By C.J. Bunce

Eclipsing the highly anticipated live action summer release The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight Returns is up next.  An animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1986 seminal dystopian look at Batman is being produced by Warner Premiere/DC Comics Premiere Movies.

The news is somewhat bittersweet for diehard The Dark Knight Returns fans.  On the one hand, any well-done video adaptation would be a welcome sight.  That said, until we see a live action version of this major graphic novel, anything else is just something less than the potential that this property could realize in both viewers and revenues for DC.  Until we see Warner and DC Comics put this work on the big screen, we can’t get too excited here.

Providing the voice for the grim and hardened Batman is Peter Weller, who has been in several TV shows and movies, such as guest roles on House, M.D., Psych, Dexter, Fringe, Monk, 24, Star Trek: Enterprise, and key roles in the films Screamers, Leviathan, Buckaroo Bonzai, and of course, Robocop. It’s too bad this isn’t live action, as Weller’s great Robocop jaw could pull off the look of a 50-something Bruce Wayne.

This should be a good year for Weller, who also has an as yet-undisclosed role in the new Star Trek movie. And a resurgence of Robocop in light of a new big screen remake announced here previously should also shine a light on the original borg police officer.

Ariel Winter (Modern Family) will voice Robin, with Wade Williams (Prison Break) as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and genre favorite Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap, Homeland, Smallville, Sesame Street, The X-Files, Star Trek Voyager, Saturday Night Live, Coneheads, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Clue), expected to portray the doctor from Arkham Asylum, and David Selby, likely to portray one of the villains.  (We hear Mckean got hit by a car this week, so we all hope he recovers quickly).

What should be highly anticipated, and has not yet been released, are the voice actors who will portray the key guest appearances in Frank Miller’s novel: Alfred Pennyworth, the Joker, Superman, and Green Arrow.  I’d expect some key voice actors for the various newscasters, too, assuming this film follows the original’s focus on economic turmoil and 1980s excess.

Fans of the animated Batman: Year One, released last year, may appreciate this new animated feature the most.  The plan is for The Dark Knight Returns to be released on two parts, the first by year end and the second in early 2013.  Unfortunately it is also direct to video—so you won’t find this one at a theater unless Warner gives a preview at the San Diego Comic-Con this year as they did with Batman: Year One last year.  The first photos released yesterday really don’t seem to grab Frank Miller’s rugged style, so hopefully the actual release is able to attain some of that from the original sourcework.

Bob Goodman (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Static Shock) is writing the script for the film.  Storyboard artist and animation director Jay Oliva is directing.

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