this book down half a bullet. But the lead story is as good as any chapter in the main run of New Frontier. Anyone who loves the original book will love this comic.
Ray Tate: 5 Bullets
Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier Special is a giddy, subversive exercise that figures in some fine storycrafting and unique artwork that keeps the story hopping and the eyes a popping. One introduction, three stories and storyboard art from the animated special comprise the book. No ads get in the way of your enjoyment.
The book begins with Rip Hunter introducing Darwyn Cooke’s world. This is the classic Rip Hunter. Pipe smoking, white tee-shirt wearing kickass time traveler in blue jeans. Rip gives readers a clue to when and where The New Frontier takes place in the context of the fifty-two universes of DC: “…Today experts will try and tell you there are 52 worlds. The truth is that there are infinite worlds out there…The scientific term used to describe them is ‘fictional.’“
I’d like to think the “aluminum siding salesman” he shoots off panel in the next scene is Geoff Johns.
After a beautiful pin-up of the heroes going toe to toe, which acts in the same way a lobby card does for a movie, Cooke gets down to business in a knock-down, drag out fight between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight, the missing piece of the original New Frontier. This fight is better than the Kryptonite gloved duking by Neal Adams, who started it all. The fight is even better than Frank Miller’s Superman/Batman duel in The Dark Knight Returns.
Cooke really thinks things through. He concocts some original, believable combative techniques for Batman to hamper Superman’s progress, and though he uses some of the applications Miller employed, the artist translates them differently through easily distinguishable cinematography.
Batman is also seen having the time of his life when dragging Superman through the mud. To be fair, the Man of Steel does not want to arrest Batman. He’s following a Presidential Order, dripping with a good-natured ’50s homogenity ultimatum: conform, or else.
The story isn’t just a slugfest between Batman and Superman, and that’s what I think makes it excel. It’s a well-thought out tale in which Batman and Superman are saved from their bad sides by the balance in their lives, which also fleshes out Cooke’s world.
In “Dragstrip Riot” Cooke reminds me why I liked the original Teen Titans. Robin and Kid Flash infiltrate a group of dragsters. Cooke peppers the dialogue with lingo like: “I take him off the line, but my small block is geared too high for the long run. His crate comes on fast with monster top end.”
I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good, Daddy-O. Cooke recreates the sense of fun produced by the Teen Titans as they relished fighting crime. Some of the Teen Titans’ cases were admittedly pretty stupid, but on occasion a goofy plea from a troubled teen would escalate into an event with some serious consequences if you could just push away the groovy trappings. Cooke uses hotrodding to hide something big, and it’s certainly fitting for the time frame.
David Bullock contributes faux retro artwork that impacts with sophisticated shadowy detail. Dave Stewart uses color as a means to evoke the flicker of headlights and their uplit casts. Robin’s red tunic fades in the black as his yellow cape flaps in the wind and the red and gold slipstream of Wally West.
In the final story, Cooke teams with J. Bone and Stewart for a hoot in which Wonder Woman and Black Canary infiltrate one of the first Playboy Clubs to teach men a lesson. This story shouldn’t be looked at as anything but what it is: an homage to Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman. However, there is a tiny little twitter of insult to DC’s idiocy amid these pages if one peers between the panels.
Continuity buffs will note how many times Wonder Woman’s early history was retconned out of existence. She was replaced in the Justice League by Black Canary. You can’t help getting a charge out of seeing Wonder Woman and the Canary back in time working together. If you read Darwyn Cooke’s interview in The Comics Journal, it appears DC’s editorial department erected numerous impediments. In the early rewrites, he was intimidated into abandoning some of his characters to serve the retconned DCU. Fortunately for his fans, the big cheese told him to get cracking on his original draft and screw the other editors. I can’t help wondering if Wonder Woman wasn’t one of the causes of such conniptions.
Though Cooke and Bone are essentially having the time of their lives playing the comedy broad, they still take the time to characterize Wonder Woman and Black Canary with singular personalities. Wonder Woman simply won’t bend. Black Canary is more flexible. Wonder Woman is blunt. The Canary is subtle. Wonder Woman is dead serious. Black Canary is more playful.
