Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is the latest DC animated film to adapt a popular graphic novel for the big screen. The original graphic novel came out of the minds of Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, who is the creator of his own superhero, Hellboy. It sets the Dark Knight at the turn of the 20th century, in a borderline steampunk world where he has to face Jack the Ripper, In Gotham.
Batman is voiced by Bruce Greenwood, a perfect choice who gets the more world-weary version of Batman just right. It’s not as effective when he voices Bruce Wayne, as he is portrayed as a young aristocrat. Jennifer Carpenter plays Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Scott Patterson is excellent as James Gordon, who isn’t the James Gordon we all know. The rest of the voice cast is all the usual talent who pretty much are locked into the DC animation studios all day long and forced to do funny voices… just kidding.
I haven’t read the original source graphic novel, so I can’t comment on how faithful the adaptation is to the story. I assume relatively so, based on the nature of the others, but from the panels I’ve seen online, the animation style is radically different from the graphic novel. They decided to go with an aesthetic that is closer to The Batman cartoon series. These films are obviously done on an almost conveyor-belt system—they do about five a year, and wherever the animators are slaving away they will stick with the same style. It’s slightly more televisual in style, while the comic is more like Mignola’s own work and visually darker.
The world is obviously in the US despite the Jack the Ripper storyline. It’s therefore not for the kids, with some grisly moments, though they could have gone a lot further in that direction than they actually did. It’s an interesting alternative origin story for Batman, and definitely better than the usual direct-to-video features. DC Entertainment have in recent years really stepped up the game with the Dark Knight franchise’s live-action movies, with adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Batman ’66. However, the way the DC Cinematic Universe is going, I’d much rather watch one of the new animated films at this point than the new live-action Batman films.
The disc has a lot of extras, including a featurette about the comic book, which Mignola is surprisingly absent from, and commentary by the executive producer, director and writer; plus a sneak peek of the next Suicide Squad DC Universe movie. Perhaps the neatest special feature is two archival episodes, with one from the much-loved Batman animated series and one from the more recent series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.