Unless you are old like Ryan, you might not remember a time when DC didn’t release alternate reality stories under the Elseworlds banner. But such was the case in 1989 when Batman: Gotham By Gaslight was originally published.
The Elseworlds brand didn’t officially begin until 1991 with the release of Batman: Holy Terror, but Gaslight is credited as the first Elseworlds story and subsequent printings have included the logo.
Being my second favorite character ever (do I need to tell you the first?) I’ve read a lot of Batman over the years. But I’ve only known Gaslight by reputation. With the release of a DC Animated movie based on the graphic novel by Brian Agustyn and Mike Mignola, it seemed like a good time to remedy that.
Straight From The Source
The overall concept of the book places Batman/Bruce Wayne and his regular supporting cast in the time period of the late 1800’s. Bruce is just becoming Batman as the story unfolds, and just in time too as Jack The Ripper has made his way to Gotham, continuing his well known modus operandi.
Outside of the Ripper angle, it’s a pretty straightforward Batman story, just transplanted about 100 years into the past (from publication time anyway). Bruce’s affluent parents were murdered. He grows up and travels around Europe training, eventually returning to Gotham to become Batman. Alfred is his butler. James Gordon is the police inspector. It all seems very familiar.
And I think that might lead to some of its being disappointing to me. Coupled with the fact that Batman actually doesn’t appear all that much. It could almost be called Bruce Wayne: Gotham By Gaslight. The writing is good and Mignola’s pre-Hellboy artwork is solid, but overall it never reaches epic levels, seeming to survive in popularity today mostly because of the Victorian concept.
There are better Batman and Elseworlds stories out there, but also many worse. It is worth your time, but keep expectations in check.
7.5 quasi-Joker origin stories out of 10
Let Me Show You How It’s Done Killing Joke
DC has been developing a good number of comic adaptations of their critically acclaimed works lately. Classics such as Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Killing Joke.
While all adaptations take liberties with the source material, The Killing Joke ran into a peculiar problem. The Year One trade features the first four full post Crisis issues from the main Batman title and clocks in at over 80 pages. The Dark Knight Returns is quite lengthy in total at close to 200 pages (and hence the animated version was two parts). But The Killing Joke, like Gotham By Gaslight was a prestige one shot, totally only 48 pages. Which is not enough to create a script to encompass over an hour of animated story.
The approach that the folks behind The Killing Joke decided to take, was to add on a brand new prologue that mostly featured Batgirl and had almost nothing to do with The Killing Joke itself. Not to mention the controversy caused by this:
It really felt like two different movies, which when combined soured a lot of people on the adaptation overall. Which is unfortunate, as the second half is a very faithful version of the Alan Moore, Brian Bolland classic.
Perhaps learning from that (though work had likely already begun on Gaslight prior to the release of Killing Joke) the team here took a different approach. In this case, the animated feature uses the source material more as a reference tool. The setting is the same and it follows many of the same beats as the comic, but much of the story is new. There are many characters who have huge roles here that never appeared at all in the original story such as Catwoman and three would be Robin’s. A group of hooligans with the names Dick, Jason and Tim. (No sign of Damian here.)
Augustyn’s original story was more of a cerebral mystery/thriller that was low on action and once Batman finally does catch up to the Ripper, it is no contest. In the animated version, there are several huge extended fight sequences between the Ripper and Batman. The Ripper has clearly had some form of combat training and gives Bats a run for his money each time before making his get away.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the ending. Outside of it being another giant action scene, the Ripper’s identity is revealed as being different from the book. In a bubble, it does make some sense, but may rub some people the wrong way.
Overall though, I really liked the changes. They made it more of a big budget action film than a low key thriller, but it still has that at its heart. For my money, it is better than the source material and one of the better DC Animated films.
8.5 R-rated Batman films are all the rage out of 10.
(Note that R rating. There is not a lot to see in that realm here, but some violence and coarse language might make this a no-no for the younger Batman fans.)