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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

"Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is an animated reinterpretation of the famous Elseworlds comic book story by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola that tells the tale of Batman set in turn of the 19th century Gotham. As the Industrial Age churns on and changes Gotham City for better or worse, Bruce Wayne's vow of vengeance as Batman evolves into a quest to save lives and retain his humanity as he hunts down a serial killer named Jack the Ripper. To complicate matters, Wayne meets his equal in Selina Kyle and is framed for the murders as time runs out on figuring out Jack's identity. Coming fresh off its 10th anniversary, the DC Universe direct to video movie line starts 2018 with a strong and compelling story.

"Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is one of those movies that is more a loose adaptation than a strict one such as "Batman: Year One". While the movie is clearly akin to the original comic, material has been cherry picked from its sequel, Master of the Future, and draws many influences from related literature, television, film, and animation. Sherlock Holmes was clearly the jumping off point but there's clearly some Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, steampunk, and even a little Star Trek mixed into the pot. The result is a superior, visceral detective mystery. I watched the movie then borrowed the graphic novel from the library. After I got over the shock of my library card still working, I realized the movie was leagues better than the comic I thought I remembered. I guess that episode of "X-Files" about memory was right. Taken for granted lately, a straight up story of Batman trying to solve a murder mystery has been largely absent and "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" finally fills that void. Even more compelling, on the flip side, it's also much more of a Bruce Wayne story than it is a Batman one.

The movie is a study on two similar men, Batman and Jack, who are affected by brutality and tragedy: how they cope, and ultimately how their life paths diverged in their promise to get vengeance and clean up Gotham. Bruce's parents are murdered and he goes on an undisclosed journey around the world learning science, psychology, and even paying off a certain magician for a magic trick then returns home with the knowledge and training needed to fulfill his promise, and retains that human connection to others. Whereas "Jack" lives through the horrors of some of the Civil War's bloodiest battles as a surgeon, observes disease run rampant, and becomes an island unto himself in trying to keep his own promise. Both men have stared down into the quintessential darkness of humanity. The only difference is Bruce didn't blink. Because of that Bruce remains his true self. Batman is not, just a mask he puts on. "Jack" keeps that mask on and turns into a monster. In the greater scope of the movie, I found it to be perfect study of how environment affects men - in this case, the back drop of the Industrial Age leaving Gotham tainted and giving way to the Gilded Age. The glitter of the World's Fair is only surface level and while all of Gotham is rooted in deep socioeconomic problems - misogyny, poverty and child slavery displayed by the 3 street urchin boys, laissez-faire politics of Mayor Tolliver, and xenophobia in the way everyone casts wayward glances at Hugo Strange. The imagery of the World's Fair burning down and Dickie's closing words solidify a new hope for Gotham was born through fiery baptism.

The movie's plot does center on a string of murders and merits the R rating but it never gets gratuitous and gory. I'd typify it more as a hard PG-13. The story structure, pacing, and editing were well done and the result is a lean 78 minute movie that flows naturally and doesn't drag. It wouldn't be a Batman movie without a little banter and quips from Alfred. There's even some great moments of levity between Bruce and Selina at the club and during the manhunt. The utter douchery that is Harvey Dent also is worth noting. Then as the movie heads into its finale, the atmosphere becomes tense and electric. The mystery of Jack's identity was changed for the better by Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg. Bringing in analogues of famous DC name characters to populate the world of Gaslight was a great way to supplement the cast but also helps with setting up a few red herrings and creating a characer bias with the audience, fooling them into thinking characters will act like their counterparts in the mainstream comics do. It was also a nice touch to bring in Jacob Packer for a brief cameo as Bruce's defense attorney like in the comic but not use him as Jack. There are subtle clues that lead back to the true culprit but it's natural to be a little shocked. Still, with the movie and television realms being over saturated with stories about alternate dimensions and DC being no stranger to the multiverse, there has to be a version of this character that's evil.

Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Jim Krieg, Sam Liu, and Wes Gleason put together an amazing cast for this movie. It's not what you expect, in a really really good way. Bruce Greenwood, a fan favorite for his portrayals of Batman in "Young Justice" and "Batman: Under The Red Hood", gives us a brand new interpretation of the Dark Knight. Jennifer Carpenter also turned in a new take on Selina Kyle yet still mirroring the traits we know and love. Scott Patterson as well did an amazing take on James Gordon... especially at the end. I was really surprised to learn it was Yuri Lowenthal who voiced Harvey Dent. He truly sold him as a two-faced douche. Anthony Stewart Head, wow! It's a slam dunk choice that he voiced Alfred. William Salyers as Hugo Strange and Grey Griffin as Sister Leslie were also truly transformative. I suppose listening to Salyers as Penguin the past 2 years, then his Hugo Strange was jarring. Casting Griffin as Sister Leslie was also unexpected. In terms of the general voice acting, it was a relief there wasn't any stereotypical English, Irish, and Scottish accents. When it did come up like Griffin, it was subtle. Or with Chief Bullock, it played.

Jim Krieg continues to make his mark in the world of DC Comics animation. He is the veritable Swiss Army Knife of writers -- from CG animated television series "Green Lantern: The Animated Series," to the comedic Shazam DC Nation shorts, a very PG-13 Flashpoint Paradox movie, helming the 11 minute television series "Justice League Action," and even a live action supernatural series in between -- and now the task of adapting and expanding on a famous Elseworlds tale, Krieg clearly went above and beyond and inserted a lot of Sherlock Holmes and other pop culture easter eggs. Sam Liu is also just as malleable with his talents directing any genre that comes across his desk. In the past year alone, he went from teen drama in "Teen Titans: The Judas Contract" to the farcical send up of "Batman and Harley Quinn" and now a pseudo-period mystery. The action scenes are the easiest to scrutinize and you can instantly tell there was careful attention to make sure it stayed true to the old fisticuffs of boxing from the late 1800s. The camera angles and editing help keep it grounded. The lighting also an interesting choice. Gotham has always been portrayed as a foreboding land but abundance of shadows, a little light, and sepia tone make it even more sinister. Frederick Weidmann also shows off his versatility in keeping the score in line with the period. I'd love for there to be a proper release from Water Tower Music.

I chose not to re-read the original comic before watching this movie and found it way more enjoying. As long as you don't have a bias, you won't be nitpicking all the changes that were made. I suppose the same if you are a hardcore Sherlock fan or likewise a history buff, accepting the blimp and steam bike comes naturally. The style of the character designs took some getting used to. The Answerstudio does impeccable work animating these movies, but I'm afraid to say it isn't par with their usual work. I admit I can't fully articulate what bothered me in particular. The characters seemed inconsistent and off-model at a few times or too minimalist maybe. But on the other hand, the blimp chase through Gotham and the flaming Ferris wheel fight was simply amazing. Looking at the comic, I think maybe they could have pushed a little more towards Mike Mignola's style. In terms of the story, I was disappointed they left Bruce Wayne's status ambiguous as he's still technically a criminal and fugitive. Also, one or two more red herrings were needed. The suspect list thins out a bit too quickly in my opinion. I think a really good addition to possible suspects would have been Tommy Elliot/Hush. With his medical training and occupation as a doctor in the comics, he would have been perfect. And I like to think, if a sequel is greenlit, Hush could make for a pretty easy translation as Batman's Moriarty.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment offers "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" as a 4K Blu-ray combo and Blu-ray/DVD combo. Target will have the exclusive Steelbook edition and Best Buy has an exclusive with a copy of the original comic. The featurette "Caped Fear: The First Elseworld," is 20:45 in length and explores the origins of the Elseworlds comic line and Gotham by Gaslight and production on this movie. The audio commentary track has executive producer Bruce Timm, producer/director Sam Liu, and screen writer Jim Krieg. The audio commentary is a true delight and is a sight for sore eyes. From the start, they provide a peek at the production of the film like having to build the city and characters from scratch rather than use old models, what they had to change from the first draft, deciding on what to change for the movie, Krieg's research, and influences they mined from other classics. The sneak peek at the next movie "Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay" is done in the style of a faux grindhouse feature with interviews, designs, and finished animation. I loved the no spoilers gag. The preview cements this will be a true R rating. Also included are sneak peeks of past releases, "Justice League Dark" and "Batman: Bad Blood", a trailer of "Batman vs. Two-Face", and two bonus episodes Batman: The Brave and the Bold "Trials of the Demon!" and Batman: The Animated Series "Showdown".

"Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is an instant hit and one of the best in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line to date. Gaslight is a gripping mystery tale, superb cast, always amazing production crew, and more. Elseworlds is a welcome addition to the stand alone movies and here's hoping there's more to come. "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is a very highly recommended purchase.

Main Feature: 4.5 out of 5
Special Features: 4.5 out of 5
Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5