Back in February of 1989, creators Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola teamed up for a special one-shot graphic novel that would become the first book under the “Elseworlds” label at DC Comics. Originally pitched as a comic book arc, Gotham by Gaslight started a trend of prestige format, stand-alone stories at the comic book publisher, and today it is regarded as one of the most influential Batman stories.
Almost 30 years later, Gotham by Gaslight finds itself adapted as the thirtieth installment of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Being released direct-to-video, these animated movies have adapted stories from the comics and produced originals of their own since 2007. Full of hits and misses, the bar was not set too high after the previous release, Batman and Harley Quinn, which was received by mixed reviews overall.
Nevertheless, seeing Augustyn and Mignola’s creation being brought to life was exciting for anyone familiar with the story of Batman vs. Jack the Reaper. Mignola illustrated such a visually unique and distinctive graphic look for the story, which possesses an excellent execution under its 52-page length.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, is not a direct adaptation of the original graphic novel —”inspired by,” would be the best way to describe its relation to the source material. Characters like Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), and the three Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake) are added to the story and given prominent appearances that were absent in the original version. As well, the role of Jack the Reaper is expanded, giving him an alter ego that adds a twist to the murder mystery. While the expansion of the story into a full-hour format felt whole, the change of the antagonist came off short, and the twist was not as clever as it tried to be.
Sam Liu’s direction was interesting —there were small details and framing choices that contributed to the animated storytelling. The fight sequence during the climax possessed a Fleischer Studios air that felt appropriate for the period piece. Jim Krieg took several liberties when adapting the script, but he ended up creating a unique take on the concept of the graphic novel, telling a different story in the same Victorian era.
As for casting, it was great to hear Bruce Greenwood as Batman again. The actor, who appeared in the recent release The Post, provides a great balance between the menacing Batman and the charming Bruce Wayne. The only performance that surpasses his take on the Dark Knight is Kevin Conroy’s. Jennifer Carpenter and Anthony Head provided good performances as Selina and Alfred, respectively. Both gave the characters that spark when delivering their dialogue, and worked well as part of the ensemble cast.
Now, I must say that it was quite disappointing that they decided to not retain Mignola’s aesthetic. Although the Hellboy artist has a look that is not easy to capture in animation, the previous release of the Hellboy animated film series has proved that an attempt can be done to bring Mignola’s Gothic look into motion. The animation production quality was not the caliber of previous releases from the DC Universe series, but Sam Liu’s production was a good effort overall. It is definitely worth a watch for those who have enjoyed what the DC animated universe has to offer.