I really wonder if DC gets the veiled insults that are being backhanded in The New Frontier. I’m guessing not since they published it, but let me put it to you this way: Ri
p Hunter disses the concept of 52. You really don’t need to pick up Trinity since they’ve been done now in one tightly written book, and then there are the clashing continuities of Wonder Woman and Black Canary so casually merged. Maybe I’m reading into it. Maybe not. What matters is that it’s Darwyn Cooke doing what he does best by adding to The New Frontier.
Thom Young: 3.5 Bullets
I’ve been interested in the culture and art of the 1950s since I was 18. It’s the decade in American history that has fascinated me the most ever since I was exposed to the works of Jack Kerouac by the graduate student who taught the English 101 class I took at the University of Kansas when I was a very impressionable freshman.
Sure, I had been entertained by watching Happy Days at an even younger age (and my friends and I would enjoy acting like The Fonz), but it wasn’t until I discovered Kerouac, be-bop, Populuxe designs, and the Usonian-inspired approach to housing developments that I immersed myself in the period.
No, I don’t collect Elvis memorabilia or have any interest in attending “doo-wop and rock and roll” revival dances. However, the fundamental philosophies and aesthetics of Beat literature, Modern Jazz, Populuxe futurism, Action painting, and numerous other concepts associated with the 1950s draw me in like a moth to a flame.
Thus, I can’t help but be attracted to works such as Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier stories since they’re set in that period. Yet my interest in the period also makes me even more critical of such works when I encounter them. I’ll admit, too, that Cooke failed to win me over with his recent work on The Spirit for DC, which I thought was heavy-handed in its satire and too drawn out in its plots and jokes.
Even though I had enjoyed Cooke’s New Frontier miniseries, I went into this issue half expecting to be disappointed. Fortunately, I ended up only being disappointed by less than half of the issue.
I found myself thoroughly enjoying the first two stories in this three-story issue–after a beautifully rendered one-page introduction that nearly lost me when Cooke depicted Rip Hunter murdering a man with a rifle (the man was off-panel, but Hunter was in-panel).
I know Cooke was just making a joke (Hunter had to eliminate “a parasite that ravaged the” 1950s–an aluminum siding salesman). Ha ha. I get it. However, that joke would be more appropriate in a Punk comic (the second era in 20th-century American culture that fascinates me the most).
Back in the 1980s, when I fancied myself a punk, my friends and I told a lot of jokes that were a great deal darker than Rip Hunter shooting an aluminum siding salesman. The problem, though, is that Cooke isn’t giving us a Pushead-designed world from Thrasher Comics; he’s showing us a Silver Age DC Comics hero in a page filled with Populuxe design elements.
In that context, I don’t think the joke works. Having Rip Hunter murder a man is highly inappropriate. I love the look of that one-page introduction, but the conflict between joke and design nearly ruined it for me.
Fortunately, the first story immediately brought me back to a level of admiration–Superman and Batman (with Wonder Woman and King Faraday) in “Chapter X: The Greater Good.” This story, written and drawn by Cooke and set in 1955, doesn’t have very many Populuxe design elements–but it has enough to set the tone as it explains how the Eisenhower Administration attempted to use Superman to stop Batman’s vigilantism (and why the Caped Crusader was then allowed to continue to operate).
As in the original New Frontier miniseries, Cooke didn’t re-create the Jack Schiff-edited Batman in the Sheldon Moldoff and Dick Sprang style. Rather, Cooke’s Batman of the 1950s is more akin to what the Max Fleischer Studios might have come up with if they had continued to do Superman shorts into the 1950s–and had brought Batman into those features.
The story includes a scene in which Superman visits President Eisenhower at Mount Rushmore (the Secret Service Agents’ codename for Superman is “Bishop Six,” I don’t know why). It concludes with Princess Diana of Paradise Island bringing DC’s Trio together in Unity with the narrative assertion, “For an Amazon, there is no greater deed than overcoming anger and conflict with love.”
