Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is my new favorite of the DCU original animated films. It takes the original source and changes it to make for a better cartoon movie, emphasizing atmosphere over plot (although the story is full of twists, keeping my attention throughout).
I previously posted the trailer and plot description, but the high concept is simple: Steampunk Batman fights Jack the Ripper. However, there are a number of deviations from the original comic (which was retroactively called the first Elseworlds). Since the story was relatively short, they added characters to flesh out the setting and premise. Most significant is Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter), who plays a substantial role in making Batman less fearsome and more human by giving him someone to talk to and even assist him during the finale. She’s a proto-feminist “disruptive female” and actress who sings “Can You Tame Wild Wimmen?” (Her singing voice is provided by Grey Griffin, who also voices Sister Leslie, the nun who runs the local orphanage.)
They also (for you continuity fans out there) changed the ending into something more tightly wound into the story. That’s not the only clever repositioning, as favorite characters appear in different guises. Dr. Hugo Strange (William Salyers) is the city “alienist”, running the insane asylum. Poison Ivy (Kari Wuhrer) is a hootchie-kootchie veil dancer, the “Plant Lady”. Harvey Dent (Yuri Lowenthal) is two-faced in a different way. And the “Cock Robins” — Dickie, Jason, and Tim — are street orphan thieves, rescued by Alfred (Anthony Head). One of my favorite scenes is when Alfred quotes well-chosen Bible verses to Batman.
I also liked the animation more than many other of the recent DCU movies. There are some outstanding visuals. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t as impressive or artistic as, say, a Ghibli film, but the settings are highly atmospheric, and the costume design good. The figures are their usual simplified shapes, although Bruce Wayne is handsome. And I think voice actor Bruce Greenwood makes a better Bruce than Batman.
Batman keeps being blamed for the murderous crimes because both he and the Ripper are tall men in caped coats skulking in the dark, which amused me. I was probably helped by not remembering the comic. Given the changes, you don’t need to know anything about it to enjoy this version.
The main extra is a 21-minute featurette called “Caped Fear: The First Elseworld”. It features the usual crew — Bruce Timm (executive producer), Jim Krieg (screenwriter, in steampunk costume, including top hat), Mike Carlin — but adds Ames Kirshen (VP, Interactive & Animation, DC Entertainment) and the writer of the original comic, Brian Augustyn, who credits then-editor Mark Waid for the impetus.
They call this a horror movie, which sheds new insight on the approach taken, and highly praise Mike Mignola’s art. They also reveal that a significant setting, a World’s Fair type exhibition, was inspired by the comic’s sequel, Master of the Future, as well as by H.H. Holmes, serial killer of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There is a good amount of talk about Batman as a detective, but the solution in this movie doesn’t involve much of that, more just stumbling into the right place at the right time.
The sneak peek (8 1/2 minutes) is for the next DC Universe Movie, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay, which is “inspired by the grindhouse movies of the 70s” and as such, the promo footage has fake scratches and speckles all over it. They describe it as “unpredictable and edgy” (which if you have to say it…) and promise more blood and more decapitations, in case that’s how you judge your cartoons. Wes Gleason, voice director, calls it “one of the goriest movies I’ve had a chance to work on”, so right there, I know it’s not for me. Although Alan Burnett has now retired from producing and wrote this, so that I’m kind of curious about.
There’s also audio commentary by executive producer Bruce Timm, director Sam Liu, and writer Jim Krieg and episodes of “Showdown” from Batman: The Animated Series and “Trials of the Demon!” from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In addition to the usual Blu-ray combo pack, there is a 4K Ultra HD version available that comes with Blu-ray disc and digital copy. (The studio provided a review copy.)