When it comes to comic characters, Batman’s story is the most widely told. There have been many versions of The Dark Knight over the years, but people are still finding ways to make the character feel fresh. Batman: Gotham By Gaslight offers an alternative take on Bruce Wayne by telling his story in the Victorian era. The animated movie sees Batman take on Jack the Ripper in an epic Elseworlds tale that mixes history and comics together. Familiar faces are given new backgrounds and Gotham is reimagined as a sinister metropolis of industry and smoke.
As a big history geek, I was glad to see that accurate elements of the period were incorporated. The story reflects the creation of The Chicago World Fair by having Gotham as the centre of new technology. Bruce Wayne is a wealthy business magnate who has developed the fair in the hopes of ushering in the future. At night, he prowls the streets as Batman, but the Dark Knight faces a new threat in the form of Jack the Ripper.
Jack has been murdering prostitutes, with his first victim being Pamela Isley. Other characters are given makeovers, such as Catwoman, who appears as a circus performer and actress. Selina comes across as an independent, outspoken woman, challenging the police to take more of an interest in the murder of destitute females. Catwoman has a 21st century attitude that contrasts with the male-dominated society of the Victorian period and it works to the film’s advantage.
Batman works with Commissioner Gordon to investigate the deaths and it becomes personal when a nun who raised Bruce is killed. Batman redoubles his efforts and pays a visit to Doctor Hugo Strange, who claims to know The Ripper’s identity. In Arkham, Jack gets to Strange first, which leads to a savage battle on the top of an airship. Bruce is framed for the murders and he’s taken into custody.
After escaping, Batman learns the truth about The Ripper. The twist is excellent and totally unexpected. From a historical standpoint, Jack’s identity is shrouded in mystery, but the film goes into detail about his motives. He’s not just murdering women because he’s crazy. There’s a point to what he does and it makes him a compelling villain and worthy adversary to the Dark Knight.
The voice acting is decent, with Bruce Greenwood giving a gravelly performance as Batman. Jennifer Carpenter voices Catwoman, injecting her with a passionate drive to defend the downtrodden. The animation is high-quality and one of the best looking Batman films to date. The violent story is more suited for an adult audience, though it’s not gratuitous. The violence serves a purpose and I appreciated that.
Batman: Gotham By Gaslight is an entertaining movie that provides plenty of suspense and horror. There’s clever storytelling, great fight scenes and a lot of humour thrown in. I’d call it one of the best DC animated films of all time and something that needs to be watched by Batman and history fans alike.