Before the “Elseworlds” imprint ever came to DC Comics, there was Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola‘s comic one-shot, Gotham by Gaslight. The success of that one-off, which saw Batman in Victorian-era Gotham hunting Jack the Ripper, inspired the “Elseworlds” line of comics which allowed DC’s most famous heroes and infamous villains to go on adventures outside of canon. “Gotham by Gaslight” also inspired a follow-up story in Augustyn and artist Eduardo Barreto‘s tale “Master of the Future.” Now, in the latest DC Comics Animated Original Movies installment, both of the famous “Elseworlds” stories come to life in a unique way while also giving fans a new spin on the tale.
Sam Liu directs Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, a briskly paced 78-minute movie written by Jim Krieg and adapted from Augustyn’s pair of Victorian-era tales. The film succeeds in faithfully adapting the look, tone, and heart of the stories, but also in adding new flourishes that should delight longtime Batman fans. Visually, Gotham by Gaslight attempts to replicate Mignola’s incredible use of shadow–along with liters of black ink–and German Expressionism influence, while also playing up a steampunk aesthetic in order to show off a Gotham poised to embrace turn-of-the-century technology. It’s the most unique-looking animated DC tale in years, and its killer reveal will make you want to watch it again immediately. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is available now on Digital HD, Blu-ray/DVD and 4K. (The following review deals only with the Blu-ray.)
Let’s get a couple of general things out of the way before dipping into some more specifics of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Fans of the “Elseworlds” tales who are looking for a direct translation instead of an adaptation may be disappointed. Krieg & Co. have provided the core of the “Gotham by Gaslight / Master of the Future” stories while also adding original plot points, DC Comics cameos, and stunning action sequences that heighten the source material. (Oh and including Gotham’s World’s Fair and a tie-in to H.H. Holmes was particularly fun.) The eventual reveal of Jack the Ripper’s identity is different from that of the comics and I was pleasantly surprised by the bold choice this movie took; it provided an opportunity for something I’ve never seen in the history of DC Comics or their live-action/animated adaptations. It’s sure to evoke some divisive reactions.
More specifically, DC has corrected a lot of the missteps they’ve made in recent years. When the female characters are scantily clad or appear in a sexualized manner, those decisions actually serve the story; they’re either ladies of the night who find themselves the targeted victims of the Ripper, or empowered, progressive heroines who are using their sexuality as a means to an end. The women also have agency and aren’t simply damsels in distress, which is pretty refreshing for the DC brand.