Batman Goes Steampunk In The Animated Adaption Of Gotham By Gaslight

by Ben Martin

Since the early 90s, we comic book fans have been treated to animated adaptations of our favorite characters. As a kid, I devoured the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons, respectively (both released in 1994). However, my favorite animated superhero series was and is Batman: The Animated Series (1992), by a long-shot. Unlike the other cartoons of the era, Batman: The Animated Series had a much darker and more serious tone; no doubt taking its cues from the big-screen Tim Burton films of the time. At the same time though, the series had its own unique look and interpretation of the characters in Batman’s universe. It’s for this reason that during and after its run, The Animated Series made an indelible imprint on how animated adaptations should be approached, particularly at Warner Bros./DC Animation. So much so in fact that Batman: The Animated Series co-creator, Bruce Timm still oversees DC’s animation division.
For the past several years, DC has been following two trends in regards to their direct-to-video adaptations. Firstly, like many others, the company has strayed away from traditional, smooth animation. Instead, they go for a more anime-inspired look, for the most part. The characters are sharply drawn and edgy while the worlds and backgrounds they inhabit on-screen are of a more traditional and rounded design. While I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest anime fan, I appreciate DC Animation combining these two styles. Secondly, the animated films of The DC Universe haven’t come from original scripts; but are instead adaptations of graphic novels and trade-paperbacks from the publisher. The adaptation in review here is based on the 1989 Elseworlds graphic novel, Gotham by Gaslight and it’s sequel, Master of the Future (1991)  both written by Brian Augustyn.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is set in a Victorian-era Gotham City. From the rumors on the gaslit streets, it seems Batman (Bruce Greenwood) has only been engaged in his crusade against crime a short while, as many still don’t believe he exists. However, the city does fear its newest threat, Jack the Ripper. This unknown serial killer is picking off what he or she considers to be “loose” women. Among The Ripper’s potential victims is Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter). However, Selina does not intend to be easy prey and will defend herself against Jack. With the clock ticking for every woman in Gotham, Batman is on the case.

I realize that the synopsis above is a very brief one. But, as with any mystery, the less you know, the better. When it comes to DC’s animated films over the last few years, I find them to be a mixed bag. Though they are all animated features of quality on a technical level, for the most part. Thankfully, Gotham by Gaslight proved to be one of the stronger entries that the studio has produced of late. The story itself is intriguing and was very much appreciated by a history buff like myself. The narrative is a smart take on history, using it for genre inclusion; as was the graphic novel on which it’s based. Aside from the story, Gotham by Gaslight offers up a visual feast. Taking into account it’s setting, the animation is of a much more traditional style, which I very much appreciated as it adds to the mood and atmosphere of Gaslight.

Those expecting a straight-up adaptation of the source material, be aware, this movie does stray from the text a bit. Granted, that’s understandable considering the graphic novel bearing the same name is quite short and sparse in regards to dialogue. As I mentioned earlier, this film, in part, is also based on The Master of the Future, the cribbings from which I thought served the picture well. In doing this, many characters not included in the original graphic novels were put in this adaptation. For the most part, this also enhances the film. However there is a group of characters featured that I felt were completely unnecessary.  I won’t spoil who they are as I’m sure they will stick out like a sore thumb when you see this flick for yourself.
The only real problems I had with this movie were relatively minor.  For one, I didn’t care for the reveal of  Jack the Ripper’s true identity. While this reveal was logical, it just rubbed me the wrong way, personally. Also, I must say that the character animation on Batman himself was a bit weak. Don’t get me wrong, the look of a Victorian-era Dark Knight was interesting. However, it was also weak in comparison to all the film’s other characters. On a related note, Bruce Greenwood’s a fine actor, but I don’t care for his voice work as Bruce Wayne/Batman here. Nor did I appreciate his previous vocal turn as the character in Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010). Admittedly, the vocal work is probably just more a matter of personal preference.

Overall, I found Batman: Gotham by Gaslight to be an enjoyable watch. And it’s one that I’d certainly recommend to any Bat and/or animation fan. Although, I should say that this flick is not for kids. Like Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) before it, Gaslight  is dark, violent and R rated. In closing, as you might expect, this entry also leaves open the potential for a sequel and I would be all for that. I feel that this steampunk, Elseworld has lots of potential, but I suppose we shall see.

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