Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham
In "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham," Bruce Wayne concludes a doomsday cult is tied to Gotham's impending destruction after a deadly incident in the Arctic, Bruce returns home after a 20 year voyage of discovery and preparation with an international trio of orphaned street kids - whom Batman fans will recognize as various iterations of Robin. Taking on the mantle of Batman, he quickly realizes a man of science like himself must combat real magic, demons and interdimensional Old Gods! "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" is a chilling and bizarre story that brilliantly combines Batman and classic cosmic-horror fiction. As of the publishing of this review, it has not been revealed when the movie will stream on HBO Max but it is now out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital since March 28, 2023. "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" is co-directed by Sam Liu and Christopher Berkeley and produced by Sam Liu, Jim Krieg, and Kimberly S. Moreau, with a screenplay from Jase Ricci.
The highlight of "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" is a perfect melding of DC Comics and Lovecraft Mythos. Batman fits right in as the archetypal burdened gothic protagonist but the detective elements of what makes Batman Batman are at the forefront in this movie as he has to figure out the mystery surrounding his parents' murder and the true origins of Gotham City as an apocalyptic event is brought about. Yet, through the course of solving that mystery, has to accept the world of the supernatural and resolve that with his scientific leanings. And lastly the cost of overcoming the eldritch threat is paid by Batman. While on one hand this is definitely for those who are Batman and Lovecraft fans, it can still be enjoyed by those with a baseline knowledge of either and little of the other. I suppose for the latter, this is just a weird, spooky movie and that's fine. If you got that "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" was 'drop Batman into a Victorian era murder mystery' and "Batman: Soul of the Dragon" was 'drop Batman into a 70s martial arts/spy movie.' you will get instantly that "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" is 'drop Batman into a 1920s cosmic horror epic.'
The real adjustment for Batman fans is the noir, psychological aspects of Batman are substituted with gothic horror and existential dread. I suspect the tone might feel off to some fans who aren't well versed in gothic literature or could be put off by the slow build of Batman not really being able to stop each step of the cult's plan from being accomplished then his ultimate end becoming a Manbat. Since this is a horror movie, a slow build is necessary to execute the genre but the movie balances it out with Batman's various fight scenes. The real question I was left with is did this movie need more time to pull it all off in a more satisfying manner? On one hand, we should be content after so many years of 70-75 minute DTV movies we're finally getting 80+ minute ones. On the other hand, this movie specifically being 100 to 110 minutes would have been a boon to its horror structure, letting it build up, and embrace more horror elements. Or should this even had been a movie? Or would it have worked as two movies or a HBO Max mini-series?
In terms of this movie being an adaptation, this is not 1:1 but it is fairly close. Some details were dropped completely while some altered a smidge. The movie discards Killer Croc's origins as Ludwig Primm perhaps to streamline the twist revealed towards the end and not getting caught up in a secondary villain's past for pacing. Another removal was Ra's's lycan cultists in the final battle which seems to be for the better and a trick to make it more personal for Batman having to fight his loved ones instead. The movie also truncates how Ra's wrote the Testament of Ghul, removes Batman's use of a gun - he uses a flare gun to spook the mutanted penguins away, and switches up some supporting cast like Jason Todd was changed in both name and ethnicity into Sanjay Tawde then Tim Drake is completely jettisoned from the story and is replaced with Kai Li Cain, a new take on Cassandra Cain perhaps to reflect Bruce has been traveling all around the world prior to the movie's opening scene. The latter isn't too much of a surprise given Cassandra Cain has appeared in a lot of recent animation lately such as Young Justice: Outsiders and Phantoms and Batwheels. In the comic, Oracle approaches Bruce at Oliver's funeral whereas in the movie, James Gordon approaches Bruce and Kai Li at Dick and Sanjay's graves. Lucius Fox is added to the story, interesting considering Lovecraft's racism. The only noticeable change to the story itself was staging of the final battle. In the comic, the spirit Batman talked to was just the fourth member of the cabal but in the movie it becomes more personal for the ghost to be Thomas, Ra's merged with Ioa-Sotha and is stabbed with one of Oliver's holy arrows then Talia is swept off the altar into a mass of tentacles which inadvertently frees Etrigan. Whereas in the movie, Talia is the one stabbed with the holy arrow then it's Batman vs. Ra's for the big movie showdown, and Batman releases Etrigan with the prototypical last minute movie hero move. Basically, some of what made sense in the comic doesn't translate into the movie for a big audio-visual finale so a few minor tweaks were made for a big climax that doesn't drastically change the overall ending.
On the surface level, "Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" works as your Elseworlds one-and-done Batman story with a bent towards a very specific kind of horror rather than noir. But digging deeper into the gothic inspirations behind the story, there are classic elements such as the Southern Gothic being typified by a vision or prophecy connected to a place. In this movie, it would be Batman's visions and realizing his connection to the Cult of Ghul and Iog-Sotha being a part of Gotham's origins. Then there are certain motifs such as power. Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, and Troy Nixey certainly paid a lot of attention to detail with the original comics. In the course of the movie, Batman has to accept and deal with the existence of supernatural threats, learning the truth of his father's darkest of sins by communing with the ghost of Thomas Wayne, and figures out the riddle of how he has to save Gotham – in death, becoming himself and accepting the insanity he kept bottled up all this time. And of course, the macabre which is very well illustrated like with Harvey Dent's transformation and forming a gateway to a limbo dimension. One notable omission is there's no romantic lead which is probably for the best as they were often damsels in distress and that trope is less and less common in today's zeitgeist.
