After appearing in a litany of films both live action and animated, TV series and video games, the average Joe may think there’s not much else that can be done with the Dark Knight. Fortunately, the folks at Warner Bros. Animation have begun branching out in recent years, successfully mining the character’s 79-year comic book history. A couple years back, we saw the Bat Family generously fleshed out in Bad Blood and, now, we’ve been treated to something drastically different in the form of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.
For those unfamiliar, Gotham by Gaslight was originally published in literary form in 1989 and ended up starting the Elseworlds line of books. Written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola, it followed the exploits of a Batman residing in the 1800’s, tracking down Jack the Ripper.
Now, before I get any deeper into my review, I will say that this is the first DC animated flick that truly felt like it earned its R-rating. Before this, Batman: The Killing Joke and Justice League Dark had more of a very hard PG-13 vibe to them, but here, we get downright bloody – not to mention the colorful language and dark, mature themes.
It’s also important to note that I’d more so label this as being “inspired by” rather than a strict adaptation. While the movie does hit all of the major beats the source material did, it really does become its own beast. I mean, we do have a Victorian era Caped Crusader tearing it up, but fans of the more “classic Batman” will feel right at home, as this is a detective story at its core that’s just dripping with atmosphere.
If you’ve read the comic, then you’re well aware of its brevity. Had this been a straight-up translation, it’d have clocked in at around 30 minutes – possibly even less. So, naturally, director Sam Liu, screenwriter Jim Krieg and the rest of the filmmaking team had to embellish on the original story and inject new elements in order to accommodate for feature length.
Actually, eagle-eyed viewers will notice that several nods were given to Gotham by Gaslight‘s comic book sequel, Master of the Future, but various other characters from the Batman mythos are included in exciting new ways that make me vaguely recall another great Elseworlds tale, that being Thrillkiller. When I say that, please don’t mistake what I said thinking that these familiar villains and heroes are at all similar to those in Thrillkiller; I’m just saying that you need prepare yourself for new interpretations of Poison Ivy, Hugo Strange, three Robins and several others that fit into the period and the confines of the story. It really is some cool stuff.
One thing you do need to brace yourself for though, is that of Jack the Ripper’s identity being different from that of the source material. Truth be told, I liked what the movie had to offer even better. For your sake, I’m not going to spoil the big reveal, but the level of pathos they gave the killer was something to behold. I’m serious: Once Batman uncovers the truth, you’re going to be thinking about how the antagonist is one sick son of a bitch. Again, I’m going to stress how dark this picture gets. It WILL have people talking.
Funny enough, Batman finds himself working in tandem with one Selina Kyle at a time when the two are betrothed in current comic continuity. I guess these two are fated to find each other in no matter what universe they may be. Just know that she’s not necessarily “Catwoman” per se – but the spirit is there. She’s his greatest ally throughout the piece and I’m very much glad that the creative minds went about things the way they did.
Some of the chemistry can be attributed to those who voiced the characters, those being Bruce Greenwood and Jennifer Carpenter. And speaking of Greenwood, I’m happy to see him return as Batman in some capacity, having previously lent his pipes to the Masked Manhunter in Under the Red Hood and Young Justice. Now, if Jeremy Sisto can one day have another go….
By now, you’ve probably noticed that if I were to have any gripes about the feature presentation, they’d be very minor. But, to be honest, I found the supplemental content to be a tad light. Being somebody who owns each and every DC Universe animated movie, I’ve grown accustomed to consuming great bonus content. Perhaps another featurette or two would’ve done the trick.
What’s there is pretty decent, though. Personally, what I most dug was the sneak peek at the next entry in the line, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay and, believe me, that one will really earn its R-rating. “Caped Fear: The First Elseworld,” meanwhile, does a fine job of reminiscing on the Gotham by Gaslight comic book, and features the filmmakers’ justification for making changes to the material. Aside from that, a couple bonus cartoons and an audio commentary are all else that’s there for you to sink your teeth into.
Understandably, some of you may be wondering how Batman: Gotham by Gaslight stacks up against its predecessors. Truthfully, I’ll say that it’s a visual and storytelling marvel, but with so many incredible animated Batman movies coming before, there are bound to be a handful of those that I’ll forever find superior.
To draw a brief parallel, I found myself trying to rank the most recent album from my favorite band, Cradle of Filth, among their past musical offerings. When placed among such an expansive catalog, it can be like choosing your favorite child. Now, you may not be the fan of extreme metal that I am, but you probably know what I’m getting at and can relate in some fashion. What I’m saying is to enjoy it for the achievement that it is and to not let the shadow of what’s come before diminish it.
WB Animation prove they're not messing around as they kickoff 2018 with a dark, mature Batman movie that's as riveting as it is uncompromising.