I will begin outright by admitting that I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the famous graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, which pits the Batman against a madman unlike any he’d faced before when Jack the Ripper comes to Gotham. Be rest assured, however, it was in my shopping cart before I left the building. Still, I am familiar enough to say that Bruce Timm’s latest entry in the DC animated universe will subvert expectations of fans and non-fans alike. Greater still, it manages to accomplish this much more successfully and much less unsettling than Batman’s last solo entry in the canon, ‘The Killing Joke’. In fact, ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ was my favorite DC animated film since ‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’.
This is a non-spoiler review, but I will say that there are aspects of this movie that are not entirely faithful to the source material. I know this is true for just about any film interpretation, but Gaslight’s subversions from what the audience expects are its greatest strengths. There was one twist, in particular, that truly shocked me as I began to realize what was happening. Great twists on beloved and recognizable Gotham residents are another source of entertainment.
The film’s visuals, as well, are both a great strength and a feature of the movie that may surprise a lot of people. The film is set in the Industrial Age, and so I expected somewhat of a steampunk feel. Instead, everything was relatively realistic. Batman himself, limited by the technology of the era, feels extremely vulnerable. Not only when he is continually escaping death, facing off against an incredibly formidable Jack the Ripper, but also in the irises of his eyes. His costume has no armor, is simply cloth. Being Batman, his technology is advanced for its time, but he’s hardly prepared to fight Darkseid. It’s clear that a lot of work was put into making sure that everything else was as accurate as possible, by animated superhero movie standards at least. James Krieg even states that everything down to the warrants used by the Gotham Police were based on photographic evidence of the time.
The film was quite intense, as the R-Rating is used much more successfully this time around. Being a film about the World’s Greatest Detective on the hunt for Jack the Ripper, it is hardly surprising that there’s violence, particularly against women. However, it is also extremely action heavy, as the Caped Crusader and the Ripper face off early and often over the course of the movie.
DC’s Jack feels both supernatural and superhuman as he pulverizes Bruce more often than the typical rogue. The movie embraces the theme of violence against women through themes of suffrage and feminism, as well. I admit at times, however, that hearing men say or do bad things to women became quite redundant. When Jack’s motives are revealed, you can see what they’re trying to accomplish, but still it could’ve been done more subtly.
As I said, this was one of my favorite animated films in the DC multiverse in quite some time. I truly hope that the studio continues to explore other Elseworld stories. One thing that this movie proved was that searching the multiverse will allow for creators to explore relationships between familiar characters under different circumstances. Where the relationship between Bruce and Barbara in ‘The Killing Joke’ may cause some to hesitate, ‘Gaslight’ reminds us that WB is capable of doing this wonderfully.
In an age of mystery and superstition, how would the people of Gotham react to a weird creature of the night, a bat-garbed vigilante feared by the guilty and the innocent alike? The very first Elseworlds tale re-imagines the Dark Knight detective in the Victorian era and puts him against the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.