At some point in the mid-70s, I made the switch from reading Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck comic books to superheroes. My mom was particularly worried that they were too violent but dad knew it all part of growing up. DC Comics were much easier to find than Marvel where I lived so I immediately became a fan of Superman, Batman and the Justice League of America. At some point in the 80s, I got more wrapped up in going out with friends and temporarily put the comics on the shelf. However, by the late 80s, I was discovering all of the cool things going on that I missed. The Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Man of Steel mini-series, The Killing Joke and a little something called The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller. Now, we’re finally getting a chance to see that world in all of its HD animated glory.
Without a doubt, DC produces some of the very best animated movies out there for superhero fans. Marvel did well for a while but moved away from the direct-to-video releases in favor of TV series and the big screen epics. DC is a little behind the curve with their big screen flicks but they have cornered the animated market. However, even for them, bringing this controversial storyline to task was a big undertaking. Thankfully, rather than condense it down to 75 minutes, they broke it up into two parts, releasing part one in September 2012 and part two in January 2013. An excellent marketing strategy that paid off.
If you’ve never read the original trade paperback, do yourself a favor and read it first. It won’t ruin anything for you as this is one of those rare cases where the film version is just as entertaining as the original print and a very faithful adaptation. Bruce Wayne is now nearing 60 years old. He has retired as Batman following the death of Jason Todd aka Robin. Although this was not part of the original comic storyline, it is an homage to Todd’s death as depicted in the now infamous A Death in the Family storyline where Joker killed Robin. Its addition here works very well. Commissioner Gordon is retiring at the age of 70, despite Gotham City being overrun by a gang called the Mutants. Their leader is bloodthirsty with plans of controlling the city. In part 1, we see that the Joker is essentially catatonic, no longer having a spark of life since Batman has retired. The main villain in part 1 is Two-Face, who is healed physically and, supposedly, mentally by the egotistical Dr. Bartholomew Walper. However, Harvey Dent may look healed but his inner Two-Face returns just as Batman resurfaces. Batman brings Two-Face down as a catatonic Joker begins to show signs of life.
Batman’s struggles with age run throughout the two parts, as he battles the mutants and the police. The president (resembling a 80s era Ronald Reagan) enlists the aid of Superman to bring Batman to justice. Apparently, all superheroes stepped down due to public and government pressure. Now, Superman seems to work for the United States and Batman is viewed as a problem. Batman is aided by his butler Alfred (who must have been in his 90s by this point) and a new female Robin. By part two, Joker has returned and a killing spree follows like none before. I won’t spoil the rest but these were cutting edge storylines for 1986. Comics were changing and this story was one that moved comics away from the children’s section and more into the adult public eye.
On these two DVDs, DC offers up the usual selection of cartoon extras from Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Brave and the Bold. On the first disc, we get a good look at Batman creator Bob Kane that’s worth checking out. Peter Weller and Mark Valley do a great job with providing their voices to Batman and Superman. A top-notch story and animation from start to finish. I highly recommend these two entries in the DC animated universe. They are currently available separately but a new deluxe edition is set for release on Sept. 10. It will combine both parts into one long movie. However, the addition of a 70-minute documentary on Frank Miller and the creation of the original comic make it a logical decision to wait.