Real quick before you read on, there are some spoilers in this article. I don’t think anything in here will be a shock considering how old the comic version of The Dark Knight Returns is. If you haven’t read it, shame on you all I can say. You’ve really been missing out of something special.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is the best Batman comic ever published in my opinion. When it came out Batman was transformed from a campy detective to a complete badass. In the comic, super-heroes become outlawed in the United States and Batman retires. Over a ten year period Gotham becomes worse and worse. Without Batman around to protect Gotham, a gang called The Mutants have become a plague on Gotham committing violent crimes without repercussion throughout the city. As Commissioner Gordon announces his retirement, Batman reappears and begins his one man fight against crime in Gotham. There is much more to the story like a female Robin, Superman getting his ass kicked by Batman, and a one armed Green Arrow, but I’m trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum.
DC Comics has taken this most fantastic Batman story and animated it. When I originally heard the title and saw it was part one, I was somewhat disappointed and thought it may be a way to easily double sales. Thank goodness this is not the case. The five issue series has been broken in half and gaps not in the comic have been added to make the story more cohesive. In Part one, Batman returns and puts an end to the Mutant gang by defeating its leader in a one on one fight to the death. Instead of the Mutant gang disbanding, Batman inspires them to become The Sons of Batman. Batman now has an army in The Sons of Batman who start protecting the people of Gotham instead of terrorizing them. The only thing missing from the animated version of The Dark Knight Returns is the internal dialog Batman has. Without the internal dialog in just the opening scene, a slightly different tone is set for the rest of the story. Bruce Wayne is racing a car and ends up crashing it near the end of the race. In the comic there is internal dialog where Bruce ponders about the crash being a good way to die but he can’t because he has more work to do, hinting to Bruce struggling with the idea of not being Batman anymore. At other points Batman’s age is a factor he worries about in internal dialog where he bargains with himself to continue on and not have a heart attack. Amazingly enough the extra parts added to the movie make up for this internal dialog in the comic.
The Dark Knight Returns manages to keep Frank Miller’s artwork and Klaus Janson’s colors from the comic yet give it an anime type style that really fits the story well. This is no surprise when you read the credits and find of the names are Japanese. Though there are parts in the animated version that are not in the comic, they are there for a reason and only make the story better. Peter Weller of Robocop fame voices Batman and does a great job of bringing us an older grittier Batman.
I recommend getting The Dark Knight Returns Part One and Part two when it comes out on Blueray to every comic geek out there. I hope when they release part two they also offer a version that has both parts meshed together into one long movie. If you’ve ever read a comic and wished for an animated version, this is it. If you haven’t read Batman The Dark Knight Returns I heartily recommend reading it.
On a side not many of Frank Miller’s comics have a cinematic quality to them. 300 and Sin City are just a couple of examples that have been adapted into movies. Over at Marvel Frank Miller did a run of Daredevil before working on Batman and wrote some of the best Daredevil issues ever written. The character of Electra was not only introduced in this run but also killed. Daredevil is taken from a super high to a super low throughout the story that would make a fantastic movie or animated series of movies. Frank Miller also did the artwork on the daredevil run and would look fantastic in the same anime style Batman The Dark Knight Returns was done in.
Here is a trailer for of The Dark Knight Returns Part 1: