“Skinny little Hansi.”
“She grew up. She filled out.”
[There may be SPOILERS ahead for The Dark Knight Returns, both animated and comic-ated.]
Now I suspect it’s going to be hard to believe that one can forget a large, gun-totin’ woman named Bruno, topless save for some kind of adhesive swastikas placed over her breasts, and yet this is apparently what happened to me prior to popping in Part Two of DC’s direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. If I had remembered, I’m sure it would have crossed my mind at least once to ponder “I wonder if they’re actually going to go through with that” or “I wonder if they’ll tone it down a bit.” Instead, it came as a complete surprise to me when Bruno showed up on screen. And it certainly is a different experience seeing Bruno in a four-minute fully-animated action sequence on a 50-inch screen as opposed to seeing a handful of panels in a comic book. And by “different” I mean “that’s going to come as a shock when Mom puts this on for Little Billy and then walks back into the room when Bruno’s onscreen fighting Batman.” Yeah, yeah, it’s PG-13 an’ all, but man, that felt like a bit much. So of course I got a screenshot and shared it with you on my site. You’re welcome.
As for the parts of this cartoon that aren’t about topless Neo-Nazis: what I was really looking forward to was Michael Emerson’s turn as The Joker. Emerson was probably the best part of that TV show Lost, playing an evil and slimy little jerk who was still at least somewhat sympathetic and certainly charismatic, and that performance comes though in this role as well. A bit of Emerson’s voice work on the Joker reminded me of, oddly enough, Paul Lynde, which I’m guessing was likely more coincidental than deliberate, and is certainly not a complaint. (And of course, when one thinks of Paul Lynde in relation to Batman, this comes to mind.) His Joker was definitely creepy and unsettling, and probably the high point of this whole endeavor.
And speaking of the whole endeavor…one of the most intrinsic parts of the original Dark Knight Returns comics was the constant internal dialogue running throughout, revealing each character’s hopes, fears, etc., as well as providing the most affecting and emotional points of the story. When Alfred dies as the Wayne Mansion burns, just seeing him drop onscreen doesn’t have anywhere near the impact of reading Alfred’s “Of course” when the same thing happens in the comic. And when they push the dialogue from the comic’s internal thoughts to the cartoon’s external voice…well, let’s just say having Commissioner Gordon outright say “I think of Sarah…the rest is easy” as part of a retirement speech to a roomful of people lacks the gravitas it has when he repeats it to himself in the comic.
And that whole business with Superman nearly being killed by the atomic explosion, and his subsequent revival. In the cartoon, it’s simply weird and grotesque. In the comic, with Superman’s inner pleading with Mother Earth, there’s that undercurrent of sadness and despair and desire to protect that’s left unspoken, nor even implied, in the adaptation. …I suspect some enterprising group of fans will someday make a reedit of these films, filling in the lost narration themselves, that the cartoons sorely lack.
Not to say that these films are entirely without merit…the big set pieces still work just fine: Batman’s battle with the Mutants leader, the last confrontation with the Joker, the climactic fight with Superman. And even the nearly last bit of business, with Carrie and Clark at Bruce’s grave site…that was pulled off nicely. I also appreciated that they didn’t stray too far from the comic’s 1980s origins, keeping Reagan as President, and there’s even a brief shot somewhere near the end of the film, which of course I can’t locate now, showing a storefront for “VHS / BETA” or something like that. Or maybe I imagined it. You make the call.
Overall, the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated adaptation was an interesting experiment, if flawed, with some nice voice work. I understand the choices the filmmakers made…well, my jury’s still out on the Bruno thing, but I guess fans would have complained if she wasn’t there…but in my opinion the loss of the internal dialogues from the comic cut most of the heart out of the story.
Well anyway, if these Dark Knight cartoons do well, maybe we’ll get an animated version of the sequel Dark Knight Strikes Again. That I’d like to see.