Batman Don’t Shiv

Just watched DC Comics’ new animated adaption of the The Dark Knight Returns and it brought back some fond memories.

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is my favorite graphic novel of all time. Nothing comes close. I first heard about it in 1987, when a classmate of mine and I were talking comics during Physics class and he very enthusiastically insisted I read this story about a 12-foot tall Batman.

It turned out Batman was only regular-size. As a pre-teen this was an incredibly disappointing discovery. Dashed was my dream of a Batmanosaurus swatting villians over office buildings and ziplining over the moon to kick Godzilla in the face. But once I cracked open the book, I found a new kind of giganticness. A story that swelled my imagination and my smile. Frank Miller gave us a badass Batman after years of the Adam West variety. It was intelligent and poignant, and decidedly adult. In the process he subsequently changed the way the character, and all superheroes, are perceived and written.

I’ve probably read DKR at least 20 times in my life and I never thought it would be filmed. At least not completely. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises borrowed heavily from Miller’s critically acclaimed story, bringing back Batman years after retirement to stop a new force of evil, but it certainly wasn’t DKR. The animated film, which is Part I of II, does a good job of capturing the tone of Miller’s seminal work. I loved the voice actors, especially Peter Weller (Robocop, Dexter) as Batman and the fight scenes between Old Man Bats and the Mutant Leader are staggering. But as good as this film is, I did find myself missing Batman’s internal monologue from the comic book. That was completely stripped out in favor of a show, don’t tell rewrite. The film still works, but I am very surprised by the choice.

That narration in DKR is what really gives the book power. You feel like you are inside Batman’s head as he struggles to get back in the fight game with a weathered body and a brain full of ghosts. The animated film sacrifices much of that emotional weight without really counterbalancing it. I’m holding out hope that a director’s cut will be released that combines parts I and II and adds voiceover. If my wish isn’t granted, this adaption is still a solid film faithful to its source, but I will be left wanting a bigger, more complete movie version of my favorite comic. A twelve-foot cut.

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