Bummed that the Christopher Nolan Bat-franchise has shone its signal into Gotham’s gloomy skies for the last time? Never fear: an animated adaptation of some of Nolan’s most important source material is on its way from Warner Bros. Animation. The trailer for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 hit the Internet yesterday, and it looks like this direct-to-home video project will remain fairly faithful to Frank Miller’s groundbreaking, grim-and-gritty 1986 graphic novel:
According to the official synopsis, as the film begins, “Batman has not been seen for ten years. A new breed of criminal ravages Gotham City, forcing 55-year-old Bruce Wayne back into the cape and cowl. But, does he still have what it takes to fight crime in a new era?”
The Dark Knight Returns is the only work of Frank Miller’s I have read and, from what I’ve heard about his other projects, it’s the only one of his works that I care to. While I recognize Miller’s achievement in rescuing Batman from the campy (but often clever) clutches of the Adam West TV series by returning the hero to his rough-and-tumble roots as an urban vigilante, the book paved the way not only for Tim Burton’s semi-serious 1989 Batman and, ultimately, such projects as Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but also an era of “realistic” superhero stories full of grit, gore, and gloom.
I’m not arguing that comic book superheroes and their fans should have stayed stuck in Silver Age silliness, but I do sometimes wonder whether the persistent popularity of dark, dystopian visions of Batman and other iconic superheroes says something troubling about our culture, let alone the state of our souls. “This is the judgment,” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3.19). Of course, the Savior is not critiquing superhero stories or cinema! Even so, our fascination with “mature” superhero narratives occasionally gives me pause.
Of course, for all the darkness of Frank Miller’s Batman, the story ends on a note of hope–and (consistent with Christian understanding) hope not easily achieved or cheaply purchased. There is darkness in the world, after all, and it is “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” that we struggle (Eph. 6.12), but struggle in hope.
Besides, Frank Miller gave us one of the best Robins ever. So I am, in the end, looking forward to The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (even if it is apparently going the way of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hobbit franchises in milking multiple installments and as much money out of a story as possible!).
Have you read The Dark Knight Returns? Are you anticipating the animated version?
All Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.