Today, Warner Bros.’ Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, an animated film in which a Gilded Age Batman battles Jack the Ripper, is available for download, followed by a DVD and Blu-Ray release a week and a half later.
The film made its world debut at the Newseum in Washington, DC on January 12th, and I was there, covering the debut for PREVIEWSworld.com.
Some background on the film. Gotham By Gaslight was a 48-page prestige format graphic novel by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola, and P. Craig Russell published in 1989, Batman’s fiftieth-anniversary, that reimagined Batman as a super-hero not of the twentieth-century but one of the nineteenth. Instead of debuting in our recent past (due to the sliding time scale of comics), the graphic novel’s Batman debuted in 1889 and quickly found himself hunting Jack the Ripper, now butchering the prostitutes of Gotham City a year after terrorizing London.
Though Augustyn and Mignola are credited in the opening credits of the animated film, Batman: Gotham By Gaslight is more a variation on the theme — Batman battling the Ripper in Gotham City — than an adaptation. As I hadn’t read the graphic novel since the early 90s, I picked up a copy at DC’s pop-up shop outside the Newseum and read it while waiting in line to enter the Newseum. Other than the base concept, the two stories, graphic novel and film, have nothing in common.
There are some really nice nods to the Sherlock Holmes canon (in the film, Bruce Wayne trained with Holmes before beginning his career as Batman), and there’s a lovely relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (in this reality, an actress and escort). I wanted more between Bruce and Sister Leslie of a local convent; I felt like that relationship was shortchanged, especially since the convent and its charity for Gotham’s orphans is a thread that runs through the film. The film was paced well, the voice cast was solid, and the film was positively intense. As I was watching the film, a voice in the back of my mind kept nagging at me, “This film would be amazing in live-action.”
My main criticism is this: Batman: Gotham By Gaslight doesn’t work for me as a Jack the Ripper film. I’ve studied the Whitechapel murders, I’ve read (and own) a number of books on the subject. I consider myself knowledgeable. Five London women were murdered in the late summer and fall of 1888, but more than that, they were butchered and mutilated. (The crime scene photos for the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, are staggeringly gruesome.) I didn’t get that sense of butchering and mutilation from the film. Yes, it’s animated, but it’s also R-rated. They could have done more in the way of gore. More than that, the victims in the film aren’t all lower class sex workers. The enthusiastic amateur Ripperologist in me kept going, “Wait, really?” I’d take what the film told us about the Ripper — who the killer was and what the motivation was — and when I tried to backfill that against the Whitechapel series it didn’t work.
I enjoyed the film a lot. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a nice piece of Gilded Age super-heroics, and it’s worth checking out if you’ve any interest in the era. At the very least, check out my article for PREVIEWSworld.com, as it’s chock full of photographs of the event.