After an outstanding beginning to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, could part two continue the excellence and bring it all home? In a word…YES! Part two begins right where the first part left off, with the Joker in Arkham Asylum watching news reports of Batman’s return. He convinces his doctor that he wishes to atone for his past crimes and is booked on a talk show to tell his story. Meanwhile President Reagan is showing growing concern over the Batman’s return and urges Superman, now the only officially sanctioned superhero, to have a “talk” with him.
The Joker goes on national TV and proceeds to kill the host and the entire audience with a deadly gas. Joker escapes to an amusement park with Batman and the new Robin, Carrie Kelley, not far behind. The Joker cuts a deadly path through the park, killing anyone in his way before engaging Batman in a final fight to the death inside the tunnel of love. Batman barely survives himself but has little time to recuperate.
Superman, in a weakened state after fresh taking a blast from a Russian nuke that he re-directed into space, comes to Gotham to confront Batman once and for all. Batman, wearing a suit which greatly amplifies is strength and durability, goes toe-to-toe with Superman with Robin and an aged, but still spry Oliver Queen providing support.
I had not read Frank Miller’s limited series since it first came out back in 1986 but the two-part film proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has lost none of its impact and rightfully deserves a spot as one of the most important comic stories ever. It is Superman who becomes the antagonist, dutifully carrying out the will of the President even if it means having to kill his old friend. The brilliant dynamic of Superman’s Ultra Right Wing, government-controlled crony is offset by Batman’s “power to the people” stance as endorses a street gang called Sons of the Batman to help him keep Gotham’s streets safe.
Part two is actually two distinct halves with Batman vs. Joker doing their deadly dance, bringing their long rivalry to a brutal and bloody conclusion. Michael Emerson, best known as Ben Linus from lost voices the Joker in a far different way than were used to hearing. Rather than the maniacal, cackling style of Mark Hamill, Emerson instead uses a more sedate, even soothing voice, which makes Joker that much more terrifying. You can see where he might have been able to fool his doctors into thinking he had reformed. Even in the end, while Batman is able to walk away from the fight, it seemed as if the Joker had actually won.
Veteran TV star Mark Valley (Body of Proof, Harry’s Law, The Human Target) is brought in to voice Superman and also earns high marks. His Superman is commanding and self-assured and no one is more surprised than he is when Batman gets the better of him. Peter Weller again is standout as the older, grizzled Batman. One thing he does to great effect is to show Batman’s rebirth at the end as he is reinvigorated by the events which have taken place and is ready to lead the next generation of Gotham’s protectors.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is gorgeously animated, capturing the unique look of Miller’s art on the story. While they have flailed a bit when it comes to theatrical films, DC Comics has exceled when it comes to their animated films and this one may have been the best one yet.
Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide (9:24) – Several comic and film luminaries discuss the rivalry between Superman and Batman including Michael Uslan, Mike Carlin, Denny O’Neil, Bruce Timm, and Grant Morrison.
The Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death (14:05) – A look at the history of The Joker including interviews with co-creator the late Jerry Robinson and Michael Emerson.
From Sketch to Screen: Exploring the animation Process with Jay Oliva (43:40) – Director Jay Oliva takes viewers through a detailed overview of bringing Frank Miller’s epic to life in animation.
From the DC Vault: Bruce Timm picks three cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Brave and the Bold.
Preview of Superman Unbound (10:14) – A sneak Peek at the next DC Comics animated film.