Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Scott Patterson
Written by: Brian Augustyn, Jim Krieg
Directed by: Sam Liu
Running Time: 78 minutes
When Gotham by Gaslight was published as a special in 1989, it came out at a time when Batman was red hot. The first Batman film with Michael Keaton had recently been released and cover that DC Comics put Batman on became an instant collector’s item. And trust me…DC definitely tried to put Batman on EVERYTHING! Gotham by Gaslight was the first of the Elseworld series, sort of DC’s version of Marvel’s “What If” that imagined different versions or settings for traditional characters.
Written by Brian Augustyn, with art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell, the story featured Batman on the trail of Jack the Ripper in a Victorian era Gotham City. Batman is considered largely a myth to scare people by most residents of the city but when a mysterious killer begins to kill young women in particularly bloody and brutal fashion some city leaders blame the mysterious Dark Knight.
Batman has his first encounter with the masked Ripper when Selina Kyle, a famous stage actress, uses herself as bait in an attempt to catch the killer. Batman intervenes to rescue her but both are bested in battle by the skilled killer who manages to escape. Meanwhile the pressure to find the killer mounts on the Gotham police led by James Gordon and Harvey Bullock. As the death toll rises, Batman has to call upon all of his physical and detective kills to capture and unmask the murderer.
At the time of its release in comic form Gotham by Gaslight seemed little more than cheap attempt to cash in on Batman’s popularity and it probably was. Yet, almost 30 years later the story stands on its own not only because it was the first Elseworlds story but also because it is damn good.
As far as adaptations go the film is relatively faithful to the source material, or at least as faithful as you can be in a 78 minute film. Parts of the comic special which are not important to the main plot were eliminated such as a short origin of how Bruce Wayne became Batman. But where the film truly shines is capturing the gritty, grimy look of the comic. The shadowy, claustrophobic streets of Gotham which were gorgeously rendered by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell are perfectly captured by the team of animators. You can feel the impending terror of an exotic dancer as she walks home by herself, the walls closing in as she is stalked by the Ripper.
DC’s animated films almost always have strong voice casts and Gotham by Gaslight is no different. Bruce Greenwood returns for his third turn voicing Bruce Wayne/Batman and is joined by Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) as Selina Kyle; Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Alfred; and Scott Patterson (Saw series) as James Gordon.
DC’s animated films have always been hit and miss. Those based upon recent storylines like Flashpoint and the New 52 have been rather horrible while those adaptations of older stories like “The Killing Joke” and “The Dark Knight Returns” have been vastly superior. Gotham by Gaslight definitely fits into the latter category. The film is rated R for some intense scenes of blood and gore and not at all for kids.
Caped Fear: The First Elseworlds (20:45) looks at the development of the comic special and adaptation into film.
Sneak Peek at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (8:33) A look at the next DC animated project.
Two bonus cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series.