I have to admit that even before I began watching The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, I already had high expectations. I was a fan of the Batman animated series that first introduced the signature Bruce Timm art style so knowing that he was on board as an executive producer was a plus. This story is based on the 1986 Frank Miller four part comic book series comprised of The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Falls. It takes place about 10 years after the death of Robin, Jason Todd, which is thought to have played a major role in Bruce Wayne’s decision to retire as Batman. Gotham is once again plagued with crime but it’s the reemergence of Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) that coaxes the 55-year old Wayne to come out of retirement. But Dent, like Wayne, has changed quite a bit since their last encounter and I found the result of their reunion to be a pretty mature and believable resolution. It’s also revealed that in Batman’s absence there’s been a lot of debate about whether he was an aid to ridding Gotham of its villains or inadvertently part of the cause of their rise. Luckily, rather than wasting time indulging in the public or private speculation, Batman immediately goes to work. It’s not long before he discovers that beyond Dent, another menace called The Mutants are wreaking havoc throughout the city.
The fight sequences between Batman and The Mutant leader are some of the best choreographed and “fair” I’ve seen in a while. The animators seemed to be conscious of the deliberation of attacks from a seasoned combatant verses the energy conveyed by pure youth. Peter Weller (RoboCop) turns in an incredible voice performance as The Dark Knight, completely embodying the older, no-nonsense version of his younger more patient self. Here it’s apparent that Andrea Romano is at the top of her game having cast so many prior Warner Brothers Animation projects to date. I have a particular fondness for her because of her passion for the work and her dedication to the people she brings to the table. Bob Goodman’s screenplay stays pretty true to the Frank Miller series and director Jay Oliva doesn’t pull any punches with regard to the level of violence prevalent throughout Part 1. In support of this, Robert Hargreaves' sound design is as impressive as always and most notably when Batman comes charging into the Mutant camp with the Batmobile.
The pacing throughout is pitch perfect and the character development is well balanced – especially the introduction of Carrie Kelly, who dons a knock off Robin costume and teams up becoming Batman’s new sidekick. Even though you can kind of see what’s coming with final scene of part 1, it’s a great cliffhanger to leading into Part 2. As a fan of the series, seeing characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred still loyal to Bruce conjures the same type of nostalgia as a film like The Expendables. More so than anything, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 clearly shows why Batman is so many people’s favorite serious hero whether super or otherwise. Although aging and tormented, he’s determined to continue the fight for Gotham’s justice and unlike some, he encourages others to join the fight. The Blue Ray includes a two part Two Face episode from the original animated series, several featurettes, a documentary on Batman creator Bob Kane, a sneak peak of Part 2 (due in early 2013) and a digital comic book. This is definitely one for the permanent collection!