Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

| February 6, 2018

The 1989, one-shot graphic novel, Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn with art by Hellboy-creator Mike Mignola, was a landmark publication for DC Comics. Not only did it reimagine the Batman character’s timeline and pit him against Jack the Ripper himself, but it also spawned a whole series of similar reimaginings under the label of Elseworlds. Elseworlds took DC’s most beloved characters and gave a chance to see what they’d look like had they been born under different circumstances, in different universes or timelines. Sometimes hit and sometimes miss, Elseworld titles always fascinated me growing up and they account for a great many of my most revisited comic book issues to this day.

But Gotham by Gaslight remains the great granddaddy of them all, the one with an idea so captivating that it demanded to be made. What if the world’s greatest vigilante detective tackled the most infamous unsolved series of murders in history? The mere promise of “Batman vs. Jack the Ripper” found many a wallet hurriedly emptied of $3.95+tax in 1989, I assure you!

Once Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and DC Entertainment started bringing classic Batman comics to animated life, it was only a matter of time really before we found ourselves with the feature-length, animated film they’ve released today, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018). The only problem going into this production, which is no doubt apparent to anyone who’s read the original graphic novel, is that the book wasn’t anywhere near dense enough to ever be adapted straight to the screen. A 48-page comic simply does not contain enough material to sustain a 78-minute narrative.

That Batman: Gotham by Gaslight could never possibly have been a straightforward adaptation of its source material is ultimately the film’s greatest strength, as it allowed the filmmakers to tell their own original story in the spirit of the graphic novel, expanding on and altering details as they went along. The film therefore provides only the vaguest impression of what the graphic novel was like and instead tells its own story about an 1890’s Batman (voiced by the next best Batman voice actor to Kevin Conroy: Bruce Greenwood) facing off against Jack the Ripper. The universe here is significantly expanded to incorporate even more alternate universe versions of Batman characters than had appeared in the much shorter storyline of the graphic novel. Along the way, we meet 1890’s iterations of Poison Ivy, Catwoman, various Robins, Hugo Strange, Harvey Dent, and Jim Gordon among others.

While 1989’s Gotham by Gaslight will no doubt remain a classic graphic novel, an important moment in DC’s history, the film breathes new life into this story. It’s exciting to experience this story anew, to literally have no idea who will turn up or what will happen next and to see Batman and Jack the Ripper both visit the lavish “City of the Future” fairgrounds that didn’t appear until the graphic novel’s sequel. Most of all, it was thrilling to once again follow Batman along in his investigation into the identity of this legendary serial killer and legitimately have no idea who it would be!

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is now available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital and on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD. Special features include:

– “Caped Fear: The First Elseworld” featurette about the graphic novel’s impact and its filmic adaptation, including interviews with the crew and the original author Brian Augustyn himself;

-commentary by Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Director Sam Liu and Writer Jim Krieg;

-2 bonus cartoons;

-and a sneak peek the next DC Universe Movie, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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