The Dark Knight Returns

Posted: January 26, 2015 in Comic, Movie
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 Dark Knight Returns is one of the books that seems to be on everyone’s short list of must read Batman stories. Everything about an older retired Batman coming back to take down the criminal low life that spawned up once he went away sounds awesome.

A future Batman story by Frank Miller let’s you know a few things, Batman is going to be one hell of a grizzled old man, he is going to do whatever it takes to make his side the winning side, and Batman is going to act a little crazy while doing it. The art is hit or miss, there are some iconic images in the book, and others look a bit hastily drawn. There is an awful lot of individual panels as well, which is ok, I didn’t get lost in the book, but I’d prefer something that flows more fluid than have too many panels.  It’s not like there is a loss on words either, there is a lot of information given in each of those comic windows.

Back story goes, Batman retired due to the government stepping in on anyone who would dress up and play vigilante, and there may have been some legal trouble. Some of the villains and bad guys wanted to press charges against the heroes, but the police couldn’t arrest a masked man. Actually, it kind of sounds like Marvel’s Civil War storyline, after that happened, and you only see the dark future if Ironman won out. Honestly, I don’t know how that actually ended, the concerns of that universe are for another time.

In the Batman cosmos, some heroes sided with the government, some decided to stop, and others decided to fight. Eventually the government won and out and stop to masked vigilantism, but that didn’t stop the criminal underbelly of Gotham from overloading and exploding throughout the years of Bruce’s secret retirement.

Of course Bruce doesn’t like any sense of that. At the start of where the story starts ten years after that, the former Batman is on a track, in a car racing about. He gets into an accident, but Bruce escaped for the most part unscathed, seems old Bruce still searched for some excitement from time to time.

At one point James Gordon and Bruce Wayne are having a drink to celebrate Gordon’s soon retirement, in which they have a conversation about Bruce having to stop being Batman and what he did to cope with being forced out. Turns out it was alcohol.

Everything in Gotham went to hell when Batman went away, unsettling to Bruce after the years. So when his old friend Harvey Dent snaps back into being an outlaw, albeit a ultimately brief excursion in the story, that’s the catalyst Bruce needs to go and put the cape and cowl back on.

After that, the story goes and doesn’t look back. Bruce brings back the Bat, troubling for some, including Dr. Bartholomew Wolper, a psychiatrist of sorts, to the former Rogues Gallery of Gotham, most notably the aforementioned Harvey Dent and a catatonic like The Joker. In returning to Batman, he also inspires others to stand up for themselves and not take the over growing crime laying down. So out of that comes a new Robin.

  Enter Carrie Kelley, and I will say she may perhaps be the single most important character that Batman saved one night. Without her deciding to seek out and help Batman, Bruce dies face down in the mud during a fight with the leader of the Mutant gang, the most anti-climatic ending this book could have. Instead an overenthusiastic old man running around like he was twenty, “baptised by the rain”, in his words, decides to go toe to toe with a man at least half his age and twice his size, because he had to know if he could. Not stopping to think if he should, which isn’t the type of thing Batman does characteristically, but he is a bit rusty and impatient. Good thing a new Robin spawned into the light at the last second to stop Batman from having his head caved in.

Inevitably two important people see what Bruce has done. The government catches what’s up and President Reagan sends Superman to see what’s up, and to tell Bruce to stop. The other one, is The Joker, who comes out of his mellow comatose like phase and starts killing people again, starting with a late night talk show audience on television.

The conclusion to both of these threads could have been the climax to the book. Batman ends his longtime feud with The Joker permanently, and as an old man fights Superman. And wins.

Batman ending The Joker is a big deal. Even though Bruce doesn’t go all the way and intentionally left his old foe paralyzed, a younger Bruce wouldn’t have ever gone through and done that, or else he would have done so before. Even though killing The Joker is something that has probably crossed his mind more than once. Over the years the thought of killing Joker must have worn down Bruce over the years, added to Batman’s new thirst for vengeance, and The Dark Knight no longer puts up with his adversary anymore. However in the end, Batman gave Joker the upper hand and with a twist of his neck, The Joker finished what Batman couldn’t and killed himself.

The epic fight between Batman and Superman still stands as one of the most iconic clashes in comics. Even the upcoming Batman vs Superman movie is taking some imagery from this. There’s something about Batman putting on a suit of armor to go one on one with The Big Blue Boy Scout, with a plan of course. Even in a weakened state that Superman was, apparently  a nuclear bomb can take Superman down a peg or two, it still took everything Batman had. The fight itself is epic, Batman has to use his allies, as well as the big battle suit to fight Clark. Even though there is a huge foreshadowing moment when Bruce brings up Oliver Queen when Superman comes with a government approved cease and desist order. A balding Emerald Archer comes out of nowhere to snipe Superman with a kryptonite arrow. It’s not enough to kill Clark, that’s not what Bruce wants, but it is enough to turn the tide of the fight in Bruce’s favor, and he beats Superman, and Batman wants Clark to know that.

In the end, Bruce knows he can’t do everything as an old man, and resurrecting Batman started inspiring people to follow in his footsteps. During the fight with Superman Bruce fakes his death after giving Clark a pummeling,  and goes underground where he and Robin can round-up those who want to be taught by Batman to take a stand against crime. It’s a good ending you don’t see coming.

If you’re interested in this, as you should be, and don’t like reading, which makes you lame, DC decided to make this an animated movie. Instead of condensing the story down to eighty minutes, they divided it up into two parts. Not cutting half the story was a good idea.

Peter Weller lends his voice to Batman here, and is fantastic. Something about Robocop as an older Dark Knight hits a weird spot. The rest of the voices aren’t to shabby either. Although I will say I thought David Selby’s Commissioner Gordon would break out into a southern drawl at some point, he never did.

The look and the animation is superb, this is my favorite DC animated movie to date. DC took one of their all time best stories and did an excellent job adopting it into another form of media, which as we all know can be super tricky.

If you consider yourself a Batman fan, and for whatever reason haven’t read or watched The Dark Knight Returns, you really, really should.

 

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