What They Say:
Gotham City, at the turn of the century, is experiencing a golden era of discovery and industry as showcased by affluent businessman Bruce Wayne’s World Fair. Down in the darkest alleys, there is a killer on the loose. Preying on the city’s women, this killer is as precise as he is cruel. As Police Commissioner James Gordon tries to calm the fears of Gotham’s citizens over the butcher named Jack the Ripper, the masked vigilante Batman does some detective work of his own, with the help of the sultry and surefooted Selina Kyle. Witness a world in flames as the killer’s controlled savagery meets the calculated stealth of the Dark Knight!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Way back in 1989, when you had some prestige style one-shots being produced alongside some interesting miniseries, Brian Augusty and Mike Mignola rolled out the standalone Gotham by Gaslight book. Augustyn had been producing some solid works at that point and for me it was my first time that I had been conscious of Mike Mignola’s artwork, though I had seen it in a few properties before. Here, it was distinctive in a way that really defined his career as he broke out into other projects, notably Hellboy, and established himself in the larger sense. This special was also the book that was considered the first Elseworld’s branded property, though it didn’t have the logo until later reprints. The Elseworld’s branding was a big thing for me because I really loved the alternate take stories that we got throughout the 90s under this label and it was largely because of this book.
The animated adventure, a long time in coming in my mind, takes the core of the story and expands on it nicely while being its own thing. It’s been forever since I read the book and this is defined as a loose adaptation which is what I expect as the original was short. The book gives us a Victorian-era Gotham where it’s transplanted into the world of Jack the Ripper. Someone is killing women of the night and others but little is being done by the police, though they claim to be working hard at it. Some of these attacks on the police come from Selina Kyle, a stage actress of note with her hands in a lot of projects that gives her some clout in society. She’s making it clear that with women being viewed as second class at best that if it were men being killed the killer would have been long found.
Operating in Gotham and also trying to figure this out is Batman, done up with a great look of the period with the mask, pouches, and just the color design of it all. Bruce Wayne is looking for the killer as well, one that’s definitely brutal. We see as an exotic dancer named Ivy is killed by him with blood splattering everywhere and the cries haunting the alleys of the city. Batman’s too late to stop the killer as he was dealing with some street orphans named Dickie, Jason, and Timmy that were trying to rob a wealthy couple that strayed too far. The killing of Ivy puts things more into Batman’s view than before and has him requesting files from Commissioner Gordon on it to try and figure out what’s really going on and what clues might have been missed.
The story takes us through the back and forth of it all as it hides the identity of the Ripper pretty well. If you hadn’t read the original there are plenty of people that you think it could be – including a version of the Joker, which is pretty much what you’d expect. But I like that they managed to keep it a mystery and offer up several possibilities. The film does some of its best work, however, in how it brings Bruce and Selina closer together. The two, combined with Harvey Dent, show what “young” life is like for adults in the city in this period with the kinds of segregation there is and how women are treated. Selina’s certainly a strong advocate for change and you see how Bruce is kind of unaware of aspects of how the world is because of his privilege. But we also see through his work with Sister Leslie that he does a lot to help the unfortunate in addition to his secret time as Batman. But I really just loved watching the way that Bruce and Selina circled each other here and discover the other’s secrets as time goes on. It’s an enticing romance that works better in the Elseworld’s run than the main run in my mind and this one was the work that really made me want to see it happen in full.
While there’s an obvious predictability to a Jack the Ripper storyline, Gotham by Gaslight succeeds in showing us how the Batman world would adapt to it in that time period. It plays well with familiar characters and gives us a new way to look at the Bruce/Selina relationship in a really good way. It’s paced well and I love the costume design that we get that handles the period elements just as well. We don’t get modern looking costumes and Selina never actually gets one while also getting a creative new origin. Jennifer Carpenter delivers well in portraying the character and my favorite of Bruce Greenwood as Bruce Wayne was spot on. The biggest delight is the briefest as well in getting Poison Ivy in this world as I adored the design and playfulness of the character. The whole work is just a lot of fun and I can’t help but to easily recommend it as a way of taking the familiar out for a new spin.
Released By:Warner Bros. via iTunes