What if Batman was on the trail of Jack the Ripper? This was the idea that writer Brain Augustyn and artist Mike Mignola brought forth back in 1989 in what was to be DC’s first Elseworlds book (stories that take place outside the DC canon) as it placed everyone’s favorite caped crusader in the Victorian time period and pitted him against one of the most famous serial killers in history. Now in 2018 Warner Bros. Animation has released their second “R” rated animated movie and with it we are treated to a dark and haunting adaptation that is easily one of the better entries from the studio.
The look of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is simply fantastic, from the dark shadowy streets of Victorian Gotham to the new designs for our much beloved cast of characters everything on display looks great, and as an added bonus fans of the graphic novel will be able to view this animated entry spoiler free as Jim Krieg’s screenplay does not follow the whodunit plot from the pages of the comic but instead he creates his own mystery and culprit. This story follows the adventures of million Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) who has just returned from London to help unveil Gotham’s World’s Fair, which is to be a beacon of hope for the city’s future, but all is not bright in shiny in Gotham as an evil menace is stalking Gotham’s “working ladies” and only Batman has a chance of stopping this foul fiend.
My only real disappoint in this production was in the decision to choose Pamela Isley (Kari Wuhrer), known to Batman fans as the villainous Poison Ivy, as the Ripper’s first victim. I know it must be hard to resist name checking as many famous characters from the comic book as possible, and we do get a nice moment where Batman encounters three street urchins named Dick, Jason and Timmy, but to take one of the strongest female characters from Batman’s rogues gallery and turn her into a prostitute simply to have her brutally murdered in the film’s opening minutes is a real shame. The movie tries to make up for this by introducing Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter) as a strong and forceful suffragette who may be star of local nightclub but she also spends a good amount of her time trying to track down Jack the Ripper herself.
Unfortunately the Ripper is too strong for Selina to handle, she is almost strangled by her own bullwhip and is only spared death by the timely arrival of Batman, which leads to a discussion of this movie’s version of Jack the Ripper and as mentioned the identity of the Ripper is not the one found in the graphic novel, nor is even the notorious killer who stalked the streets of White Chapel, but instead he is an original creation for this movie.
Now Batman: Gotham by Gaslight may be billed as a Batman mystery but there is no real way for a viewer to deduce the identity of The Ripper before the movie does the big reveal, the film tries to throw a major Red Herring at us but then doesn’t provide any real clues to the actual culprit, and that this particular Jack the Ripper was able to go toe-to-toe with the Dark Knight and almost come out on top had me wondering “What classic character from his Rogues Gallery would be an equal when it comes to hand-to-hand combat with Batman?” Could it be a Victorian version of Bane or possibly the immortal Ra’s al Ghu who actually would have been around during this time period? I’ll say this if you somehow manage to figure out the man under the top hat before the big reveal you’re a modern day Hercule Poirot and should apply to Scotland Yard today. But Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is more about placing our hero in a new environment and getting to see him use steampunk versions of his grappling gun, awesome steam powered vehicles and tracking the killer down using the detective instruments of that time period.
The film does include many of Batman’s classic cast of characters; Bruce Wayne’s every faithful butler Alfred (Anthony Head) is on hand to provide stoic advice and a ready bat costume, Commissioner Gordon (Scott Patterson) seems to have a tentative alliance with the Dark Knight while Chief Bullock (John DiMaggio) has a more “Shoot to kill” attitude towards the vigilante, and we get Bruce Wayne’s best friend Harvey Dent (Yuri Lowenthal) who’s excessive drinking reveals a “Jekyll & Hyde” nature that is most disturbing. These Victorian adaptations all work rather well, and I especially like the backstory they create here for Selina Kyle, and though we don’t get to see her in her trademark skin tight catsuit she still looks fantastic, and Gotham City herself is just about the biggest character in this movie as the gas lit streets and shadowed cemeteries make for a perfect setting for this dark tale. And that’s really what makes this animated movie standout from the others as its distinctive look and style more than make up for any lack of action or story issues. If the mystery lets you down the stunning visuals will certainly perk you up.
Blood and language easily earns this film its “R” rating and thus this is not one for the kiddies but as a follow up to the last year’s adaptation The Killing Joke it’d say it is a vast improvement and has me hoping to see them take a crack at Superman: Red Son. The Bluray of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight hits stores February 6th and I heartily recommend the purchase.