Batman v Jack the Ripper – Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (Blu-Ray Review)

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Gotham By Gaslight: A Tale of The Batman started something of a phenomenon in DC Comics when it was released in 1989, presenting us with Elseworlds, a series of stories that carried on a trope of alternate world stories for their heroes.  This wasn’t like the JLA-JSA crossover events, or trips to parallel worlds, this was something else entirely and, somewhat fittingly for Elseworlds, Gotham By Gaslight didn’t originally fit into it; the first comic book to bear that imprint would be another Batman story, Holy Terror.

Set towards the end of the 19th Century, Batman takes on Jack the Ripper and instantly sets out the more mature nature of the story, with Ivy The Plant Lady falling victim, before we see street urchins attempting violent robbery only to be met by Batman. Oliver!, this isn’t!

Familiar characters are recast in this world, giving us Selina Kyle as the street aware foil to Bruce Wayne, a strong willed woman capable of handling herself.  Batman finds himself drawn towards Kyle as they both fight to take down Jack after he targets a mutual friend in the form of Sister Leslie.

As the worlds of Bruce Wayne and Batman crash into each other, further attacks see the wrong man arrested and incarcerated, with reputations at risk and a killer still on the loose.  It is, however, someone that Batman trusts who is revealed to be Jack the Ripper and the final showdown is a spectacle in itself.

Bruce Greenwood reprises his role as Bruce Wayne (and, obviously, Batman), whilst Kyle is voiced by Jennifer Carpenter and Anthony Head adds his tones to Alfred.  The cast includes recognisable names from other DC animations, and they all do an impressive job of realising the wonderfully animated world that foregoes any attempt to recreate the distinctive art style of Mike Mignola.

This is one of the DC animated world’s darkest and mature to date, with a script by Jim Krieg, and lacks the jarring elements of The Killing Joke, although it does take some liberties with the source material to stretch the narrative to this animated feature length.  For fans of the original, the changes may be controversial, but watched on its own terms, it’s a well executed story, exploring the world of duality that Batman inhabits, giving us a proper mystery for The Dark Knight to solve and a living, breathing world in which to do it.  

Elsewhere on the BluRay, there’s an audio commentary with the creatives behind the work – Jim Krieg, director Sam Liu and producer Bruce Timm – that sheds much light on the process of bringing the graphic novel to life and the logic behind the changes to the source, further enhanced by a short feature, Caped Fear: The First Elseworld, running to just over 20 minutes, that talks about the Brian Augustyn work, its origins and importance.  There’s also two Batman cartoons (Brave and the Bold: Trials of the Demon and The Animated Series: Showdown) as well as sneak peeks to the currently available Justice League Dark and Batman: Bad Blood, topped off by a preview of the next animated feature, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, featuring Deadshot voiced by Christian Slater.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is available on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD now.