The Dark Knight Returns is an iconic graphic novel, a story that redefined Batman in the 80s, and was, perhaps, the one adaptation that I was looking forward to most. I liked that the creative team knew to tell the story properly, they had to take their time with it, setting everything up, which meant it was going to be longer than your average animated film.
Solution: break it into two parts.
Gotham is under siege by a new ultra-violent gang known as the Mutants, but who will help the city out? Batman hasn’t been seen in a decade, Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) is still in good shape, but he’s gotten older, and Commissioner Gordon (David Selby) is on the verge of retirement.
This new rash of violence and the unrelenting call of his own tragic past forced Bruce back under the cowl, but will he be able to handle younger, more brutal and savage criminals? Even with all his gadgets and skills will he be enough?
Interspersed through all of this is pointed political commentary on the shifting tides of social awareness specifically touching on vigilantism, fascism, mental awareness, violence, and the intersection points where those things collide.
It’s not just an adventure story, there are some really big things to think about here are people happy Batman is back and taking on criminals, violating their civil rights, if it keeps ‘the good people’ of Gotham safe? And where is that line drawn?
The difference between young and old is highlighted by the introduction of the new Robin, Carrie (Ariel Winter), a young girl whose hippie parents are now content to armchair quarterback the city’s politics while smoking up.
The story brushes up against Harvey Dent’s Two-Face (Wade Williams) who is supposedly cured but is still tortured by the belief that he’s still scarred. Did his time in Arkham make him worse, and how much of that could be Batman’s fault?
As Batman struggles to deal with the Mutants, getting back into shape and haunted by the choices of his past, Jason Todd’s Robin is mentioned a number of times, we get glimpses of another mental patient, one who recovers just as the first part ends, following Batman’s battle with the Mutants.
It seems the Joker (Michael Emerson) is also being drawn back to activity, summoned by Batman’s return.
A surprisingly solid adaptation, the animation is solid (and recreates some of the iconic panels from the book), and the voice acting is on-point. I enjoy Weller’s Batman and Wayne, though he doesn’t really work to separate the voices. But most of all, I love the fact that the creative team worked hard to be faithful to the environment created in the graphic novel, making sure to work in all the nuance and politics that made the original story so fascinating to read.
I can’t wait to see how Part 2 plays out.