Some comics change everything. You are going to hear this over and over if you know anyone who loves Batman enough and perhaps is old enough to remember when The Dark Knight Returns set the geek universe ablaze. For me, there was always some love of Batman. I’d read of his super deeds with Robin in the pages of Justice League America when I was just a little boy, and even though the somewhat dumpy Adam West Batman was a hokey facsimile, I watched every episode of the TV series and yearned for more. By elementary school, my love had shifted to the Uncanny X-Men, and by high school I may have stopped collecting all together. What I do remember so keenly in those days of mullets and ripped jeans was the coming of the Dark Knight. The word was out. Batman was COOL now!
Frank Miller presents us with an older Bruce Wayne struggling to leave the Bat behind, but the streets of Gotham had become an unforgiving animal and worse..his city seemed to be without hope. As Bruce goes through the paces, he does everything he can to put his life in jeopardy, but is it to end it all or get back the thrill of walking on the razor’s edge? The Bat is still inside of him, and we realize this personality could be the more dominant of the two. Im not 100% sure, but this may be the first time we are presented with Bruce Wayne’s Batman persona as a sort of psychosis...something later touched upon further in the book “Arkham Asylum”. Surely, the hero was born of mental anguish, guilt and innocence lost in a particularly violent flash, but whether you can add “psychotic break” to that list has always been up to the reader. In “The Dark Knight Returns”, the Bat can not accept a world left in such a sorry state and with Bruce in agreement, the two become one again.
The Dark Knight hits the streets, a little worse for wear, but not having lost any of the old tricks. The evil that ruled the dark corners and alleys of the city have begun to fear the Bat once more, but if the monstrous leader of the Mutant gang has his way, Batman will lay before him in a pool of blood, making The Mutants the very top of the food chain. If the streets are to be safe again, Batman must teach them about pain.
To say DC Entertainment knew this was an important book for a lot of people is an understatement. “The Dark Knight Returns” is clearly something they hold close to their hearts, and so the utmost care is given to every aspect of the film. The animation is moody without being muddy, extremely fluid and at times, undeniably beautiful, even considering the subject matter. The muted, practically washed out color pallet Frank Miller used is replicated to great effect, reminding you of trees bursting into color in the fall against a hazy, grey sky. All the fine points of the story are kept exactly where they should be, and the quieter beats become that much more powerful in contrast to the dizzying action flanking it on either side. This combination, tempered with a slight sprinkling of humor…mostly from an aging, cynical Alfred the Butler, makes this film one that even non-comic fans could enjoy repeatedly. Combine these elements with the “dream come true” scenario that is Peter Weller (ROBOCOP!!) voicing Batman and you’ve got chills up the spine of many a Bat-fanatic.
With expert voice casting allowing for total immersion into an animated comic book film (something that doesn’t happen every day), brilliant pacing and direction, and an extreme love for the source material assuring all the important bits are there for you to love once more, “The Dark Knight Returns” will surely be looked at as a remarkable achievement for years to come. This is an instant cult classic.