"Worse than the dull and unimaginative animation is all the fan service the screenplay relishes in"

DC Animation Gaslights Its Audience

(021218) At over $8 million in sales and rentals, Batman: The Killing Joke, had the highest reported gross of any DC animated original DTV movie in the past seven years, so it's no surprise that DC would go to a similar well and adapt another highly regarded and stylish Batman one-shot from the same era in Gotham by Gaslight, out this week on Blu-ray and 4K. But gross alone doesn't necessarily set a precedent worth following, as fans and audiences mostly disliked The Killing Joke, which strayed from the original story by adding an uncomfortable sex scene, and also put a solidly hard-R story in the Bruce Timm visual style of the dark-but-mostly-kid-friendly Animated Series style.

Nearly 30 years ago, DC Comics launched an ongoing series of standalone stories set outside their normal comics continuity, eventually labeling the effort Elseworlds. The stories feature their stars in alternate universes, starting with this tale of a steampunk Batman chasing Jack the Ripper in the Victorian era. While the original Gotham by Gaslight comic, written by Brian Augustyn was only around 50 pages long, the story has been reworked and extended into this new animated feature-length film, essentially making this an Elseworlds retelling of an already Elseworlds comic. The creative changes succeed in extending the story length, but fail in improving upon the original plot, most pointedly in a ridiculous change in the identity of the central villain.

At this point in the long legacy of DC Universe animated movies, I approach each new arrival with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. I’m always interested to see what they’ve cooked up each time, but many recent entries have been sorely disappointing, largely due to their raunchy contents seemingly designed only to appeal their middle-aged male creators. The new movie starts off on that wrong path again, focusing on a Poison Ivy striptease even before the opening credits are done. There’s really no point in adding Ivy to the film, especially since she’s summarily dispatched as The Ripper’s first victim, proving to be just another example of the DCU creators failing to respect their female characters.

From there, we’re introduced to olde-timey Batman as well as his primary co-stars, Selina Kyle and Commissioner Gordon, all working to put an end to Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror. This being more modest times, Selina doesn’t have a cat suit, but she does have a whip and a healthy lust for Bruce Wayne, both of which she applies liberally to help the film get its R rating (purportedly for “violence”). As they get closer to exposing the identity of the killer, Bruce is wrongfully convicted of the crimes and sent to Blackgate Prison (another change from the comic’s Arkham Asylum destination) before making his way out to clear his name and stop The Ripper. The core plot lifted from the comic succeeds in pairing the World's Greatest Detective with a murder case worthy of his talents, and the unique archaic setting is refreshing, even if the film's tinkering with the story does stretch credulity at times with Batman's gadgets, especially his steam-powered motorcycle.

The vocal talent is uncharacteristically weak for a DCU project, with Bruce Greenwood poorly voicing Batman with even less inflection than befitting the traditionally reserved role, and Jennifer Carpenter’s usually perky intonations virtually unrecognizable as the domineering Selina Kyle.

Augustyn’s original story was greatly enhanced by the artistry of illustrator Mike Mignola with inks by P. Craig Russell. Mignola's German expressionistic influences were a fresh take in comics at the time. The result was a dark foreboding world, minimalist in design but impactful through its glimpses of horror and re-imagining of the crime fighter down to a slick, burly outfit and stitched cowl.

What the animation can never do is duplicate Mr. Mignola’s work. Instead, viewers get another cookie-cutter approach with a bland visual character design that would even bore children. Worse still than the dull and unimaginative animation is all the fan service the screenplay relishes in. Added to the mix now are Dr. Hugo Strange, Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent, Poison Ivy, Harvey Bullock (sounding like the 1966 tv show's Chief O'Hara) and three street urchins named Dick, Tim and Jason. Not only are these additions pointless, but because there are so many additional characters, none of them get any time to develop.

I’d like to once again thank Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment for ruining yet another graphic novel classic by fecklessly transforming it into a visually uninspired cartoon.

Directed by:  Sam Liu
Written by: Teleplay by James Krieg (Jim Krieg), based on the graphic novel of the same name by Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola
Starring the Voices Of:   Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Chris Cox
Released:  012317-direct to dvd
Length: 78 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for some violence

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT  ©  2018 Warner Bros. Animation

Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.