Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 DVD Review

Twenty six years on from publication, Frank Miller's gritty dystopian epic is regarded as a masterpiece. If ever there were a definitive end to the Batman legacy, it would be "The Dark Knight Returns" (let's just forget the sequel "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" and put that down to early onset dementia, whether in us or Frank Miller). Picking up the story ten years after Bruce Wayne hung up his cape and cowl for what was meant to be the final time, Gotham City has been overrun by a new breed of criminal - the Mutants. Whether it be the elderly Wayne or the youthful Carrie Kelly, no innocent can so much as walk down the street without running into at least one member of the gang. Something must be done, but the Police aren't cutting it. The Batman must return.

First of all, let's get the gushing praise out of the way - this film is absolutely phenomenal. It captures the spirit of the original comic book perfectly. Gotham City is just that right blend of futuristic 80's grime we all imagined it would be and there's a palpable sense of dread for the residents. Whether Batman returned or not, something had to be done. This terror is effectively heightened through the use of worrying news reports throughout, not to mention occasional cutaways, showing the citizens being victimised. Never has there been a harsher depiction of Batman's hometown, let alone on film.

Fans of the original comic book may worry about how the story has been divided between Parts 1 and 2, but I'm pleased to report that this entry has been perfectly structured. It functions as it's own individual story, whilst establishing key components for the second half next year. This particular installment focuses almost solely upon Batman's war against the Mutant menace. Bruce has a lot to prove to the people of Gotham, as well as himself. Also along for the ride are faithful manservant Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner of Police  James Gordon and new addition, Carrie Kelly, as the latest to don the mantle of Robin (her choice, not Batman's). There is a certain sequence wherein Batman chases a deranged Two-Face that feels slightly off-topic, but that subplot comes straight from the source material and it felt rather a strange choice there too. However, it also functions as a valuable insight into Bruce returning to work as Batman. He's not quite back to 100%, but this outing makes for a useful test-run.

A lovely little design flourish I noticed about the film was the way in which Batman begins the story looking like his traditional self and slowly over the course of the 70 minute runtime morphs into what most would call a Frank Miller character. It was a trick originally used in the source material and over the years, Miller has repeatedly spoken of this methodology. To start with the iconography everyone expects of the character and then slowly make it your own. He used it to similar effect in his run on Daredevil and his reinterpretation of the Kingpin character. By the time TDKR Part 1 comes to it's end, the transition is complete and Bruce has ditched the blue and yellow hues of his famous costume in favour of a more stealthy black and plain logo. The old Batman is dead. In his place, the new Batman. Frank Miller's Batman.

The voice casting, the most essential part of any animated adaption, works in spades where it counts. Peter Weller makes for an absolutely wonderful Batman. Somehow he perfectly captures the weariness of old age, yet the wistful longing for a return to one's youth. His Bruce Wayne almost didn't need the Mutant threat to get back to the Bat. He's been living a quiet, dull, boring existence for far too long and he's positively itching to put himself back in danger. For instance, the film begins with the elderly Wayne competing in a prolonged race sequence and he's taking every conceivable risk to get that last ounce of power out of his engine. Later, when Commissioner Gordon mentions just how happy he is that Bruce survived his tenure as Batman, you can feel Bruce positively squirm at the thought. In his mind he never wanted to stop, but the tragedy of Jason Todd's death forced his hand. His retirement is akin to a raw nerve, poke the memory of it too many times and he's going to do something rash and impulsive.

Ariel Winter similarly makes for an equally impressive Carrie Kelly (aka Robin III). Her story largely takes place away from Wayne's, as her decision to take up a life of vigilantism is completely her own. Like most good sidekicks, there's a moment of inspiration where she sees her hero in the flesh and can't help but want to emulate him. Even when it comes to the big battle against the Mutant horde, her presence there is of her own choosing, Bruce has no idea she's out there dressed as Robin. But when they do finally meet, the moment is filled with the appropriate amount of pathos and you're excited to see the Dynamic Duo back together again. Winter brings just the right level of naivety and fangirl enthusiasm to the role.

The only weak links come in the form of David Selby's Commissioner Gordon and Gary Anthony Williams' Mutant Leader. It's not that they're necessarily doing a bad job, as overly generic. I think maybe I've been spoiled on Commissioner Gordon ever since Bob Hastings' definitive take on Batman: The Animated Series, capturing just the right measure of gruff gusto and fatherly concern. In comparison, Selby comes away the poorer, channeling far too much an old man at the end of his days. Admittedly, that's exactly where the character is at in the story, but Jim Gordon has always been portrayed as such a strong individual, even into his elder days, that to hear him so weathered and weary, it's a little disconcerting. As for Williams' Mutant Leader, he doesn't even have the benefit of a comparison. It's simply that he's loud, brash and chewing the scenery (or Mayors) at every opportunity. When your performance goes that big, it's hard to exude a quiet menace afterwards.

Ultimately, "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1" is a fantastic adaptation of what was already a masterpiece and could quite possibly be the best animated feature DC have put out thus far. Where occasionally they'd played it safe with generic titles like "Justice League: Doom", this is as close to edgy as edgy gets, especially for a PG rated film. Animated Batman films have always pushed the boundaries, resulting in some of the best work the field has ever seen, whether it be "Mask of the Phantasm" or "Return of the Joker". I would proudly list "Dark Knight Returns" alongside them. In a year where Batman has dominated theatrically with Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Rises", I'd ask no one overlook the home video additions, as more often than not, they're giving their big budget brothers a run for their money.

