JOHN SAAVEDRA JR.
Student Voice Editor
When I first heard that DC Universe Animated Original Movies, DC Comics’ direct-to-video animated film series, was adapting Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns,” the “batphile” in me quickly rose to his feet and answered the call. I put on my gray tights and my cape and … well, not really.
You don’t have to be the world’s greatest detective to understand why DC is releasing “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1” two months after the premier of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s live-action Batman trilogy.
For one thing, “The Dark Knight Returns” was one of the main influences for “The Dark Knight Rises.” The film borrows many plotlines from the graphic novel, particularly Bruce Wayne’s reclusiveness and return to crime fighting.
The graphic novel became a major hit upon its release in the ’80s, reviving the Caped Crusader’s darker side after years of camp-ridden adventures following the “Batman” television series, starring Adam West.
Miller, who is also known for graphic novels such as “300,” “Batman: Year One” and the “Sin City” series, is no stranger to the dark side of comic books.
In the novel, Bruce Wayne, Batman’s billionaire alter-ego, has given up his mantle and retired from crime fighting after the death of his sidekick, Robin, at the hands of the Joker, Batman’s archenemy.
Ten years after Robin’s untimely death in a warehouse triggered with the Joker’s explosives (Rachel Dawes in “The Dark Knight,” anyone?), Bruce is still haunted by his guilt. If only he had been a little faster, a little smarter, if only …
But as countless sequels have taught us, a hero can never truly rest in peace (or, in this case, sit in a puddle of his self-pity), especially one as conflicted as Batman, whose fight against injustice directly correlates with his thirst to avenge the murder of his parents at the hands of a criminal.
Bruce is forced to once again don the cowl of the bat to stop a group of terrorists, The Mutants, who are taking over the city.
Batman’s fight against The Mutants is only the beginning of the story arc, but it is the main focus of the animated film. Along the way, he also does battle with the villain Two-Face (the original and extremely more insane version of Harvey Dent from “The Dark Knight”), whose face has been reconstructed back to normal although he is still insane. Batman even begins mentoring a new Robin, a streetwise Gotham girl named Carrie Kelly.
The film is so faithful to Frank Miller’s novel that it manages to follow it chronologically all the way to its cliffhanger ending, in which an older, catatonic Joker wakes up from his spell in Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s prison for the criminally insane.
The film ends with the Joker uttering the words, “Batman. Darling,” as he watches reports of Batman’s return on a television. The screen quickly fades to black as we see the Joker’s iconic toothy smile.
What really impressed me about the film, and will undoubtedly impress every other Batman fan, is the way it captures all the emotions from the novel. We’re shown news reports throughout the film as Gotham City begins to realize that its main protector has once again begun his fight against crime. We feel the city reawaken as citizens such as Carrie and the Sons of Batman, a street gang of vigilantes, attempt to aid an older, weaker Batman.
We feel astonishment as we watch a 55-year-old Dark Knight jump off buildings and plunge head first into fights with extremely unfavorable odds. We watch the Dark Knight take a beating at the hands of the Mutant Leader, a giant man with filed teeth.
Depression hits us as we watch Bruce suffer due to his guilt. It affects us when we watch an ungrateful Gotham City declare Batman a public enemy because it doesn’t think it needs the vigilante’s brand of justice anymore.
It’s heart wrenching to watch Robin drag a severely injured Batman back to the Batmobile after a nearly fatal battle against the Mutant Leader.
Most importantly, we feel a sense of hope by the end of the film. No matter what physical and psychological pain Batman must to face, he continues to fight against injustice. Even if you’re not a huge Batman fan, it’s empowering to watch a man never truly give up, to watch a man seek his redemption from a place that no longer wants him.
The film is supported by an epic score and wonderful animation that is, for the most part, faithful to the art in the novel.
The Dark Knight’s story will continue in “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2,” which will be released sometime in 2013.
For now, pick up “Part 1” on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Seriously, if you love the comics or the movies or just love a really good tale of redemption, pick this one up.