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Slick’s Nit-Picks: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1

DC is not waiting for the home release of The Dark Knight Rises to continue their wave of Bat-mania. In stores now is the above DC Animated Batman release, The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1. This is the second animated feature to be based off the work that Frank Miller has written for the caped crusader. Just the fact that the title contains “part 1” lets you know that we are in store for a treat because DC always gives you your money’s worth (except with that Superman/Shazam release). Batman fans should prepare to have their minds blown once more.

Old Batman will still hurt you…bad.

I WAS THE NIGHT The story opens to a Gotham that is gripped with fear as crime runs rampant through the streets, courtesy of a new gang called the Mutants. People are not even safe in their homes as the mutants will literally kick your door in and have at you. Batman has not been seen in ten years; coincidentally, the Joker has been docile, nearly comatose in Arkham for roughly that long as well. A news report shows that Harvey Dent was being released from Arkham. His plastic surgeon completely restored his original face and his psychiatrist says the Two-Face persona is gone. This quickly proves false and all the atrocities literally make an aged Bruce Wayne snap. Suddenly criminals are disappearing off the street; criminals are starting to be afraid to go out at night again. Batman is back and he’s still got it. The question is, does he still have enough of it to survive?

Boys and girls, this is why you must always brush after meals.

YOUR MOVE, CREEP If Kevin Conroy is the gold standard for the voice of Batman, then Peter Weller is the new standard anytime an older Batman is to be portrayed. His dry, monotone voice that made the original Robocop work makes this Batman amazing. Consider that Batman has always been kind of cold and emotionless in the field; now multiply that by ten and you have the elder Dark Knight. When a rookie cop admonishes Batman for crippling a criminal, he responds “he’s young, he’ll walk again,” without blinking. Gary Anthony Williams as the mutant leader gave a beastly, almost inhuman quality to his character’s voice. Very guttural and growling, it was what you would expect from a psychopath that has filed his teeth down to fangs and sharpened his nails to claws. Fourteen-year old Ariel Winter gives Carrie Kelley the necessary attitude and spunk that a female Robin would need to keep up with an even broodier Batman. While there were many other talents that made this film a treat, the one that stands out most had the fewest lines. Michael Emerson simultaneously creeped me out and has me anxiously anticipating the next and final chapter of this story next year. Closing out this story with the words “B-B-Batman? Darling.” with that all too familiar and sinister smile lets you know that Part 2 next year is going to be even crazier. It might just “put a smile on that face.”

Time to give up when a little girl starts kicking your ass.

CAPTURE THE KNIGHT Kudos to the art and animation departments. Not every DC feature has spectacular art; sometimes, to properly capture the look of the printed story they are retelling, the artists purposely go for a look that might be less aesthetically pleasing to some. This Batman movie did not have the “look” that I personally prefer. Batman was not cool looking and neither was Robin with her glasses. However, it looked right for the book it represented. Bruce Wayne looked like that tall old guy that a lot of teenage guys might think to themselves “he’d mess me up if he hit me, but I’m fast enough that he’d never hit me.” Then one day, that tall old guy puts one of those kids to the ground after he messes with him and suddenly none of you ever wanna come near him again. This was the look of Batman. While older and slower, he did not look like a complete mismatch against the mutant leader, who was massive. The Batmobile showed one of the many ways that he compensated for the fact that while he got older, crime is eternal. It kind of made me mad though, because it just reminded me of how much I want to see Batman Beyond return to the screen. I am very impatiently waiting to see what the older Joker will look like and how Batman will deal with him.

Mutants said it best – “Batman nasty.”

EVERY GOOD HERO HAS THEME MUSIC Batman has had probably the best musical scores of any individual hero for the last twenty plus years. From the Tim Burton live action movie, to the multiple animated series, even into the recent video games, Warner Bros. has put serious effort into making you “hear” Gotham City and the Batman. In this film, composer Christopher Drake, who has created the music for almost every recent DC animated release, gives us something unexpected. As I listen to the music, especially the piece that plays during the decisive fight and the credits, I hear music that seems to fit both Batman and Robocop. Whether Drake was purposely paying homage to Peter Weller I do not know, but it is damn good music.

Prayer for the fallen.

There are so many Batman stories that can be recreated for the big and/or small screen. I am very happy to see that the DC animation team is looking into the darker ones. Look back at the recent release Justice League: Doom. It was not a standalone Batman story but everything that happened was Batman’s fault, which made him the bad guy in the eyes of his peers. I mean he is called the “Dark” Knight for a reason. He is a hero, but he is a vigilante at the same time. While it does not apply to every nutjob he has ever fought, people like the Joker only hang around because of him. In Part 2 of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman will have to face street gangs and the Joker, but he will also be on the run from the police if the new commissioner has her way. Batman stories tend to be very psychological, and as much as I love the character, he is in many ways more messed in the head than his adversaries. I hope future tales delve more into that fact. The next movie is definitely going to be crazier than the first because people get old and they may not be able to physically accomplish all that they used to. Madness however, especially that of the Joker, can only grow and become more twisted.

Batman? Darling.