Nearly 30 years ago, DC Comics launched an ongoing series of standalone stories set outside their normal comics continuity, eventually labelling the effort Elseworlds. The stories feature their stars in alternate universes, starting with this tale of a steampunk Batman chasing Jack the Ripper in the Victorian era. While the original Gotham by Gaslight comic was only around 50 pages long, the story has been reworked and extended into this new animated feature-length film, essentially making this an Elseworlds retelling of an already Elseworlds comic. The creative changes succeed in extending the story length, but fail in improving upon the original plot, most pointedly in a fairly ridiculous change in the identity of the central villain.
At this point in the long legacy of DC Universe animated movies, I approach each new arrival with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. I’m always interested to see what they’ve cooked up each time, but many recent entries have been sorely disappointing, largely due to their raunchy contents seemingly designed only to appeal their middle-aged male creators. The new movie starts off on that wrong path again, focusing on a Poison Ivy striptease even before the opening credits are done. There’s really no point in adding Ivy to the film, especially since she’s summarily dispatched as The Ripper’s first victim, proving to be just another example of the DCU creators failing to respect their female characters.
From there, we’re introduced to olde-timey Batman as well as his primary co-stars, Selina Kyle and Commissioner Gordon, all working to put an end to Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror. This being more modest times, Selina doesn’t have a cat suit, but she does have a whip and a healthy lust for Bruce Wayne, both of which she applies liberally to help the film get its R rating (purportedly for “violence”). As they get closer to exposing the identity of the killer, Bruce is wrongfully convicted of the crimes and sent to Blackgate Prison (another change from the comic’s Arkham Asylum destination) before making his way out to clear his name and stop The Ripper. The core plot lifted from the comic succeeds in pairing the World’s Greatest Detective with a murder case worthy of his talents, and the unique archaic setting is refreshing, even if the film’s tinkering with the story does stretch credulity at times with Batman’s gadgets, especially his steampowered motorcycle.
The vocal talent is uncharacteristically weak for a DCU project, with Bruce Greenwood poorly voicing Batman with even less inflection than befitting the traditionally reserved role, and Jennifer Carpenter’s usually perky intonations virtually unrecognizable as the domineering Selina Kyle. The art team is better than average for a DCU project, crafting a convincing and detailed Victorian setting, especially in the CG-assisted climactic battle atop a burning Ferris wheel. The default DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track conveys an expansive soundscape, particularly noticeable in exterior fight scenes.
Bonus features include a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production, an extended sneak peak at the next DCU animated movie, and two full episodes of prior Batman animated series. The making-of feature has interviews with key players of the production team as well as the original writer of the Gotham by Gaslight comic, but interestingly not the artist, Mike Mignola (Hellboy). It also delves into the history of Jack the Ripper, the whole Elseworlds comic line, and even the real World’s Fair used as a setting for the film.