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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Poison Ivy in Gotham by Gaslight

I finally got around to watching Batman: Gotham by Gaslight today. The thirtieth film in the DCU animated original movie series, it was released for digital download back in January this year.

I was keen to see this one because a) Ripperology has long been an obsession, and b) I loved the comic it is based on - 'Gotham by Gaslight', the very first Elseworlds story published in February 1989. It combined two of my favourite things: Batman and Jack the Ripper. In the comic, Bruce Wayne has been studying in Vienna under Freud when he starts having recurring dreams about his parents' death. They convince him he needs to return to Gotham City where, in attempting to keep the streets safe as Batman, he comes under suspicion as the Ripper.

Bruce is eventually arrested and convicted, then shipped off to Arkham Asylum. There he is given information on the case by Jim Gordon, eventually helped to escape by his trusty butler Alfred, and goes on to catch the Ripper just before he claims another victim.

Jack turns out to be a classmate of his father's who was driven insane by Martha Wayne spurning his advances. He dealt with the rejection by hiring an assassin to murder the Waynes and then murdering women who reminded him of Martha...

Gotham by Gaslight 1989

The movie decided to change things up a little and, although there is nothing more cliche than complaining about characterisation for a comics franchise, I will never be over the slander on my man Jim Gordon's name.

Never!

In this version Bruce is intrigued by music hall star and women's rights advocate Selina Kyle. Nightclub dancer Ivy the Plant Lady and other working women have been murdered, while the police waste time and resources on the Gotham City World's Fair, claims Selina. The pair meet again when Bruce accompanies his friend Harvey Dent to watch Selina perform, the three then going on to drink and talk the night away - at least until Commissioner Gordon's killjoy curfew kicks in.

Gotham by Gaslight - Bruce, Selina and Harvey Dent

Bruce discerns a pattern to the killings when he learns that many of the girls were orphans with links to Sister Leslie Thompkins, but before he can discuss it with her she is also murdered. At her funeral Dr. Hugo Strange of Arkham Asylum tells Bruce he has information - but, again, meets his end before he can share what he knows.

Of course Bruce ends up being framed, convicted, and then shipped off to Blackgate Penitentiary. Equally inevitably he escapes from prison and learns Jack's identity when he goes to see Jim Gordon and discovers his secret chamber of horror in the basement, complete with photographs pinned to the wall of himself operating as a Civil War surgeon and Gordon's wife on hand to tell him about her husband's strange brand of morality... It's then a mad rush to save Selina who was trying to enlist Gordon's support for Bruce's cause by revealing the truth about the Batman.

Gotham by Gaslight - Jim the Ripper

Overall it was an okayish twist on the tale (not entirely unexpected - Jose Luis Abad wrote a book claiming Chief Inspector Abberline was the Ripper, albeit based on the discredited Maybrick diaries) and an okayish adaption of the comic. I mostly spent the whole time thinking how much better it would have been in live action. Even low budget, like old school ITV or a schlocky old Hammer Horror. It just needed way more gothic atmosphere to it, and more, I dunno, humanity than the animation style was capable of conveying.

The action sequences could have easily been scaled back in favor of a little more nuanced expression and natural dialogue delivery. Slooowness aside, voice acting was fairly good when taken as a whole - except for DiMaggio’s attempt at an Irish accent for Police Chief Bullock. It was, er, special.

Conclusion: had a lot of potential, failed to live up to it. I rate it 3 / 5.



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