DCAU #251: Legends of the Dark Knight

IN THIS ONE... Who is the real Batman? Tributes to Dick Sprang and Frank Miller.

CREDITS: Written by Robert Goodman and Bruce Timm; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: A fun change of pace that pays tribute to other eras of Batman. Dick Sprang madness (coupled with winks to Batman '66)... Frank Miller's Dark Knight... And apparently, we almost got a Neil Adams version out of it, but it was deemed too hard to animate, perhaps that would have balanced the sequences though, both of which I find just a touch too long, and it's like that third kid didn't really get a story to tell. Along the way, a few fun references to a supernatural Batman that never was, and to the silly movie Batman of the 90s, according to a teenager called Joel standing by a store labeled "Shoemaker". Cute and clever.

The story makes the point that most Gothamites don't really get to interact with Batman, and don't know what his deal is. For most, he's still an urban legend. And so these kids are free to imagine the hero they like. One kid has an uncle who was helped by Batman once, so he sees the 50s Batman in a wonderful retro sequence that at once celebrates Dick Sprang's long, long run on the character, the animation of yesteryear and the 60s Batman show. Giant props, flat colors, flashes every time someone gets hit, puns aplenty, old-fashioned exposition, and reaction shot stills. Huge fun.

For the older girl of the group, Carrie, Batman is a grimdark avenger fighting a punk gang called the Mutants with a battle tank and the help of a female Robin who happens to be... her. Changing Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns from a possible future to a girl's fantasy is a great idea, and while I can't stand generic rock music soundtracks (always expecting Lobo to show up), it's really cool to see Miller's solid blacks and unique style put to animation.

In the end, the kids do interact with the real Batman and he's somewhere in the middle of both those perceptions. I love how that first kid punches the air when Batman throws a pun Firefly's way. And yet, his attitude shows a Bat who could one day become Carrie's Dark Knight.

IN THE COMICS: The idea of kids imagining their own versions of Batman is right out of Batman #250 (1973) by Frank Robbins and Dick Giordano, though Bruce Timm apparently had it independently; the Gotham Knight DVD release retells that story more faithfully. Batman as supernatural creature does come from that story though. The Joker sequence is drawn in the style of Dick Sprang, the iconic Batman artist of the Golden and Silver Ages; it is of course full of giant props. The Dynamic Duo's handshake is a tribute to a similar shot used in the Batman '66 animated opening sequence. The postapocalypse sequence is right out of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, with many steals from his work, as well as Carrie Kelly as Robin, the Mutants as antagonists, etc. It is essentially an adaptation of its first act. The title of the episode was used as one of Batman's monthly books from 1989 to 1993.

SOUNDS LIKE: I thought for sure Adam West did the 50s Batman voice, but no, it's Gary Owens (Space Ghost) doing a damn fine impression. Michael McKean from This Is Spinal Tap etc. is 50s Joker, while Brianne Siddall (Digimon) lends her voice to 50s Robin. In the Dark Knight (or 80s) story, Michael Ironside (Darkseid in the DCAU, Scanners, Top Gun, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, etc. elsewhere) is Batman, Anndi McAfee (Cera in The Land Before Time) is Carrie "Robin" Kelly, the Kevin Michael Richardson (who would go on to play the Joker in The Batman) plays the Mutant Leader. Ryan O'Donohue (Matt) would go on to play Matt McGinnis in Batman Beyond. Jeremy Foley (Nick) played Billy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Philip Van Dyke (Joel) is also known as the goblin Luke in the Halloweentown movies.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Despite my criticisms, this is a must watch celebration for Batman fans.


Anonymous said...


Green Luthor said...

I liked the episode for the most part, but my biggest complaint would be with "Joel". I get that they wanted to throw in a Schumacher joke. But... a feather boa? Really? It throws too much of a "ha, ha, Joel Schumacher is gay" vibe (which, it should probably be pointed out, he actually is). It's not like it wasn't obvious what the joke was, and near as I can tell, Schumacher isn't known for dressing outlandishly, so... yeah. (But maybe that's just me.)

Anonymous said...

I met Joel Schumacher at a press junket for the movie Flawless, and let me say, they nailed him pretty perfectly.

When he walked in, it had been just a few months since I first saw this episode, and literally my first thought was "It's Joel from the Dark Knight episode!"


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