The DC Animated movies have gone under the radar for many years, yes a lot of the fans know of their existence but the general population don’t give them much attention, and that is a massive shame as the stories told within these movies far outshine any DC cinematic effort of the last ten years.
The animated movies did get a brief nod when ‘The Killing Joke’ received a limited cinematic run (in the UK) but, due to the unfortunate event of that adaptation being quite poor, they had slipped back into the obscurity within which they reside. The release of the animated movies should be celebrated, instead they are only really announced when the Blu Ray arrives on the shelves of your local HMV. The only times I have seen trailers for the animated movies (outside of The Killing Joke) was when I actively looked for them.
Fingers crossed all this is going to change with the imminent release of ‘Batman Ninja’ later this year but, until that time, the most recent release of an animated feature length movie has once again been quietly released.
‘Batman: Gotham by Gaslight’ is an adaptation of the Elseworlds graphic novel of the same name that questions what would happen if Batman and the other recognisable characters of Gotham City existed within the Victorian Times and, as is central to the plot of the film, during the killing spree of notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper.
Unfortunately I have not yet read the source material, but I have been following the saga of Gaslight for some time ever since a video game was announced and then quickly cancelled. The idea of a Victorian Batman intrigued me and, even though I could not fit the graphic novel into my ever increasing backlog of books, I looked forward to this film. So I was happy to find that, like many of its animated brethren that has come before, this film was a blast in addition to being a very good Batman story.
The mystery set as the very heart of this film is surrounding the identity of the masked killer Jack the Ripper. Rather than place Batman into the world of the Ripper the film does the opposite and makes Jack a terror of the streets of Gotham. By doing this Gaslight expands on the mythos of the Ripper, allowing him to secretly be a pre-established character from a world that viewers will be very familiar with.
The reveal, when it came during the films final act, was actually a very lovely, and well thought out surprise. It plays upon the established canon of Batman as a whole and had me second guessing who the killer was right up until the end. I won’t say who but lets just say it isn’t the usual go-to enemy. In fact the clown prince is nowhere insight and, although I love the character of the Joker, his absence from this film is a blessing.
Some might be a bit frustrated with the reveal within the film, I can’t talk to the source text but the film is lacking the clues needed for the audience to come to its own conclusion. Instead the killer is revealed in the same moment as the explanation for his motives, had this been another type of thriller then the clues would have been laced throughout.
But this is only a minor criticism, especially as this type of reveal is more reminiscent of the works of Arthur Conan-Doyle (a reference to whom as a mentor of Batman is made within the film), keep ’em guessing until the end and then show off.
Another of my very minor criticisms is that Gaslight leans heavily on certain references from the established canon, especially concerning the appearance of certain characters. Whilst certain arrivals are conducive to the story – The Cockrobins being a personal favourite – others felt shoehorned in just for the sake of it, Cyrus Gold I’m looking at you. Again I can’t speak for the source text, so they may have had a bigger role within it, yet in the movie the reason for their parts just felt like a nudge to fans more than anything else, a recognisable face to fill some time.
However that is not to say that this film suffers the same fate as The Killing Joke did in terms of filler and pacing. TKJ included a twenty minute original prologue in order to flesh the running time out, which felt just as out of place watching it as trying to describe it then. Thankfully Gaslight does not fall in to the same trap, which is most likely due to the fact that Gaslight’s source material is double the length of TKJ. With its 80 minute run time Gaslight takes its time, revelling (in places) in the established atmosphere created by Victorian-Era Gotham.
But all of these are only minor gripes, something that cannot be said for any of the DC cinematic films that have come out. Those films have massive inconsistencies and the people in charge are well aware of them, especially considering the news recently that Zach Snyder was actually fired from directing Justice League, the unfortunate death of his daughter just being a horrible coincidence and an on hand excuse to save face.
The DC Cinematic universe should take cues from its animated sibling. In addition to the more manageable run times, films like Gaslight succeed in presenting a well thought out tale that does not end with a sky portal or some other such go-to of recent cinema.
Also, perhaps due to its lack of constraint from Hollywood and the overbearing money obsessed producers that reside there, the animated features are able to be a lot more grim and bloody than their cinematic kin. You can’t have a Jack the Ripper tale without a few ladies of the night getting brutally stabbed after all, and Gaslight does not disappoint.
Overall Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is yet another brilliant animated adaptation from a studio that constantly knocks it out of the park. Hopefully with the rumoured films and upcoming reshuffle we will start to see such excellent story telling appear in the mainstream universe too…or y’know, they could just start giving cinematic releases to all of the animated films.