DC Universe Original Movies has a new animated adaptation in its collection.
Directed by Sam Liu from a script by Jim Krieg, Gotham by Gaslight is adapted from the 1989 one-shot by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (with inks by P. Craig Russell). It imagines the Caped Crusader in a Victorian setting, facing off against Jack the Ripper (as one does). It’s a rich concept, one that doesn’t completely deliver due to regressive representation and predictable plot beats. But fans of the Elseworlds source material, steampunk, or Batman will find enough to like here.
The story picks up in Victorian Gotham, where a serial killer is one the loose. Bruce Wayne is on the case, but the hunt proves much more difficult than expected when Gotham decides the Batman is the one behind the murders.
The Victorian era and Batman make for cozy bedfellows, with many of the film’s best parts coming in imagining Bruce into this setting. What would his gadgets look like in Victorian times? How would he view the world? How would his upbringing might have been different? It’s all grounded by another nuanced voice performance by Bruce Greenwood as Batman/Bruce Wayne, who previously voiced the character in Batman: Under the Red Hood and Young Justice.
One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it doesn’t religiously stick to the source material. It gives us a different murderer, and adds plenty of Batman villains—including Selina Kyle, Poison Ivy, Harvey Dent, Harvey Bullock, Leslie Tompkins, Hugo Strange, and Solomon Grundy—to throw the viewer effectively off the scent.
Past that, it improves (slightly) on the representation from the comic. In the comic, there were no female characters with a hint of agency (or even much dialogue). In the film, Selina Kyle (voiced by Jennifer Carpenter) is just as determinedly hunting Jack the Ripper as Batman is. She is a Smurfette, but she is a dynamic one.
Past that, Gotham by Gaslight has literally no characters of color, a lapse in representation that was even more striking when the animation made its world premiere at DC in D.C., an event that otherwise did an impressive job drawing attention to some of the more underrepresented demographics and issues in the comic book world.
Gotham by Gaslight is aided by a stellar voice cast. Anthony Head voices Alfred, Yuri Lowenthal is Harvey Dent, Scott Patterson is James Gordon, and Tara Strong memorably lends her voice talents to both Barbara Gordon and Tim.
All in all, Gotham by Gaslight is an R-rated whodunnit horror with a twist ending you probably won’t see coming. It’s not as clever as it thinks it is, but it’s clever enough.