The year 1986 is considered a landmark for comics because of the debuts of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. Their successes demonstrated an interest in dark, gritty superhero stories dealing with adult subject matters beyond the cult audiences that read alternative comics. They helped change the perception of what comics could be and had a great influence on the comic-book industry and Hollywood. While the influence of The Dark Knight Returns can be seen in the Batman films of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, the first two books of the miniseries were adapted into a DC Universe Animated Original Movie.
As the story begins, it's been 10 years since the last sighting of Batman because Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) retired after the loss of Jason Todd, the second to wear the Robin costume. But with a group of criminals known as the Mutants terrorizing Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon set to retire, and Harvey Dent/Two-Face going missing after being released from Arkham Asylum, Wayne can no longer sit by.
Although Batman returns, not everyone appreciates his brand of justice. Dent's psychologist, Bartholomew Wolper (Michael McKean), even goes so far as to say Batman is to blame for the villains he fights. However, one young girl, 13-year-old Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), is so inspired after being saved by the Caped Crusader she takes it upon herself to become the new Robin. But will she help or become a liability as Batman strives to clean up Gotham, a task already made difficult by Wayne's age?
The Blu-ray has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The bright hues of the colors shine. Blacks are solid and contribute to the spectacular look of the numerous shadows, but they also tend to crush on occasion. The rain effects during Batman's first re-appearance look very good. The line work of the artwork is fine and comes through very well. There was some minor banding from light sources.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The track is front heavy, not delivering as much surround as needed to immerse the viewer. Dialogue is clear and mixes well with the other sound elements, though the synthesizer music in Christopher Drake's score seems an odd choice. The LFE is decent, though the battle with the mutants seems tame at times considering the amount of firepower on display.
Blu-ray exclusives include "Her Name is Carrie... Her Role is Robin" (HD, 12 min), a look at the creation of the character, and the mislabeled "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Digital Comic" (HD) which is really just three pages of the comic.
Other extras include "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 Sneak Peek" (HD, 7 min), a behind-the-scenes look at the story's conclusion out January 29, 2013, and the 2008 documentary Batman and Me: A Devotion to Destiny, The Bob Kane Story (SD, 38 min), which includes archival interviews with Kane paired with interviews of Stan Lee, Mark Hamill, Jerry Robinson and others. "Two-Face, Parts 1 & 2" from Batman: The Animated Series (SD, 46 min), and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Sneak Peek (SD, 8 min), a trailer for the 2009 movie.
The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is a great adaptation of Miller's work that offers an extremely interesting take on the Batman character and his approach to fighting crime. The plot is faithful, the animation outstanding, and the voice acting impressive. The only negative is that they chose to divide the story into two films, which is unnecessary considering the 76-minute runtime of Part 1. Read Part 2 review.