The gothic inspiration is one thing but another is the movie a giant love letter to the Lovecraft Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft and his collaborators in the 1920s. The title itself is a riff on "The Doom That Came to Sarnath." The search for the Cobblepot Expedition is right out of "At The Mountains of Madness" (1936) wherein explorers accidentally revive a prehuman civilization and even had mutant penguins, too. Grendon, while an analogue to Mr. Freeze (he's even jokingly referred to as Mr. Zero at one point of the movie), is a nod to the main character in Lovecraft's "Cool Air" (1926), a doctor who delays death by living in a refrigerated apartment but eventually his cooling system breaks down. Kirk Langstrom's last testament mirrors "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (1919), where Randolph gets a book of forbidden knowledge only to be killed. And not oblique at all, the Testament of Ghul is essentially the infamous Necronomicon. Talia appears to fill the shoes of The Dunwich Horror's Lavinia Whateley, the daughter of a wizard, whereas Ra's al Ghul is no doubt an analogue of Abdul Alhazred, writer of the Necronomicon. Killer Croc's design in this movie is without a doubt a take on the Deep Ones. The origin of the Testament and the mummified serpents takes inspiration from "The Nameless City" (1921). Oliver Queen appears to be based on August Derleth's use of Christian imagery and namely St. Sebastian. Taken directly out of "Re-Animator" is Herbert West, who in this movie is who Dent goes to see after his run-in with Poison Ivy. Bonus points to Jeffrey Combs being in this movie's cast as he was in the Re-Animator movie adaptation. Thomas Wayne, Oswald Cobblepot, Henry Queen, and Bartly Langstrom using the Testament to gain wealth and immortality in colonial times is a take on "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (1941). "The Lurker at the Threshold" (1954) is name dropped by Grendon at the beginning of the movie and the act of Batman becoming a bat monster is also inspired by it whereas he roosting in the bell tower appears to be a nod to narrator in "The Outsider" (1925). The big threat of the movie Iog-Sotha is based on Yog-Sothoth, an Outer God and father to the more famous Cthulhu and Hastur whereas the god Grendon finds in the Arctic is Yib Nogeroth, a play on Nug and Yeb. And for the bonus round, the use of the Aklo, a language with mystical powers that was incorporated into the Lovecraft mythos but first appeared outside of it in Arthur Machen's "The White People" (1889).
David Giuntoli reprises Bruce Wayne/Batman after voicing him on Batman: Soul of the Dragon, well returns to voice Batman but a different version of. Tati Gabrielle voices a new character created for the movie named Kai Li Cain who is a take on Cassandra Cain. Gideon Adlon double as the Oracle and Plant Creature/Mysterious Woman (an alternate take on Poison Ivy). Karan Brar voices Sanjay "Jay" Tawde (a very alternate take on Jason Todd). Jeffrey Combs voices Kirk Langstrom and I'm sure an uncredited reprisal of Herbert West, David Dastmalchian as Grendon, Darin De Paul as Thomas Wayne, John DiMaggio voices James Gordon which I never would have guessed, Patrick Fabian voices Harvey Dent, Brian George "reprises" Alfred once again, Christopher Gorham is back in a DC movie but as Oliver Queen this time, Jason Marsden doubles as Dick Grayson and Young Bruce Wayne, Navid Negahban is Ra's al Ghul, Emily O'Brien doubles as Talia al Ghul and Martha Wayne (boy is that subliminal), Tim Russ is Lucius Fox, William Salyers returns as Cobbelpot and also Professor Manfurd, and Matthew Waterson is both Jason Blood/Etrigan. The two actors that genuinely surprised me were John DiMaggio and Christopher Gorham and I mean that as a good thing. I'm curious if they were directed to mask their usual "voice" and/or if they took it upon themselves and drew inspiration on a certain historical character for their role. Darin De Paul has quickly turned into a real asset for these DC animated movies and his flexibility and range is stunning. This was the voice of Brainiac not to long ago and now in this film he's literally a nigh immortal Thomas Wayne killed in the 1900s who comes back as a ghost. The movie also marks the last DC animation title to be directed or produced by Sam Liu for the time being in what was a 20 year career with WB Animation. If this movie is evidence alone, Warner shall find it a difficult endeavor to find some to fill in the shoes of such a talented and prolific storyteller and diehard Spurs fan.
The special features for the movie are sparse. If you are a long time viewer of the DC animated movie lines, this is unfortunately the norm. The "Batman: Shadows of Gotham" featurette runs at 13 minutes and 12 seconds. Screenwriter Jase Ricci, Sam Liu, and Wes Gleason discuss the source material, working on the movie, and its themes. Dr. Letamendi, Clinical Psychologist and Consultant, talks about the movie's theme of identity, how Batman and his sense of self, and existential dread. There are also found footage of one Professor Krieg of Arkham Community College. The bright spot is the other special feature is an audio commentary with producer/co-director Sam Liu and screenwriter Jase Ricci. There are surprise commentators, Mike Carlin and Jim Krieg as well. The foursome discusses the original comic, working on the movie during the pandemic, what got changed, what got cut out, personal inspirations, playing the movie in a linear fashion, and the trick of adapting Lovecraft into a visual medium.
"Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham" is a highly recommended purchase. The movie is a love letter to Lovecraft and gothic horror and a modest adaptation to an Elseworlds classic. It is also the culmination of animator Sam Liu's 20 year long career at Warner Bros. Animation. Even though there is a bare-bones offering of special features, I can say nothing ill of a commentary track being present.
Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5