Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Review: Smartly Innovative and Gripping

Will Romine writes:

[rwp-review-recap id="0"]

Hey-o! It's your old pal Will Romine again coming to you from DC Entertainment's DC in D.C. weekend.  So nice of DC to hold an event in my backyard. It's like San Diego Comic-Con, except I get to go back to my own bed at the end of the night and I'm not paying $8 for an over-cooked and under-good pretzel.

To kick off this landmark event, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment hosted the world premiere of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight at the Newseum. I've attended a lot of DC animated premieres, but this one was in a league of its own. Open bar and hors d'oeuvres. I came for the animation, I stayed for the single malt and bacon-wrapped dates.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight was originally a one-shot graphic novel published in 1989. This seminal work was DC's first Elseworld, transplanting the settings and characters of the Batman mythos into the late 19th century and pitting the Caped Crusader against Jack the Ripper.

This animated adaptation is not a panel-by-panel recreation of the graphic novel. Rather, this animated feature takes steampunk and Sherlock Holmesian elements of the source material and weaves them into a wholly original and entertaining story. Non-spoiler alert (but spoiler alert if you want to know absolutely nothing about the film going in): the guy who did it in the graphic novel is not the same guy who did it in the movie. He's not even in the movie!

Gotham by Gaslight

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight takes a markedly different approach in converting its 64 pages of source material into a feature-length film. Rather than faithfully reproducing every story beat like The Dark Knight Returns or slapping on a superfluous second story on to the main plot (I'm looking at you, The Killing Joke), Gotham by Gaslight instead takes the kernel of the idea of Victorian Batman pursuing Jack the Ripper and lets it blossom. This film fleshes out the world of the graphic novel to include a swath of Batman's allies and rogues gallery absent from the original graphic novel, including Dr. Leslie Tompkins and Solomon Grundy. This broader cast of characters allows for a much richer mystery.

In the source material, the small cast of characters narrowed the possible identities of Jack the Ripper and turned what should have been a "whodunit" into a "whoofthesethreecharactersdunit." While this film improved upon the source, it did so in a respectful, constructive manner. Executive Producer Bruce Timm even reached out to Mike Mignola, the graphic novel's original artist, to design these extra characters. However, Mignola placed this task in Mr. Timm's capable hands, citing the desire to see the film with fresh eyes.

Most importantly, I believe this film is worthy of the "Elseworlds" moniker, maybe even more so than the source comic. A good Elseworlds story is a study of nature vs. nurture. Well-known heroes and villains appear in times and settings antithetical to our basic understanding of them. It is this understanding that lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Plot twists and surprises emerge when we realize that, though these characters share a name and costume as their mainstream counterparts, the influences and environment that shaped them are radically different. Will the core values of these characters shine through, or is their little corner of the multiverse too divergent from our own to produce the hero/villain that we all know and love/hate? Batman: Gotham by Gaslight does this effectively and uses what we think we know about certain characters to construct a fully realized mystery.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight will be available by Digital Download on January 23rd and on DVD and Blu-ray on February 6th. Can't wait until then? Check out this short clip from the film:

[rwp-review-ratings id="0"]

[rwp-review-form id="0"]

About Will Romine

Dear Red, If you're reading this, you've gotten out. And if you've come this far, maybe you're willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don't you? I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I'll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well. Your friend, Will Romine.