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‘Batman: Gotham By Gaslight’ (review)

Produced and Directed by Sam Liu
Screenplay by Jim Krieg
Based on Gotham By Gaslight by
Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Anthony Head, Scott Patterson, John DiMaggio, Grey Griffin, Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Strong

One of my favorite and universally beloved Batman Elseworlds stories, Gotham By Gaslight, has been adapted in the latest DC Animated Original Movie.

While there is now a call for DC to reach into the Elseworlds catalog for the live action movies to re-right the ship, using the imprint to make successful animated movies is working well.

Stepping out of lock-step with current continuity with two Timmverse films: Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the last offering of Batman and Harley Quinn have been some of the most interesting of the current crop of movies, and Gotham By Gaslight is no exception.

While not all brass and parasols, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is as close to steampunk as you could ever expect the Waynes to get to. In a Victorian era Gotham, handsome rich bachelor Bruce Wayne seeks revenge for his parents death with goggle-shaped eye holes on his cowl and a much anticipated fight scene atop of an airship. There are differences between the movie and the 1989 one-shot of the same name written by The Flash writer Brian Augustyn and drawn by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola.

The movie takes liberties with the original stories “Gotham by Gaslight” and its sequel “Master of the Future,” drawn this time by Eduardo Barreto, and extends elements of the original story to bring it up to feature length. In fact, what the film accomplishes is a more carefully produced simulacrum of the traditional Bat-Family with the introduction of Ivy, Selina Kyle, three very helpful orphan boys, Harvey Dent and more familiar names you might see around Gotham. To say this is an adaptation might be considered a stretch, as elements of the comics exist but not the major plot points or payoffs. That is no knock on the film, as Sam Liu continues his directorial streak as an adept leader of this department at Warner Animation.

Bruce Greenwood returns to his Young Justice role at Batman opposite Jennifer Carpenter as Selina Kyle with Warner regular voice actors John DiMaggio and Tara Strong taking some other voices in the cast. Bruce is an almost perfect Batman, a terrific and emotive actor that can give Kevin Conroy a run for his money any day of the week. Dexter’s Carpenter returns to animation after starring as Black Widow in the bizarre anime-style Marvel movie Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher that to this day defies explanation. She plays an OK Victorian Catwoman, for the record.

Jack the Ripper has infiltrated Gotham, taking advantage of Gotham’s shadowy after-hours to prey upon “gin-soaked” ladies of the night, or performers like Ivy at the local Burlesque. During the day, plans are being made for the Gotham Word’s Fair with a zeppelin, an electrical lantern for use to shine up into the sky and a Ferris Wheel.

Alfred faithfully prepares Bruce’s nighttime attire to take on this threat and as he does, he finds that Selina is The Ripper’s next victim. Bat and Cat take on the butcher in an abattoir before the criminal escapes. It is not long after this that Batman has his first encounter with Gordon in his backyard to present evidence and throw Gotham PD off of the trail to the obvious suspect of Batman, before pulling off his best disappearing act.

As Jack the Ripper tears through his list of victims, someone very close to Bruce is next on the list. After Hugo Strange, proprietor of the primitive and cruel Arkham Asylum confronts Wayne at the funeral, Strange puts himself at risk. What results is one of the best (if only) blimp-based fight scenes since Batman: The Animated Series. We can thank Bruce Timm for a cameo as Arkham Radio Man, “Oh, the humanity!”

A shred of evidence is still pointing to Wayne, resulting in a trial similar to the one in the original comic.

He’s locked up but uses his guiles to escape, setting off the mysterious third act with Bat, Cat, Alfred and the orphans teaming up , with the orphans finally revealing the murderous villain. It should be noted here that this is also a divergence from the original story, but one that is as surprising and has consequences to those that are deep into Batman lore.

This is a great Batman film for both the serious Bat-o-philes and to those that are casual fans. It seems like the ongoing Warner strategy for releasing various versions and multiple universes continues to work. We have to give even the casual fan credit for understanding that this is a story with Batman in the Victorian era and that’s it. Gotham is set now but doesn’t have Batman in it yet. Who cares? Let’s just have fun and go along for the ride.

I would definitely encourage a sequel in the Gaslight universe if that were to happen but I’m OK with the idea of DC culling the stories from their vast catalog to tell these direct-to-video animated movies.

They continue to be the highlight of the year for me when they come out.

 

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight is now available on Digital HD,
Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD.

 

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