What if Batman was prowling the streets of Gotham and encountered Jack the Ripper? This sounds like the basis of some kid’s bad fanfiction story idea, huh? DC decided the idea had some merit as they published Gotham by Gaslight, a one-shot graphic novel with the very same premise. It was a big hit with readers as it merged the wacky idea with some really solemn art designs and clever writing. Gotham by Gaslight because officially known as the very first Elseworld story and launched the entire line. Suffice to say, the graphic novel has an amazing pedigree. So, it was only a matter of time before DC decided to make an animated film based on it, which was just released a few nights ago.
If you’re worried about me revealing the major plot points and who Jack the Ripper is, don’t worry. This will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight takes place in an alternate universe and timeline from the main DC continuity. Set in Victorian era version of Gotham City, Batman takes notice of a person who has been killing women, the notorious Jack the Ripper. Batman takes it upon himself to find the serial killer before the latter adds more victims to his list. As I mentioned before, the plot is rather fan fiction-y but, even if the premise does sound a little hokey, that shouldn’t be a problem if the overall execution of the premise is done well. Unfortunately, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight never really does an exceptional job in telling the story, leaving to an underwhelming experience.
I will say the best part of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is the sound and audio. The music is incredibly good, especially if you loved the original Batman: The Animated Series. While it never really copies any of the tunes and music from the TV show, you do hear a few notes here and there that clearly take inspiration from the wonderfully grandiose soundtrack. The music does a good job of enhancing the on-screen action without being too distracting. There’s even a cabaret song number which, to my surprise, I didn’t find annoying nor did it feel like filler as the lyrics suits the personality of Selena Kyle, the singer.
Speaking of Selena Kyle, I really love Jennifer Carpenter’s interpretation of the character here. Her vocal inflections and tone gives Selena Kyle a rather sexy and sultry sound while still sounding like a strong women. Jennifer Carpenter get top marks when it comes to the voice acting, which is impressive because everyone in the voice cast of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight does an excellent job. Bruce Greenwood once again takes up the mantle of the Caped Crusader as he did in Young Justice and he’s definitely grown into the role. It sounds really great when the character dons the cape and cowl but I do wish he did make a more subtle change to it when he’s out and about as Bruce Wayne. The other vocal talent, such as Scott Patterson and Anthony Stewart Head, who play Commissioner Gordon and Alfred, respectively, pull off some naturally sounding performances as well.
While the audio experience is really good, the visuals aren’t all that inspiring. There’s nothing bad per se about the actual art direction itself. The character designs definitely take inspiration from, you guessed it, Batman: The Animated Series, albeit the later seasons. The characters are simplified for the most part but this simplified art style does make it easier to follow the action when it comes to action sequences. The simplified drawings also made it easy for the animation department to do a lot of creative action sequences and some dramatic angles without making things look awkward. The animation is also really colorful as each scene is filled with vibrant and clean… which is actually part of the problem.
Although I never read the graphic novel of the same name, I really do like the imagery of the comic. It was dark and everything looked dirty and unkempt, which was perfect for the concept and setting. Jack the Ripper’s targets were in the poor section of the city. Yet even if the attacks occurred in a place that you expect to be dingy and dirty, everything seems clean and pristine. They did kind of nail the right atmosphere with the first Jack the Ripper murder as he tracked his victim through a trash-riddled maze of claustrophobically narrow alleyways. The second attack was through a brightly lit night with wide open streets, taking away from what should be a tense scene.
The overall simple character designs also don’t work for the people that populate the world of Victorian era Gotham. Practically every male has the same square jaw and every female has the same round face with pointy chin. The males at least have different eyes and they added facial hair to make them look different. They also have different builds as well. All the females, besides maybe the nun and an old lady, look practically alike! It’s not a huge problem because you can differentiate them from their hair color but it does come across as lacking imagination.
I also have to comment on the action as they’re hit-and-miss. When you see Batman duking it out with a foe, it looks really good as the punches and kicks do look like solid hits. However, the chase scenes look rather slow. It’s nothing terrible enough that it destroys the film but the tension just isn’t there. Additionally, while the film is supposedly Rated R because of the violence, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight never seems to earn it as they never really show anything all that gruesome. Sure, there are the mutilated victims of Jack the Ripper but all you see is the blood and never the actual mayhem.
But the biggest problem of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is the overall story. There’s supposed to be this grand mystery on who Jack the Ripper is and Batman is determined to use his detective skills to figure out who it is. However, Batman, the world’s greatest detective, accidentally stumbles onto the solution. Then again, the writers didn’t actually drop any substantial clues to point out who it is. The reveal of who the serial killer is may be an actual surprise but it falls flat because there aren’t any real suspects.
Overall, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a disappointing animated feature. Even though it is inspired by the first ever Elseworld story, it never comes off as an imaginative take on the character. It’s a rather lackluster adventure with some good action scenes but poor atmosphere. It’s fun but totally forgettable.
Have you seen Batman: Gotham by Gaslight? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!