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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Graphic Novels - The Dark Knight Returns

As Internet reviewer Linkara says… It’s Miller Time!!!!

As you can tell by the image and title, I’m going to be talking about The Dark Knight Returns. It’s one of Frank Miller’s most known works and it’s the story that redefined Batman for a long time.  It seems like almost every Batman writer has been influenced by TDKR. Nolan's last Batman movie was also influenced by this story.The story is written and penciled by Frank Miller. Klaus Janson provides the inks for the miniseries. Lynn Varley provided the colors. Since I’m looking at this story, I’ll also talk about the two-part animated movie that Warner Bros. released last year.

Before I get too far in, here’s a little background with the story and it all has to do with the public library. I first heard about the story in a book called Tales of the Dark Knight, a book that talked about the first 50 years of Batman. I then heard about it in Who Needs A Superhero?, a Christian-themed book that linked Christian teachings to superheroes. I finally got to read the story when I found out that my hometown’s public library added graphic novels to their inventory. It’s now a part of my “little” collection of trades. Here’s a quick lowdown of the whole thing.

The Dark Knight Returns
Writer/Penciller: Frank Miller
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Lynn Varley

SYNOPSIS
It’s been ten years since Batman has fought crime in Gotham City. Also, most superheroes have given up since the government outlawed their activities. We find an old Bruce Wayne trying to live life without the Batman. After Jason Todd died, he gave it up. Because of the growing crime in the city and his personal demons, Bruce dawns the cowl again in order bring order to a chaotic city. He gets help from a really old Alfred and a retiring Commissioner Gordon. He takes on the normal criminals, the gangs, and an old foe by the name of Harvey Dent.  After he takes down Dent, he takes on the biggest threat to Gotham: the Mutant Gang.
Best splash page in the miniseries.

His return does a lot to Gotham City. Folk are questioning if his return is a good thing or a bad thing for the city. It also makes a man with a clownish personality wake from his hazed coma at Arkham Home (?). His return also inspires teenager Carrie Kelley to become Robin. When Batman takes on the Mutant Gang, he’s almost killed by their leader when Carrie comes to help. After they escape, Batman takes her on as a ward. After a costume change and some planning with Gordon, Batman takes on the Mutant Leader again and… you know the rest. It’s Batman, remember? Some of the former gang members then decide to become vigilantes inspired by Batman.
I think the comic did this better than the movie.

After Gordon retires, Ellen Yiddel is appointed as the new commissioner. She issues out a warrant on Batman since vigilantism is frowned upon these days. The US government also gets involved and sends their top man, Superman, to make Bruce quit his mission. Meanwhile, the revitalized Joker makes his plans to wreck havoc again in Gotham. He gets the chance to do that during a taping of a talk show. As the show’s going on, Batman fights the GCPD. Joker and Batman then cross paths at a carnival and end their feud in a pretty brutal way. The cops show up and try to capture Batman again but Robin rescues him via Bat-copter.
The real Knight Rider!

While Bruce is recuperating, the Soviet Union sends a nuclear bomb towards an island that’s being fought for. Superman is able to deflect it, but it still goes off in the atmosphere and its waves knock out all the power in America. Bruce suits up and gets help from the Sons of the Batmen to help Gotham through the chaos. The government then comes into Gotham a couple of weeks later to take Batman out.  In order to get the government off his back, Batman fakes his death during a fight with Superman. He also has Alfred (who dies afterwards) destroy the Manor and the Batcave. The miniseries ends with Bruce, Robin, and other followers setting up a new base of operations. Instead of taking the loud approach, he’ll teach his followers how to fight crime silently.

OPINION
I haven’t read a lot of Batman stories, so I’m not going to claim this as “The Greatest Batman Story Ever” like most folk do. Still, I thought this was really good. While I do have a couple of qualms, this was a good Batman story. I liked the characterizations for the most part. I liked that we got to see Bruce really struggle for the most part. While it is absurd to see a man in his 50’s play dress up, it’s pulled off well here. I also liked his interaction with people like Gordon, Alfred, and Carrie Kelley. I also thought Carrie was pretty cool for a female Robin.

I liked how the story flowed for the most part. Each of his challenges gets bigger in each chapter. He went from facing random criminals in the first chapter to facing the US government’s top weapon in the last chapter. I do have to say that I enjoyed the first two chapters a little better than the last two. The artwork and story really excelled in the first two parts. I also liked that we really get to see what Batman’s influence is on Gotham through normal people and the media. I especially like some of the satire with the media.
Oh Crap. He's back!

I don’t have too many issues with the story itself. I do have to say that I don’t enjoy the latter two chapters of the story as much as the first two. I think that has to do with the artwork in those chapters though. I didn’t enjoy some of the political satire but it was funny to see Ronald Reagan look kind of ridiculous. While I did like Carrie Kelley, there wasn’t much to her backstory. We really didn’t know much about her. It’s also weird that Batman would take on another teenage sidekick, but Batman is a weird one to begin with.

Then, there’s Superman who’s pretty much a tool of the government. I know some don’t like it and I’m not exactly a fan of it either. Maybe I’ve gotten used to a Superman who’s usually getting into fights with the military, I don’t know. It’s weird because he really doesn’t feel like Superman here.  That might had been the point all along but who knows? I will say that he does kind of win in the end since Batman does have to quiet his operations. I did like the fight at the end even though it feels a little wrong.


The artwork was pretty good. This was before Miller’s descent into the chicken scratch he’s done in recent years. As I said earlier, I really liked the artwork in the first two chapters. The pencils, colors, and inks combine for good artwork. The character designs looked good for the most part. As for the negatives, I felt like the artwork went downhill in the last two chapters. It wasn’t all bad, but something just felt off about it. Maybe it started to feel too stylized, I don’t know. I think it started when that chick with the painted swastikas on her breasts and butt showed up. I also wasn’t a big fan of some character designs. My main ones were Selina’s and Swastika Chick (Bruno). Other than those things, I did still enjoy the artwork.

THE DIRECT-TO-DVD MOVIES
Now, I’ll quickly talk about the two movies. I actually bought the Blu-Ray that combined both movies into one whole thing. Basically, the whole miniseries was adapted into these two movies. The story doesn’t really deviate much from the source material. The stuff they do change or leave out makes sense for the most part. The Superman/Batman fight at the end is also made longer in the movie. I actually thought that fight got a little ridiculous here, but that’s just me. The animation is also made to fit the artwork in the mini-series. It’s pretty good overall.
Master Bruce, I'm sorry to bring this up, but I left it in the dryer again.

The voice acting is pretty good for the most part. Peter Weller (Robocop!!!!!) put in a good performance as Bruce/Batman. He really felt like an old Batman. I especially liked the voice-acting from Ariel Winter (Robin), David Shelby (Gordon), and Michael Emerson (Ben Linus—I mean, Joker!). The only one I probably wasn’t feeling was Mark Valley’s Superman. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t that good either. Man, Superman doesn’t get a good showing in this story. Ah well, at least I have September. Overall, the movies were pretty good for the most part. All of my opinions on the story are pretty much the same here.
Ha. I'll admit this was kinda funny here and in the book.

........................................................................

Well, that’s all I got for this story. I do recommend both the miniseries and the movies. I don’t know if the movies are the best of the Batman animated movies, but they’re pretty close. Just know that these movies are pretty violent, so I’d lead the kids towards something else. It looks like next time will be the 1970’s. Peace, God Bless, and don’t live in Gotham.

NEXT TIME: THE 1970’S!

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