About 25 years after it was released as a comic book series by Frank Miller, Warner Brothers Animation has finally adapted the seminal series that redefined Batman and super hero comics for a generation. A retired Batman is called back to action to stop the rampaging mutant gang that is terrorizing Gotham City. But his return is like a falling domino influencing old foes to come back from their own retirements and asylums. Can Batman face this brave new dystopian world?
I’m glad that the creators of this animated adaptation steered clear of trying to create characters models based on the look and feel of 1988 Frank Miller. Instead, they found an adaptable style where Bruce Way, Batman and many characters are blocky and created by masses of squares and rectangular shapes but with a thin clear line encapsulating their forms instead of shadow-ridden structures. The backgrounds and effects are pure traditional animation which to some extent, further separates the animated work from its comic book source. In comparison, Justice League: The New Frontier’s background designs were more adapted to the story and had more tones of a period piece. There’s a lack of dystopia in the look of Batman The Dark Knight Returns.
I must be the only comic book fan that hasn’t read the original Dark Knight comic book series yet. Ergo, my review will not try to compare the two. The story is set in a very near future and progresses slowly by showing viewers glimpse of a former Gotham and the effects of the mutants from the current metropolis without Batman active as its guardian. The process of getting Batman back in the suit is rather quick within the plot. I enjoyed the story thus far, but I can’t say that it’s very special or memorable. I don’t think the creators of this cartoon handled the transition from retired Bruce Wayne to Batman very well, focusing quickly on getting the character back in action instead of exploring his motivations deeper.
I know this probably follows the original story but I marvel at the naiveté of Batman thinking he can defeat his opponents barehanded instead of using his ingenuity at all times. It made the story look like another Bruce Willis action film where the resolution is handled the good old manly way. Having viewed how Batman has been handled marvellously and played for his brains in many recent Warner Brothers cartoon series, turning this Batman into another boxing alpha male takes away from the evolution of the character in recent years in both print and film. However, this is probably related to the limits the storytellers had when adapting Frank Miller’s story for film.