One of the greatest creations in comics was the “What If’s” by Marvel and the “Elseworlds” tales by DC. Stories that starred your favorite characters, but in a different setting or different scenario than you were familiar with. For DC it usually involved their heroes with slightly different origins, like if Superman’s escape pod didn’t land in a field in Kansas but in the Soviet Union. Or where Batman is given the Green Lantern ring just as he begins his fight on crime. There is also the Justice League set in the Old West or a Million Years in the future. Despite the varying degrees of execution, what stands out is the fact that these tales are not in continuity and anything can happen.
The latest DC Universe Movie “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight” places us in a world where the dingy streets of Gotham are prowled by non-other than Jack the Ripper, and only the Dark Knight can stop him. This is one of the few of the DC Animated movies that is rated R, and it shows you why right up front from a strip show with a familiar character to a brutal murder in a back alley. We are then introduced to Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) who is already ridding the streets of Gotham of the criminal element as the shadowy Batman. But has met his match in the Ripper who continues to elude him as he brutally murders women in the night. Bruce enlists the help of policeman Jim Gordon (Scott Patterson) and stage actress Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter) to discover the identity of the Ripper and put a stop to his rein of terror.
Again this Batman movie is not in any way for kids, the brutal nature of the crimes, and even more so the offensive treatment and view of women in this not so long ago past can be hard to watch. The filmmakers are fully aware of the setting and even though they are making a cartoon they do not shy away from the misogyny heavy world that we come from, and in some cases still live in. Writer Jim Krieg a DC animated veteran turns in a solid script that moves right along, and director Sam Liu who has done some great animated features for both Marvel and DC from the awesome “Planet Hulk” to “All Star Superman” he brings his A-game to ‘Gaslight’ as well. The supporting voice cast also keeps up with main cast with Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Alfred, and classic cast of John DiMaggio and Tara Strong filling in where needed.
The film version does divert from the comic book story in a lot of ways, but it is vastly improved and keeping within what we know of these characters and the background make for a more interesting feature. What felt a little disappointing was the animation choices, specifically the CG looking zeppelin, that a fight scene takes place on, it was very distracting but it’s made up for by the finale which takes place in the Gotham World’s Fair. The action is brawler style with works for the time and the relationships between the characters as well as their motivations is impressive for a direct-to-video release.
If you have caught a few of these DC animated films and enjoyed some of them, this is certainly the grown-up version of the characters that we loved as kids. And it is almost always fun to spend some time in an alternate universe to see what challenges our favorite heroes face and the choices they make that continue to feed our imagination.