As a fan of Steampunk and Superheroics, I’d already read the Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel and enjoyed it thoroughly. Indeed, its late 80’s publication made it one of the initial offerings in that strange genre that would be called steampunk.
So, when I heard that DC had released an animated version of the story on Blu-ray…well, I had no choice. I had to have it, and within 48 hours of learning of it I had it in my hot little (metaphorical) hands. With great excitement the lovely wife and I sat down to enjoy this Victoriana-meets-the-Dark-Knight extravaganza.
I’m going to try to avoid major spoilers, but a few small ones are inescapable. The first one is that it is not quite the same story from the original Elseworlds graphic novel. Oh there’s Batman, he’s in Gotham, and he’s looking for Jack the Ripper—all that is still there. But most of the characters are switched around and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t see it coming when the big reveal of the Ripper happened at the end. So if you’re one of those who aren’t wanting to see it because you already read the book, do it. Do it. Doitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoit!
The animation style remains similar to Batman: The Animated Series from the early 1990s, but it still manages to get that Victorian flair in lieu of the 1930s-40s. Music halls, Gentlemen’s Clubs, dingy dives among the poor; its all here. There’s a virtual who’s who of Batman characters in different guises, but don’t worry; Bruce Wayne’s the only guy dressing up to beat the hell out of people. Well, he and Saucy Jack anyway. There’s lots of action, and the scenes are a mashup of Victorian fog-shrouded Gotham and the “World of Tomorrow” Worlds’ Fair that hearkens back to the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago; even with a huge Ferris Wheel. Like you would expect in a Batman tale, it all comes down in wreckage and carnage, but the bad guy gets his just desserts and the Batman gets away, with new allies in a suffragette actress with a penchant for bullwhips and a gang of street urchins referred to in the extras section of the DVD as the “Robins”.
The music (by Frederik Wiedmann) was very good, and thematic to the era. It wasn’t scratchy or tinny, mind you; it was full and vibrant in a way that would do Danny Elfman proud. It didn’t fall into the trap some modern artists do in trying to slip in techno beats, for which I am very thankful. If there’s a CD of the soundtrack for sale, I’ll be picking it up for my Victorious background soundtrack. The song “Can You Tame Wild Wimmen” (I think that was the title) sang in the music hall by Selina Kyle was very fun and appropriate to the setting.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care for who the Ripper turned out to be. It was a stretch, and in my humble opinion kinda out of character. But that just may be my old-school Batman-ness creeping out. But that aside, it was a fun show that I’ll watch again. And you should too!
— Genteel Magistrate
Wondermark comic strip copyright by David Malki. More of his work may be found at http://wondermark.com/