Review: 'The Dark Knight Returns' Parts 1 & 2

The Dark Knight Returns, one of the sacred cows of modern superhero comic books along with Watchmen. It’s one of the stories that were publicized as making comics “grow up” at the time. It was 1986 when Frank Miller wrote and penciled this story of Batman coming back in a dark and rough time. The story had immediate impact on the medium and the character. TDKR along with another Batman story Miller did shortly after titled Batman: YearOne totally cast the character in a new darker and mature light. Miller’s take on the character has been one of the main building blocks in other creator’s recent takes on the stories of Batman since, in comic, animation and film. Warner’s Animation and DC Comics decided to adapt the story in two parts and release around the time that Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is in the public consciousness. Being that there are some parts of Nolan’s final film that borrows heavily from this story it makes sense. This review will cover both parts since the original form is just one book in its current form it would be best to critique it as whole since part one ends on a cliff hanger and not a solid ending.

TDKR (The Dark Knight Returns) is set in a world where Superheroes are outlawed by the United States Government.  With Commissioner Gordon getting ready to retire and crime worse than ever thanks to a new gang called the Mutants things are not good for Gotham. Bruce Wayne now 55 sits unhappy and bored drinking the time away. The release and disappearance of Harvey Dent along with the raging crime drives Bruce to don the cowl once again and clean up Gotham as Batman.  Batman’s return to action shakes everything up in Gotham, from pundits on the news to police and some of the old rogues along with new gangs like the Mutants, even the President himself.  

One of the most debatable things with animation is the art direction and design.  It’s pretty subjective in regards to whether a person will like how the characters are drawn.  However, with this being an adaptation there is a something you can look to, to compare it against. The filmmaking crew on this project did a great job of taking bringing Frank Miller’s comic to life. They keep Miller’s sense of depth and weight of the figures. The color palette is also nicely muted like those of Lynn Varney’s from the comic. Taking on the tough task of emerging from the shadow of longtime Batman voice actor, Kevin Conroy, Warner Bros. went with Peter Weller this time, best known for playing the cyborg Robocop. Weller brings the right amount of grit and gruff to his vocal performance as an older Batman in his 50s. His voice sounds like it can grind marble stones to dust.

Other standout vocal performances are Ariel Winter and Michael Emerson.  Ariel Winter from Modern Family performs as Carrie Kelly, Robin in this story.  She brings the right amount of spunk to the role of Kelly, a girl who, after being saved by Batman decides to join his cause, assuming the role of his former partner Robin. Michael Emerson, best known as Benjamin Linus on Lost, voices the Joker, who comes out of a catatonic state once Batman returns to action. Emerson brings a fairly different take on the Joker, not a manic state or even creepy or disturbed sounding but very calm and relaxed. He captured exactly how Joker felt when reading in it in the book.

One thing about this that doesn’t make sense is splitting it up into two parts. The first movie ends very much like a mid-season break in a television show.  Sometimes cliffhangers work, but in this case it leaves you with an incomplete feeling.  The limits they placed on time with these releases are pretty weird; it feels like they think a person can only take 70 minutes of animated action. This is a seminal part of the story of the dark knight. It changed the way people thought about Batman and is one of the great works from eighties.  Both chapters of The Dark Knight Returns are very good movies and are great for any person who claims to be a Batman fan.

The Dark Knight Returns is available for order now by going here!