In the thirteenth episode of The Pop Culture Lens podcast, Christopher Olson and I welcome friend of the podcast, and unofficial third co-host, Joe Belfeuil to discuss the lasting impact of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

We were all fans of the comic book / graphic novel at some point in the past, but we all agree now that there are problems with the story, such as the muddled representation of Batman as a hero but also a villain, and the continuing impact of the story on every iteration of the Batman character since. But there can be no denying that the story was immensely informed by the era from which it came; the question is, do we need a different version of Batman now for the era in which we live?

The audio inserts in this episode come from the trailers for the animated adaptations that Warner Brothers produced; there needed to be two movies to tell the entire story, using basically all of Miller’s panels for storyboards and writing for dialogue. The end song, of course, comes from the Batman character in The Lego Movie, which parodies this Dark Knight character.

I first really fell in love with the character in 1992, when Batman: The Animated Series premiered. I had seen Tim Burton’s Batman in the theater, but I hadn’t been to keen on it. I don’t know if it was too dark, too much showing the influence of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to really hook me, or if Vicky Vale was just too annoying for me at the time. But the animated series, boy howdy did I love that. My brothers and I would sit in front of the big screen TV in the living room, and turn up the volume during the opening theme at just the right time to try to blow out the speakers with that explosion.

And I know the series owed a lot of Burton’s film, but I found it more unique, more focused on solving mysteries, and with better characterizations than I saw in that movie. I still think the animated series represents the best version of Batman, Mark Hamill will always be The Joker to me, and Mask of the Phantasm is still the best Batman movie ever on screen. And I do think the Batman character is interesting for how it relates to the Robin Hood archetype, for good and for ill.

So if I get contentious or uppity during this episode, now you know why. I heart Batman.

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