Of course, that sentiment isn’t an accurate description of the authentic Amazons from Greek mythology. They would have been more inclined to separate Superman’s and Batman’s heads from their shoulders. However, Cooke’s ending is certainly a sentiment that is in keeping with the spirit (if not the actuality) of what William Moulton Marston intended when he created Wonder Woman. If only that could be said of the third story in this issue, but more on that later.
The second story is a Robin and Kid Flash team-up that takes place in 1963. The narrative doesn’t explicitly state that it’s set in 1963, but Kid Flash is in his second costume, and President John F. Kennedy makes an appearance at the end.
Wally West first appeared in that mostly yellow with the open-topped cowl costume in Flash #135–cover dated March 1963, and which appeared on the news stands on January 17 of that year. Kennedy, of course, was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
The season appears to be late fall–there are no leaves on the trees, but Dick Grayson is only wearing a light jacket just outside of Gotham City (which is in New York). Thus, I’ve concluded that the story is set in late October or early November 1963–just weeks before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald and Company.
This team-up is a very good story that appropriately pre-dates the July 1964 (cover date) teaming up of Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad in The Brave and the Bold #54–and the plot sort of prefigures the Ding-Dong Daddy and his Demon Dragster story from Teen Titans (original series) #3.
Additionally, penciler David Bullock did an admirable job in imitating Cooke’s own style. What really intrigued me about this story, though, is the plot that involves Robin and Kid Flash preventing an assassination attempt on President Kennedy just weeks before he was actually assassinated–making Cooke’s story very poignant.
Now on to what I didn’t like about this issue–aside from the earlier joke of Rip Hunter murdering an aluminum siding salesman.
The main reason that I can’t give this issue a rating of more than three and a half bullets is the problems I have with the third story–a tale of Wonder Woman and Black Canary attempting to bring feminist enlightenment to the men attending the grand opening of the Gotham City branch of Hugh Hefner’s string of Playboy Clubs.
In contrast to the way Cooke presented Wonder Woman in the first story–a strong woman who first focuses on ending conflicts through love and reason–this story begins with the Wonder Woman being more in the vein of the actual Amazons from Greek mythology. The approach here is somewhat similar to Frank Miller’s characterization of Wonder Woman in All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder Quarterly.
Consequently, we have a story that opens with Paradise Island’s Princess Diana delivering a powerful right cross to a man–which sends him spinning head-over-heels through the air–as she proclaims, “You’ll feel that in the morning, you dog!”
When Black Canary asks (while she puzzlingly seems to admire her fingernails through black leather gloves), “Honestly, what’s your problem?” Cooke has Diana answer in words that almost seem lifted from Miller’s version of Wonder Woman: “My problem is these two-legged pi
gs they call men!”
Right, so I guess this isn’t the same Wonder Woman who appeared in the first story in this issue–the one who brought an end to Superman and Batman’s conflict through the power of love and fellowship.
This tale’s ball-busting Amazon then drags Black Canary down to the grand opening of the Gotham City Playboy Club where they see Bruce Wayne in attendance. In an admittedly enjoyable and humorous scene, Wayne claims he is there on the trail of a super-villain who, as luck would have it, was just leaving the club–and so Batman departs before the fireworks start.
Beyond the apparent change in Wonder Woman’s personality from the first story to this one, there are also a number of other problems–from historical inaccuracies to further questionable character depictions.
For instance, on the nightclub’s stage, Hefner announces that “The Mingus Trio will be back for another set soon, but in the meantime. . . .” In the meantime, they’re going to bring out a cake that Jayne Mansfield is supposed to emerge from in a Sheena, Queen of the Jungle costume.
First, the reference to the Mingus Trio is apparently a reference to jazz bassist Charlie Mingus, whose career was very active in 1962—a year in which he released at least two albums (though one of them, Tijuana Moods, had actually been recorded in 1957). However, as far as I know, Mingus did not have a trio in 1962.
