By Steven Smith
“The Dark Knight Returns” changed everything. You could make the same argument for “Watchmen” but to me, it’s like comparing the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Actually, I’m not a hug fan of the Stones, let’s say Beatles and Dylan. Whereas “Watchmen” was the product of the brain trust that is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons making it, for lack of a better term, a British construct – “Dark Knight Returns” came from the maniacal mind of Frank Miller, someone who typifies the phrase “angry American.” And the Dark Knight is angry, he uses a gun for crying out loud. This isn’t your mother’s Batman, nor your father’s. This Batman belongs to your crazy Uncle who carries a concealed weapon and yells at the TV. This Batman is dark. Pun intended.
Batman is my Ponderosa. When it comes to comics and superheroes in general, all roads lead to him. I had a book my father gave me showcasing Batman from his early days to the silly post code times right up to Neal Adams shaking the hell out of the tree. The Adams stuff frightened me but I was drawn to it. The angry caped crusader was new to me and my child mind didn’t know what to make of it, so I stowed it away. Over the years, other writers and artists let that same sensibility creep back in. Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo’s “Batman and the Outsiders” cracked the door slightly that Batman didn’t need a Justice League to get the job done. Screw them, he’ll get his own team. Then they’ll kick him out. Batman doesn’t need anyone. Except Robin, but we’ll get to that.
After peripherally reading some Bat comics — I was more into X-Men at the time — the angry Batman I had stowed away in my little head came peeking out in the form of “The Dark Knight Returns”. I wasn’t ready for “The Dark Knight Returns”. But I bought number one. First printing too. And I read it and reread it. I didn’t understand a lot of it; I only vaguely recall Harvey Dent being the villain but I knew something was up with Bruce Wayne. He was an angry, directionless old man, racing fast cars and walking the streets of Gotham. Then his moustache disappeared and shit got real. I’ve never understood why his moustache going away was so significant. Did he have powers? Was he getting younger? When you get younger facial hair goes away? I never figured it out and Mr. Miller never gave any answers, but Batman looked like he was smiling. And that was exciting. And scary.
Once issue two came out, I was ready and bought a bunch of copies. Same with three and four. Who cares. It’s about the story and I hurled myself into it, dreaming what it would look like as a movie. Seeing the Bat-Tank roll out, hearing the Joker’s neck crack, and watching the blood drip from Superman’s chin as Batman kicked the crap out of him. Spoiler signal people, if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this right now and go do just that. I’ll wait.
Speaking of waiting, why has it taken almost thirty years to create an animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns”? Christopher Nolan’s Batman is loaded with its influence and “Batman the Animated Series” touched on it slightly in one episode but seriously, we are in a world where Hollywood has been mining the genius of our favorite comics and animated this pinnacle of comicdom has never been discussed?! Well, it’s about damn time. Oh, and Robin was a girl LONG before Stephanie Brown (who I love by the way) so let’s get with the modernity here folks. 80’s had a girl Robin and she used a slingshot. Boom.
When I heard there was going to be an animated “Dark Knight Returns” I was psyched but super wary. Sometimes you want to leave the masterpieces alone. Not everyone can pull off a Peter Jackson. Going the animated route is smart as it gives a lot of leeway to be true to the comic, but it needs to be more than a storyboard. It needs the power and the pathos of the characters. It needs to live up to what’s in my head.
DC Animation’s “Batman: Year One” chose Bryan Cranston as the voice of Jim Gordon. Perfection. “The Dark Knight Returns” has picked Peter Weller as Batman. Genius. The irony of Batman in robotic armor aside, his gravelly aged voice has the touch anger laced with wit and experience. Plus he was Buckaroo Banzai. The leader of the Mutants looks fierce but how will they handle the Sons of the Batman (high school Halloween costume three years in a row)? What about the faux future slang of Robin aka Carrie? “Boosters becomes peel?” What? Or the bizarre linguistics of the Mutants Rob and Don? “Balls nasty”? I’ve been muttering that for decades now. What does that even mean?
It doesn’t matter. What matters is there is now movement to the comic. The gutters between the panels have been connected and we’ll see Superman and Batman fight. You’ve always wanted to. Should we? Should this game changing comic jump off the static page and onto a screen? Why the hell not? It won’t change the comic, much like the Harry Potter films didn’t change how awesome the books were. I think enough time has passed we’re ready to see Batman and Robin again. Robin as a girl, the Batmobile as a tank and Batman himself as the vigilante he is. We’ll see Reagan still president and Green Arrow sans an arm. And creepily, we’ll see the Joker riding on a flying doll. And again, that iconic fight between a man of steel and a man wearing steel. At least I hope we’ll see these things.
This is the first DC animated movie that’s being broken up into two parts and rightly so. It’s a lot to grasp, especially if you haven’t read the comic yet. Wait, you haven’t? Seriously? I said I’ll wait. I’ve been waiting for this animated movie for a long time. So bring it. Peel.
Steven Smith really wants you to know he has first printings of every Dark Knight Returns issue. His podcast Going Off Track has new episodes every week and he would like you to listen to them. He hasn’t been a Son of Batman for Halloween in years but will if you dare him.