9.5 out of 10


Monday, 24 September 2012

Weekly Round-Up 25/09/2012


Epitomising the notion of DC's "Zero Month", we're taken all the way back to Dick Grayson's origin as Robin. It's pretty much beat for beat everything you'd expect from such a story. No radical reinventions on display here. But even so, a solid retelling of the tale none the less. The only true alterations come in the form of furthering writer Kyle Higgins' running theme of Dick always looking forward, never back. There's a particularly clever scene depicting this, with Dick and a childhood friend racing a train and saving an endangered innocent in the process. The only possible downside is the ghastly revisionist Robin costume. What was once a tunic and pixie boots has become a godawful suit of armour with so many details it must take the artist an hour to simply remember what it looked like in the last panel. The New 52 has been rife with such outfits and sometimes they could do with taking a step back and realising - simpler is better.

8 out of 10


In the final issue of this landmark crossover between 616 and Ultimate universes, Peter Parker and Miles Morales team up one last time to take down the dimension-hopping threat of Mysterio. So why does it feel like nothing much actually happened in this mini-series? Over the course of these five issues, conflict has been kept to a minimum, instead being more of a polite meet and greet between the two Spider-Men. Mysterio is so easily defeated in this issue that you can't help but wonder why it took so long in the first place. However, it's not all bad, as the bonding between the two arachnid-themed heroes has been genuinely funny and compelling. While it's not really the 616 Peter's place to give Miles his blessing (what with being in the wrong universe and all), the advice he was relaying was heartfelt and meaningful. Miles has always been lacking in any endorsement from his universe's dead Peter Parker, so it's quite fitting he receives it here. The issue ends on a hell of a cliffhanger, with Peter looking into whether or not the 616 universe has a Miles Morales of it's own. I don't know what it is that he found on that Google search, but I'm sure I'd buy another mini-series to find out!

9 out of 10


As a life-long Star Trek fan, the initial news of this mini-series captivated my interest. Unfortunately, the implementation has failed to deliver on every conceivable level. Beginning five hundred years in the future, it's revealed that the Borg have achieved their goal of assimilating the entire galaxy. Yet their quest for perfection has yielded no answers, no resolution, no peace - they're actually quite bored by it. The reassimilated Locutus sets into motion a plan to restore the region to it's former glory and like all good Trek stories - uses time travel to do it. The issue itself features a horrifying scene which can only be described as Picard calling old flame Vash for a booty call, a frankly laughable Data substitute and manages to undo four seasons of character development for a major Voyager cast member (it shouldn't be too hard to guess who - she's on the cover!). Also, if the plot hinges on travelling back in time to stop the total assimilation of the galaxy, who are these new inter-dimensional beings acting as the villain and why should we care about them when all signs point to them being a wild goose chase. When Brannon Braga left the Star Trek franchise behind, that was the best decision anyone could ever have made. Why undo that all these years later?

3 out of 10


Still reeling from the shocking events from issue 100, Rick's group have made their way back home to the Washington compound. Last issue's cliffhanger reveal of Andrea having captured a prisoner would have typically been taken as a rallying cry, especially with this group of characters. However, writer Robert Kirkman expertly turns the dynamic on it's head. Sure having a prisoner is a tactical advantage, but they're up against overwhelming numbers and one man held in a cupboard isn't going to change that. Previously, we would've expected lead character Rick Grimes to take his sweet revenge on the prisoner and set out looking for the villain, but recent events have shaken this once proud man into apathy. Where mere issues before he was offering his military support to a neighbouring community, he's now backed down and is actually conceding to the rebel's demands (or at least we think he is). For a hundred issues, these characters have proudly taken on the world all by themselves. This issue intelligently explores the option of cowardice under such circumstances, as worrying as that may be.

10 out of 10

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Weekly Round-Up 01/09/2012


Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis' successful post-modern revival of Aquaman continues in this next chapter of "The Others". Arthur himself has gone rogue, leaving his team and wife in his wake, chasing after long-time nemesis Black Manta. While I hugely enjoyed this issue, not to mention the rest of the arc as a whole, this part of the story was very much transitory. Just as everyone catches up to Manta for, what appeared to be the final confrontation, he escapes once again and sets up the actual conclusion in two months time. Ultimately, it's gorgeously drawn and beautifully written, but not a lot actually happens. In the trade, nobody will notice any deficiencies though. 9/10


The previous three issues very slowly brought together the crews of the Enterprise D and the Tardis. Bringing us to this fourth issue, for the most part relating to pleasantries. Our heroes have gotten over the initial apprehension, so now it's time to sit down for a drink and hash things out. Good thing we have Ten Forward on hand, as tended by resident know-it-all, Guinan. She and the Doctor trade barbs and let on that they know alot more about the universe than they should (duh!). There's a new revelation on the villain front, as the Cybermen appear to have turned on their Borg allies. The only problem with this being we never saw any teamwork besides one half-arsed planetary assimilation. This heel-turn was meant to catch us by surprise, when in reality I wonder how they ever got together in the first place. 3/10


Being part three of an ongoing arc, you'd expect no major revelations in such a middle chapter (a problem Aquaman #12 faced earlier). However, that presumption assumes you've never read anything by Scott Snyder! Acting as somewhat of a character piece, "The Blacklist" finds Pearl still on the hunt for the vampires who attacked her frail elderly husband, Henry. She waxes nostalgic about the early days of their marriage, sending her into a deep depression (not as morose as it sounds). Which makes this the worst possible time to be teaming up with a manipulative bastard like Skinner Sweet! Sufficed to say Pearl makes a shocking, albeit long-expected, pass at her sire and quite possibly the worst mistake of her undead life. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Immensely enjoyable on it's own and astoundingly rewarding for long time readers. 10/10