He was in a few trios in the early 1950s, and the group specifically known as The Charles Mingus Trio (or the Charlie Mingus Trio) recorded in 1953. By 1962, Mingus was recording albums in which he was supported by anywhere from eight to ten other musicians. However, this apparent inaccuracy doesn’t greatly bother me–and perhaps Mingus did perform in clubs as part of a trio in 1962. I certainly don’t know every iota of his history as a jazz musician.
What bothers me a bit more is the characterization of Hugh Hefner as someone who would throw a martini on Wonder Woman’s chest and then light it ablaze with a cigarette lighter. It’s not that I’m a great admirer of Hef, but it just seems highly unlikely that Hefner would do such a thing.
Lenny Bruce, perhaps, but Hefner? Additionally, the only real purpose for this act seems to be that it then allows for the joke in which all the men that Diana beats senseless have smiles on their faces since she had to take off her breast plate after Hef lit it up. As Wonder Woman (channeling Miller) says, “Even in defeat these swine smile and slobber.”
Knowingly, Black Canary points out, “Maybe you should put your top back on.”
I’m no prude, and I’m actually a bit disappointed that Wonder Woman’s exposed “gifts” remained off panel or hidden in silhouette rather than being displayed for the readers to see (though, considering my dislike for J. Bone’s pencils, perhaps it’s actually for the best that we weren’t shown Wonder Woman’s naked breasts).
The final historical error in the story comes at the end as a Playboy Bunny named “Gloria” is jotting down notes for an article she is going to write. That article, of course, is implied to be the two-part “I Was a Playboy Bunny” that was written by Gloria Steinem and published in Show magazine.
Steinem actually worked undercover as a Playboy Bunny at the New York City club for three weeks as she researched her article–and since Gotham City is supposed to be New York City, I don’t have a problem with Ms. Steinem’s appearance here. However, she worked as a Playboy Bunny in 1963, not 1962. Is that mistake such a big deal? No, not really. However, there was no reason for Cooke to have not set the story in 1963 if he wanted to include Ms. Steinem in it.
Of course, the New York Playboy Club opened in 1962–and that’s why Cooke set his story in that year. Perhaps Charlie Mingus even performed at the opening of the New York Playboy Club in 1962. I don’t know if he did, but if that’s the case then I would stand corrected on my earlier point.
However, there would still be the anachronism of Gloria Steinem working as a Playboy Bunny in 1962.
Overall, I would have preferred this story to have had Wonder Woman characterized as she was in the first story–as a woman hoping to settle problems through love and understanding who only uses her super strength to defend herself and help people in need.
Instead of giving us a Frank Miller version of the character, Cooke could have had Wonder Woman take a hotheaded Black Canary to the Playboy Club with the intention of trying to persuade the leering men from objectifying women through reason and the unifying principles of human fellowship.
When that didn’t work because the men ignored her in their eagerness to see Jayne Mansfield–who would have been very willing to give the men what they wanted (after all, she got her start by being the Playmate of the Month in the February 1955 issue of Playboy), then Black Canary might have started a brawl.
That brawl could have even ended up with Diana being doused with a drink and having her breastplate set ablaze by an errant cigarette. Essentially, Cooke’s story would have been the same, but without the mischaracterizations of Wonder Woman and Hugh Hefner.
It might still be argued that my scenario mischaracterizes Black Canary, but I don’t think Dinah Drake (the original Black Canary) was a prominent enough character in 1962 to say that with certainty.
Finally, if Gloria Steinem needed to be present, then the story could have been set in 1963 since there nothing was really gained by having the story take place during the opening of the Gotham/New York Playboy Club. Perhaps Jayne Mansfield was at the opening of the actual New York club (as with Mingus, I don’t know), but her inclusion in the story doesn’t seem to be as integral as Steinem’s. Any objectified woman would do to serve Cooke’s plot.
Had the third story been written as I suggested, I would have given this issue four and a half bullets rather than docking it a bullet for historical errors and mischaracterizations.